If You Want Me To Not See You As An Enemy, Stop Doing The Things My Enemies Do: An Open Letter to Z Budapest


A little background: I’ve been going to
PantheaCon, an annual convention for pagan spiritual groups and communities, for many years. It’s a really fun con, with some amazing workshops, discussions, rituals, and parties. At the 2011 con, some transgender women tried to attend a ceremony that was advertised in the program as open to women, and were told they could not enter. Predictably, this set off a lot of controversy and discussion (see the links at the bottom of this page for a good roundup), as well as inspiring the organizers of the First Annual Conference on Earth-Based, Nature-Centered, Polytheistic and Indigenous Faiths: Gender & Earth-Based Faiths, at which I led a discussion on masculinity and spirituality.

This past weekend was the 2012 PantheaCon and there were a lot of presentations and talks about gender and spirituality. The con did a fantastic job of making room for some incredible presentations. However, Z Budapest led another ceremony that was limited to “genetic women only”. In response, Thorn Coyle invited people to sit quietly and bear witness before the ceremony started. (You can read Thorn’s invitation here and further reflections here.) Before it started, Z Budapest made a brief statement, in which she said that she is not the enemy of trans people. As an ally of transgender people, I feel the need to respond to her.

Dear Z Budapest:

I come to you as an ally of both women and transgender people across the gender spectrum. As a cisgender man, I have no direct interest in your ceremonies, and as an ally to women, I support and honor the work that you and others do to create spiritually meaningful events for women. I also value the work that you and others do to explore the divine feminine and create a safe space for women.

I have no problem with spiritual communities that focus on or limit themselves to particular groups when there is a clear intention behind it. I respect the desire to build traditions and practices among people who have common experiences, cultures, perspectives, and values. And I also think that your actions demonstrate a lack of understanding about gender and gender diversity that are blocking the building of alliances and communities that could support each other. Instead, I see hurt feelings, anger, and disconnection.

If one wants to offer ceremonies and rituals that center on women’s experiences around menstruation, childbirth, or menopause, then it is totally reasonable to limit attendance to people who have had those experiences. However, your choice to phrase your ritual as open to “genetic women only” shows your lack of awareness around the current understandings of gender. For example, I wonder how many of your participants have had their genes tested. I certainly didn’t see you asking for lab slips at the door. Given that it’s possible (as one example) to have a body that looks female and has XY chromosomes, the only way one can really know what their genes are is to have them tested.

Further, it ignores the existence of women who, for whatever medical reason, have not had those particular experiences. You’ve been quoted as saying “But if you claim to be one of us, you have to have sometimes in your life a womb, and ovaries and MOON bleed and not die. Women are born not made by men on operating tables.” Does that mean that a person with XX chromosomes who doesn’t menstruate isn’t a woman in your world?

That’s part of why we shifted away from using language like “genetic male” or “genetic female” to discuss transgender people. It’s simply not relevant for most people’s daily language. Your using it in the description of your ceremony shows either an ignorance of the evolution of the terminology or an unwillingness to use the language that has developed to help us navigate these issues. Part of the purpose of those event descriptions is to help you reach the people you want to reach and set whatever limits suit your events best. Basic communication skills suggest that you’ll get the results you want if you use language that your audience will understand. Currently, cisgender is the accepted word to describe people whose bodies and lived experiences of gender are more or less aligned. I strongly suggest you use it, if only to avoid the miscommunications and hurt feelings that will inevitably arise if you continue to avoid it.

In conversations with various people this past weekend, a few of them said that they prefer to not use the term cisgender because it’s not the word they came up with to describe themselves. I don’t know if that’s part of your resistance to it, but you are in a position to model the language that most accurately and fairly describes what I think you’re trying to articulate. Other terms simply don’t do that.

Yes, the term cisgender came from transgender people, but I’m not sure why that necessarily invalidates its utility. And in my view, it serves a valuable purpose by moving non-transgender people out of the position of being “normal” and by extension, removes transgender people out of the position of “abnormal.” (You can read more about that here, if you feel moved to do so.) Given that cisgender people weren’t creating a term that can be used to describe both cisgender men and cisgender women, I think it’s only fair to use the one that is linguistically and logically complementary to transgender. In my experience, the resistance that a lot of cisgender people feel to using the term is almost always a sign of their cisgender privilege. Taking some time to unpack that and work through it is well worth the effort. I hope you will both engage in that process and support other cisgender women to do so.

When you told us that you are not the enemy of transgender people, I wanted to take you at your word. But I see your actions and I see a disconnect between the two. If you want me to not see you as the enemy of transgender people, then I invite you to not do the things that their enemies do. I invite you to use language that doesn’t rely on seeing transgender people as abnormal or deviant. I invite you to use language that reflects the genetic diversity that complicates our cultural notions of sex and gender. And I invite you to model that for your communities so that gender equality can flourish.

Yes, the term can feel clumsy at first. But I promise you that with a little practice, it’ll come much more easily. It will help you demonstrate that your desire to not be an enemy of transgender people is real. It will make it easier for people to trust that you respect them, which will then make it easier for you to set the boundaries that you want for your community and your rituals. And it will help you continue to be a leader and role model for others.

I also invite you to go beyond saying “I am sorry I hurt your feelings.” While that statement is helpful, it doesn’t demonstrate a willingness to make amends and change your behavior. From my own personal experience, men saying that to women doesn’t get us off the hook for the pains that our actions can cause. Neither does it get cisgender people off the hook. If you want to show that you are sorry, you need to listen to the people who have been hurt and change how you choose to act. If you don’t, then we have no reason to think that you mean what you say.

It is not an easy thing to be a public figure, especially when others are angry because of something you did. And just as I have learned some of my most valuable lessons when women told me that I had done something that hurt them, you have the opportunity to learn something from the transgender women and their allies who have shared their feedback with you. I ask you to set aside any defensive reactions you might be experiencing and approach this with the same open heart that you would ask me to bring, if you or another woman challenged me. Otherwise, it’s going to be hard for any of us to trust that you mean it when you say you don’t want to be our enemy.

With love,

Charlie Glickman

PS I also invite PantheaCon to require groups that wish to limit attendance to events to a specific gender to use the word cisgender when appropriate. You also have an opportunity to model accurate language and set boundaries as needed.

25 Responses so far.

  1. Jeffry Winters says:

    Well said Charlie. This is an impossible conundrum. You have spoken wisdom here and still not all will be satisfied. I hope your words are well received.

  2. Josh says:

    Thank you for this, really appreciated.

  3. Maika says:

    Charlie, I offer that it would be fair to use the language that is appropriate to both the Dianic and Transgender communities. Therefore the language will communicate accurately for both groups, ie something like ‘this Ritual is only open to Wombyn/cisgendered people’. That way they are able to use the language they choose and that of the transgendered community as well. To be fair I don’t think that Z. would have chosen ‘genetic women only’ but was just going out of her way to be very clear. It is clear that this wording was also a mistake. I think it is also very likely that we could put together a similar ritual at Pcon that is open to transgendered and cisgendered women so no one looses out of the experience. There are many women like myself who are happy to practice with our transgenered sisters. Although I accept and honor the needs of others who feel differently than I do.

    I myself am a cisgendered bisexual woman. I am a Priestess in the Circle of Brigid and a member of CAYA. However, I find it heartbreaking to see this conflict injure our community so deeply.  I love women in our community cis and transgendered alike. I look forward to the very important healing work that will make our community stronger than it was before.

  4. Charlie says:

    Maika, that’s a good point and without speaking for either transgender women or folks in the Dianic (or any other traditions), I think that might be a good way forward. Since you move through some of those circles, if you suggest it, I’d really appreciate hearing what happens.

    Though FYI, the general consensus is that it’s “transgender” not “transgendered”. 🙂

  5. Elf says:

    The real issue, in my mind, is not whether or not to use the term “cis” or “cisgender,” but whether to acknowledge the gender of trans people without implying they are less “real” than those who are not transgender. “Cis” is the word we’ve found for that; many people would be very happy to switch to something more well-known and intuitive.

    The issue with Z is not what language she used in the ritual description, but whether she’s willing to acknowledge transgender women as *women*, rather than “men trying to invade women’s sacred space.” The protest wasn’t against the label “genetic women,” as awkward as that is, but over the concept of honoring “the feminine form in all of her infinite variety”–but excluding those feminine forms belonging to trans women.

    There is no phrasing that will make that less offensive. She cannot simultaneously claim to welcome all women and exclude trans women.
    Other rituals for cis women only may prefer not to use the term cis–but as long as they acknowledge that they are for a limited group, the criticism should be minor or nonexistent. A ritual for “only those women who have given birth” would exclude a great many women, and gather no protest at all.

  6. Eric Wolfsbane says:

    I think you and many others are being to damned soft on Z Budapest and her ilk.

    It’s 2012 and I’m so damned tired of having these bigoted pieces of garbage around spewing this bigotry and perpetrating their hate. They are nothing less than a stain on the pagan community.

    I don’t see the point of a silent protest. We need a day of rage. They’ll never get it until they feel the full weight and fury of how angry we are at bigots who think it’s perfectly to discriminate in the name of our gods and goddesses. We need to be in their face with our displeasure about this.

    Let’s make it clear. Only one person gets to decide what gender you are and that person is you. We need to stop coddling these perpetrators of discrimination.

    I have many MtF and FtM friends. I’m sad to say that the FtM people face much the same bigotry as is inflicted by Z Budapest and her ilk.

    There have been many times where I drove home a car full of MtF people from a BDSM club.  I wondered what the headlines would have been if we were to have crashed. Would have been interesting. But I did it because they were people from my community and they needed a safe way to get home. That’s what being a member of a community is about.

    People like Z Budapest who degrade and discriminate are our enemies as surely as the Christians and the Muslims are. We need to be as uncompromising with them as we are with the latter. We need to treat them no differently.

    If aware that another is wicked, say so:
    Make no truce or treaty with foes.

    You can’t have Nazism without Z.

    Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.

    Eric Wolfsbane
    Lokisgodhi

  7. Maika says:

    Charlie, I knew I’d get tripped up in semantics. lol Point taken transgender not transgendered!  I think that it helps in general to allow others the benefit of the doubt and to make corrections gently, if necessary, as you have done. The truth is that we are all going to make mistakes as we move forward. If we can pay more attention to the intention of our work act in kindness and allow others and ourselves to be human we will get much more done. 
     

  8. Basically, it comes down to this – many choose not to see their transgender brothers’ and sisters’ experiences as not be legitimate. We do not presume to know the mind of another. Their experiences are just as valid as cisgender experiences.

  9. Snapdragon says:

    Reading all of this makes me feel very tired.  To others, I realize, this is the spice of life.
    The world is burning.  Can we possibly set aside enough of ourselves to devote ourselves to it?  All of this reminds me of why as a solitaire I withdrew from the Wiccan “community” and its self-absorption.  There’s a whole world that needs us, a world that appears to be dying. 
    Perspective and priorities?

  10. Maika says:

    I hear you Snapdragon. What I don’t understand is why people give Z. Budapest their power, their time or their energy. Yes she is A leader in the community, but by NO MEANS THE leader. She practices but one path amongst us. I understand that people were hurt by her exclusion and her words. On the other hand MY PERSONAL response is to shrug my shoulders and to think Z doesn’t want me, well I know a million other people who do want me and I move on with my life. Yes I was born a woman but I choose not to practice as a Dianic because I don’t feel comfortable with the tradition. There is nothing wrong with the tradition but it isn’t for me.
     

  11. Homa Sapiens says:

    Scout,
    I could provide you with a list of shame, the words which the heteronormative have coined to describe trans folk– all of those terms describe folk in relation to how heteronorms see them.

    Cis is a very respectful word, a simple description of the state of being happy with what you were born with.

    Be pleased. I cannot think of one single word that the heteronormative world has coined for any part of GLBT that is as kind and understanding.

  12. I find Snapdragon’s comment offensive. Possibly, there are more important issues than whether trans women (like me) should be excluded from a Dianic ritual, or whether non-trans-women should be criticised for using the term “genetic women” to mean non-trans-woman; but Snapdragon criticises others for spending their time on these issues. I have the right, and so do you, to devote my time to whatever way of improving the world I see fit. S/he has no right to say that this cause is not worth our effort.

    I claim that the word “woman” includes me. If anyone says it does not, s/he denies my experience and also the experience my friends have of me. The only criticism I could have of “cis woman” is that it might exclude certain types of intersex woman- so I am not absolutely happy with it; but I cannot think of a better one for “women who are not trans women”.   

    Actually, I am sorry that we need a term for cis-woman. Why not just use the term “woman”? Why should it be important to exclude me from any space which women enter?

    I do have some male privilege. I was not brought up with messages that it was unfeminine, and therefore wrong in me, to express anger. But then I was told from a young age that “big boys don’t cry”, and my anger was not tolerated or validated, so in practice that male privilege does not count for much. And I have sat silently unable to get a word in edgeways while cis-women talk At me, feeling that the male privilege of dominating a conversation did not apply to me in that case. That was when they were excluding me from their moon lodge, as it happens.      

  13. Eric Wolfsbane says:

    You withdrew from the Wiccan community. Then what good are you to anybody? Communities need people who stay and fight for the long haul. People are being hurt here within the community by these bigoted pieces of garbage. 
    As far as I’m concerned you deserters who aren’t in for the fight when they’re needed are nearly as bad as the Christians and Muslims and are effectively supporting them.
    Look up Vidkun Quisling, Pierre Laval and  Philippe Pétain. You’re in their company.
     
     
     

    Snapdragon: Reading all of this makes me feel very tired. To others, I realize, this is the spice of life. The world is burning. Can we possibly set aside enough of ourselves to devote ourselves to it? All of this reminds me of why as a solitaire I withdrew from the Wiccan “community” and its self-absorption. There’s a whole world that needs us, a world that appears to be dying. Perspective and priorities?
     

    Snapdragon,
     

  14. Chris Wloch says:

    Cisgender, as an identifier, is used primarily by non-transgender allies of transgender people. It is a word that implies some degree of support and sensitivity for transgender people.
    It’s interesting to suggest to Z Budapest that she should consider describing herself and other women with a term which implies being an ally to transwomen when clearly Z is not.
     
    Instead of designating her rituals as “genetic women only” or even “cisgender women only,”  Z’s ritual should have been listed as “No transgender women allowed” or “Transgender women not permitted.”  This would state her discriminatory viewpoint up front instead of implicitly endorsing her view that “genetic” women are “real” women and transwomen are not.

  15. Glenn Turner says:

    Beautifully written, Charlie. When I finally have a talk with Z and Bobbie I may ask them if I can send them your letter.
     
    “PS I also invite PantheaCon to require groups that wish to limit attendance to events to a specific gender to use the word cisgender when appropriate. You also have an opportunity to model accurate language and set boundaries as needed.”
    We may use your suggestion in a guideline to be developed. But I suspect you mean that a ritual that is “cis-women only” would only be for rituals we have previously received that said “woman-born women only” or “genetic women only”. I was not thrilled with either designation, but if a “women only” ritual was to “exclude transsexual women” , I suppose that seemed to be what we were stuck with. I wanted to find a better phrase, but we wanted to keep trans-women from feeling disappointed and turned away at the door as was reported last year.

    However, even if the better phrase was used, it would have still been an insult to trans-women. For that I am deeply apologetic and I will state as much when I have the full statement finished tomorrow. I’m also sorry I did not have the energy to keep up with the current terminology.

    I actually think the real issue of hurt was that Z seems still unaware that she says some really mean hurtful things. 
    Thanks for helping with the discussion of these issues. We, as the Pagan community, are still in the learning curve on this. If some people wanted to do a healing inclusive transsexual ritual for next year, it would likely be well received.

    hugs, Glenn

  16. Charlie says:

    Glenn, thanks for the kind words. 🙂

    I sent the link to Z Budapest via her website, though I don’t know if she got it or if she read it. I’d be curious to know what she says.

  17. Clem says:

    charlie,

    your post is offensive.  it’s shocking to see how entitled and privlelidged you feel to tell an elder how to speak and to “STRONGLY SUGGEST” she say things how you and others want her to.  this word policing is being taken too far.
    i personally am not going to use the term cisgendered to described women
    and i don’t think anyone else has to either if they don’t want to.  even on thorn’s post about the protest she said her main issue was that “all Z contributed to the “collective work over the last year” was her two words genetic female/women in the program and that it was like a slap in the face to her and that Z may have done it intentionally etc.  this reactionary and aggressive harassment that you all are doing to Z because of simple words she is using is hypocritical to your “open letter title”.  if you don’t want to be considered the enemy of Z then stop doing things her enemies do, like men harassing and invading and intimidating.  how dare you tell her how to talk.
    how dare thorn and others try to intimidate her because she simply used two words genetic female or whatever in her program description.  this would never be happening to a man at the conference.  you wouldn’t all be saying how disappointed in his “behavior” you all are and crap like that.  she doesn’t owe you anything.  stop acting like you have dominion over everything, MAN.

  18. Marta Towne says:

    A question that will probably have me called everything from a hater to a bigot, but I believe it to be a valid question.  

    I am all for everyone having equal rights. NO ONE should be discriminated against because of their sexual identity, race, disability, etc when being considered for a job, family, children, etc.  However, equal rights say that everyone must be treated equal.  WHY are my rights as a genetic woman less important than those of someone from the TG/Cis community?  Do I not have the right to have a group of people that I am more comfortable with, or who I believe will be more mentally in line with what I am doing?  There are many groups that are only for the TG/Cis community members, why is that all right, but a group for genetic woman not?  The TG/Cis community feels the need to band together for protection and to seek their rights…but when genetic woman do the same thing they are called “bigots”.

    Do I not, as a genetic woman, have the right to have a group with people I am most comfortable with ? 

  19. Marta Towne says:

    Marta Towne,
    By the way the term “cisperson” is a construct of the TG community.  WHY is it offensive of those not in that community, or affiliated with that community to NOT use a term they don’t embrace?   I am NOT a “cisperson”, I am a genetic woman.  That doesn’t mean I am the only “real woman” it simply means what it says, that I am genetically female. 

    Trying to force everyone to use the terminology the TG community has thought up/created is just as discriminatory as what they accuse the non-TG community of doing. 
     

  20. Charlie Glickman says:

    Marta Towne, tell me- have you ever had your genes tested? Do you require lab slips at the door for events for “genetic women”? What would you tell someone who has an outwardly female appearance, presentation, and identity, but whose chromosomes are mosaic? To insist on a term that is inaccurate and (since few people have had their genes tested) often irrelevant, seems pointless to me.

    Further, transgender men are usually “genetically female.” How would you respond if a transgender man wanted to attend one of your events? That’s why the trans* community stopped using the phrase “genetic male/female”. While it seems to offer clarity, it doesn’t actually do so.

    As I said in my post, cisgender people had years to come up with a term that suited us and we didn’t. So to turn around and complain when trans* people offer one seems rather silly to me, especially when it’s more accurate and doesn’t reinforce the idea of “non-transgnder = normal.” Unless, that is, you want to perpetuate the notion that transgender people are abnormal.

    I think it’s rather telling that you phrased your first comment about transgender people as folks you are not comfortable around. Tell me- if a group of gay white men (who have both privilege as white people and face oppression as gay men) said that they were not comfortable with gay black men, would you see this as simply their right to gather in groups that excluded gay black men?

    While the comparison is obviously imperfect, cisgender women have privilege as cisgender while also dealing with oppression as women. In that respect, they straddle the lines of oppression, just as gay white men do. And in both cases, the fact that they deal with oppression in some ways doesn’t negate the other privileges they hold. So by your reasoning, both groups could tell others (gay black men in one case and trans* women in the other) that they simply don’t feel comfortable around them. I don’t know about you, but I think that it would be fair to say that this hypothetical group of men was probably acting out of racism. And by extension…

    So what is it that makes you feel such discomfort about transgender people?

  21. Myst says:

    Being born a woman and being a transgender woman are two different experiences. And I wish people would stop labeling those who acknowledge this as bigots. Being a woman is not just a social or emotional experience it is also a physical one. Trans-women can no more understand what it means to be a born-woman than a born-woman can understand what it means to be a trans-woman. This is not hatred or exclusion, it is respecting each other’s differences.

    http://www.annelawrence.com/buildingbridges.html

  22. Elizabeth says:

    Charlie:
    I admit I have never used the words Cis and Trans in the mathematical, or really any educational setting, so I cannot approve or disprove of the value of using them. BUT what is wrong with saying woman and transgender woman?  The addition of the word transgender implies the ability to have more. To say, for example: “She is a woman” implies just that: the person is a female of a certain maturity. To say: “She is a transgender woman” implies that the person is both male and female of a certain level of maturity and that there is a wealth of experiences not available to most people. To use a Christian example: any male could become a priest, but not all could become the Pope.  Thus the addition on the cis- to the gender noun/descriptive word implies that the one being described is less. 
    So in all fairness, shouldn’t the word trans only refer to those who are in the process of changing gender and that those who have completed the process should just be called man or woman?

    Maybe I’m just not comprehending this issue here. I am genetically female. And yes I was tested when I was 13 as part of a medical study.   

  23. Elizabeth, it’s an issue because it reinforces the idea that “woman” equals “normal” while “transgender woman” means “not normal.” Similarly, white people people often talk about white people as “people” and people of color get their own term, which reinforces the idea that “white” is the baseline. And most straight people assume that a conversation about someone else refers to a straight person unless they’re specifically referred to as “gay/lesbian/queer/etc.”

    Many transgender folks would take exception to your statement that they are “both male and female of a certain level of maturity.” That’s simply not an accurate thing to say, though of course, many others do consider themselves a blend of male and female. And, for that matter, some people do use “trans” only while they are in transition and consider themselves to be male or female (without the trans) after. Part of what makes this so tricky is that there are so many experiences and perspectives, not to mention that two people might have very similar experiences but want to use different words to describe them.

    But to come back to your original question- if we use the word “people” to talk about cisgender people, it creates a hierarchy and reinforces the very real privileges that cisgender folks receive. And while using this word won’t end that on its own, it’s a step towards moving cisgender people out of the position of being the baseline. In my view, that is a very positive thing and well worth the effort of asking myself and other cisgender people to do.

  24. Raven true says:

    Eric Wolfsbane,
     Snapdragon the anger is necessary. We have to protect our kids at school, in the world, and now at pagan gatherings as well.  Z doesn’t have a point just like Gardener she has confused her bias and fears for truth.  I have a uterus and I have given birth but that is not what makes me a woman. It’s an energy a mindset.  Goddess makes women and defines them not z blesses be

  25. Raven true says:

    Eric I feel your anger.  I wish it weren’t necessary, but it is.  We need elders who won’t harm us.  I’m tired of anger but I will ignore z till she disappears Just imagine how Diana feels that this happens in her name!

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