She had me at, “I’ve started my own church.”
As if it isn’t enough that she oozes charisma or that she has the wittiest comebacks for every comment, we share an affinity for Jane Austin and Gender Studies. Though I did my stint with the 18th Century and walked away, thanking David Garrick for all he taught me, she is sticking it out (and doing it rather fantastically).
Over the past few months, I have had the great privilege of getting to know some of the most inspiring young men and women in my community, members of Spectrum, The Auburn University Gay-Straight Alliance. Among them is Miss Darcy Corbitt, who consented to allow me to talk about her in this forum—a brave thing in and of itself! Darcy has been honored recently by The Women’s Studies Program at Auburn and Equality Alabama for her activism for trans* rights; she is passionate, she is articulate, and, above all, she is right: “These are issues that are not highlighted and not talked about enough.” You can—no, should—watch her Stephen Light Youth Activist Award acceptance speech (also available at the bottom of this page); right around 4:05, I see the lioness I have come to admire emerge. She means every word.
At the end of her speech, Darcy challenges us all: “You’ve heard what I have to say. Now what are you going to do about it?”
Here’s my answer.
Aside from talking about the cisfemale-only ritual brouhaha at PantheaCon a couple years back, I haven’t talked about discrimination as much as I should. And I haven’t been as pointed about gender as I likely should be. Sure, I skirt around it. Like in “Redneckognizing a Difference,” I mentioned, “Of the theological differences between Wicca (and Wicca-based eclectic practices) and Heathenry is the polarity between genders which affects our sexual ethics.” But I never brought it home, did I?
In “The Difference: Part 2,” I did it again. When I had a moment to wade into a discussion on discrimination, I kept it a little more focused on what is turning out to be this year’s big PantheaCon topic: what has come to be called “Wiccanate Privilege.” Even in “The Difference: Part 3 (Leadership and Gender)” I kept my topic focused on sacral leadership. I should be talking about equality, no? I mean, I graze the tip of the Spivak-pronoun and I often mention ergi in a footnote here or a side comment there; but I never grabbed the, um, bull—we’ll go with bull—by the proverbial horns. In all of the local criticism I’ve gotten about my belief system and practices, I shied away from talking about my own fecking belief system and practices. Did I actually let someone silence me? Well, thanks to Darcy The Brave, I think I have my voice back.
If you are Pagan, you likely know about Heathens. If you are Heathen, you might know about the Northern European practice of magic, seiðr. If you practice seiðr, you have prolly heard of “ergi”—the negative characterization of men (actually, non ciswomen) who practice seiðr.
This is not only a problem for men, it is a problem for women; it’s a problem for intersexed individuals; it is a problem for trans* individuals. Basically, it’s a problem for everyone. You see, anytime we characterize non-binary gender (or sexuality, for that matter) as “other,” as non-normal, as problematic, we not only shortchange individuals with non-binary identities, we curtail the possibilities for all identities. It makes sense to remember that Laguz, fluidity, represents endless possibilities.
There is a lot of contentious commentary out there that claims men who practice this sort of magic are (negatively) effeminate or unmanly (called ergi or argr—both intended as insults). However, this is only so in interpretations of the post-Christian telling of the Sagas and Eddas. In my way of thinking, the concept of ergi as a negative attribute has been over-emphasized and overplayed by patriarchal post-Cartesian contemporary recon traditions. After all, gender is a culturally constructed principle which is as individual as personality, no? Further, while it is true that the majority of those who practice seiðr in the Sagas are female, it is not true than no men ever practiced seiðr.
I mean, Odin much?
You see, ergi and agar, are not as cut-and-dried “insults” as contemporary translators would have them. Firstly, ergi is often translated as “unmanly” or “effeminate.” Some translators go a step further and indicate “homosexual,” which, as we all know, is not the same as unmanly or effeminate. Some scholars, like Jenny Blain and Jenny Jochens, indicate that “acting like a woman” may have more to do with shape shifting than human sexuality. Blain also suggests that seiðr may have been considered an effeminate activity given the passivity and repetition involved in channeling energies: being a ‘vessel’ (Blain. Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and Neo-shamanism in North European Paganism. Routledge. London and New York: 2001. Jochens. Women in Old Norse Society. New York. Cornell University Press: 1998). What’s more interesting, it seems that sexually assertive women were seen as sexually active instead of passive and were, therefore, also referred to as ergi. It could be then, as Katie Gerrard points out, “that ergi is both ‘a woman acting as a man’ and ‘a man acting as a woman’” (Seidr: The Gate is Open. Avalonia Press. London: 2001).
Secondly, as Jochen discusses, the terms sordit and sordinn refer to acts of penetration and of being penetrated (respectively). Should taboos against ergi or argr represent issues of homosexuality, then sordit and sordinn seem to be more suitable terms, don’t they? However, these are not the terms used to discuss men who practice So—that can’t be right.
Finally, in Scotland, the term argi is used to refer to someone who ‘holds back violence,’ which can mean something altogether different:
If we look at instances of seidr where it is used to trick opponents into coming out into the open, or to appear to someone while they are sleeping (and therefore in a more vulnerable situation) then we can indeed wonder whether the term ergi was used simply because seidr . . . [equates to] ‘holding back violence.’(Seidr: The Gate is Open).
There is too much written by Raven Kaldera (a FTM spirit-worker and author) to start quoting him and his tribe-members at length. Instead I will just direct you to the “Gender and Sexuality” page of Northern Tradition Shamanism. Especially “Being Ergi,” by Lydia Helasdottir, “The Tale of a Transsexual Norse Pagan Spirit-Worker,” by Linda D., “On Being A Twenty-first Century Argr Man,” by Jálkr, and “Secret Selves,” by Dagian Russell, which gives me, as a cisgendered spirit-worker, a good idea of how similar our experiences are—rather than how different. He says, “I was born ‘female’ (a point with which my body argues) in meat-space, but when confronted with an aroused astral form during a lesson I quickly learned that I was not entirely female.” We all confront a version of our Self in journeys that doesn’t match our physical manifestation—“meat-space” indeed. Why should gender be an exception?
Simply? It shouldn’t. It isn’t.
While the specifics of Kaldera’s practice and those of our kindred are different on several counts, our steadfast insistence on every human’s inherent value and sacredness is the same. We articulate this valuation to each other and in our value system that states:
. . . we see no reason whatsoever to advocate sexual union for the purposes of procreation alone. As a matter of fact, we inclusively honor those who do not, for whatever reason, procreate. We honor each person’s sexuality as the Creator made them and believe that as far as consenting adults are concerned, “all love is creative love.” . . . For this reason, we endorse consenting and respectful monogamies, polyamories, asexualities, and celibacies of all kinds. (www.disrtroth.org)
As if sacred sex needed our endorsement, I know. Statements of faith in a Judeo-Christocentric culture, meh.
I am also touched by Kaldera’s introduction to “A Letter to Transgendered Spirit-Workers”; he says:
First, before I speak to you of what needs to be said, my sisters and brothers and sister-brothers and brother-sisters, please understand that I am one of you. I am no outsider. I was born female and male in one, I have lived as both, I look male now (clothed, at any rate) but I am and have always been the sacred third inside, no matter what my body was doing at the time.
As for me? When Facebook rolled out its 58 gender options, I chose “gender-nonconforming.” But in Kaldera’s sense, I am a total outsider. I am a mostly-but-not-exclusively-heterosexual, moderately-gender-role-subversive, philosophically-polyamorous/polyfidelitous, feminine cisfemale. Yup. I’m pretty much culturally privileged, only transgressing upon hegemonic values with what my culture would call “an open mind.” From this position I began wondering, “Well, how do *I* take up Darcy’s charge: ‘What are you going to do about it?’”
Just as I was winding myself up about what I could do without much of a platform, without much political visibility, “How do I? What do I?” my son and his friend walked in the door. This is how I greeted him:
Me: How do you feel about cis-privilege?
Son: Um? It exists.
Me: Does cis-guilt exist?
Son: I guess … if someone is aware enough to realize it’s a thing.
Me: But what does it do?
Son: It’s as useless as any guilt by any privileged group. Just like the marginalized, the privileged group didn’t choose their state of being.
Friend: It doesn’t do anything but make you feel better for not doing anything.
Me: Bingo. So, what is the responsibility of cis-gendered people?
Son: To raise awareness and work toward equality among all human beings. [He grabbed a cookie off the counter and shoveled in his mouth.] Workers of the world unite!
And then I realized. I’m a mom. I have the greatest platform there is.
I am also a Kindred leader, that’s kinda a thing. Especially in a kindred where, as it was pointed out to me today, we have all sorts of couples and singles and groupings—we’ll go with groupings. I guess I never realized that simply providing a safe space to express one’s spirituality while inhabiting an often uncooperative meat-suit was a big deal. I didn’t do it to be political, I did it because it was needed and it was the right thing to do.
I teach Cultural Diversity where I introduce Anne Fausto-Sterling and Judith Halberstam to 18 year olds and am faculty advisor for the GSA. I didn’t seek these things out, they kinda came to me.
I guess I felt like I should be seeking out the right thing to do and then doing it.
And then there’s this. A little blog with about 1750 readers.
Writing about issues of gender within a religious community is one thing. Writing about gender identities within a minority tradition in an already marginalized religious community? Egads, there is no excuse for any of us to ever cause or allow any Heathen of any identity to ever feel ostracized or disempowered. Feck that.
I still feel like I could/should do more.
Until I figure it out, I look to you, my community, to tell me what you need. I’ve spoken with a few of you privately about gender identity and I hope I’ve done right by you in the past. Either way, I want to do better.
And if you don’t need me? I urge those of you who are in a position to be heard to make it a point to make our brothers and sisters visible and I pass Darcy’s challenge on to you.
“You’ve heard what I have to say. What are you going to do about it?”
Wæs þu hæl!
 It’s been so long (eek, 1998) that I can’t remember the specifics, but one of my Master’s thesis was on “indoor gender” and “outdoor gender” in Persuasion.
 I know, I also keep promising to broach the subject of polyamory.
 If you don’t know the argument, here’s what Diana Paxson has to say about it in her article, “Sex, Status, Seidh.” And here’s a *much* more inclusive article, “Ergi: The Way of the Third,” from Raven Kaldera.
 And we also know that “homosexual” is a late-twentieth-century Western constructed designator, not exactly something we would find in Medieval Scandinavia.
 An event which generated much conversation between me and The Older Two. Youngest is far too cool to Facebook with family.
 It reminded me of a t-shirt I had in grad school that said “Gender Disobedient.” (Which, in turn, reminded me of the t-shirts we made as undergrads, “Gender is a Spectrum, Not a Dichotomy.”)
 But not on purpose, just because I’m doing what makes sense to me.
 When they are being polite about it.
 While I was trying to figure out what I could doooo. Doh.
 When I was a fresh PhD candidate, I kept a copy of Female Masculinity on my desk. Oldest was fascinated.