Two PSG Women Speak About Inclusiveness in Public Ritual – Interviews

I spoke with Melissa Murry late Friday afternoon at PSG, after her workshop presentation. This was her second year at the Pagan Spirit Gathering [PSG], her first year was a joyful experience.  She was concerned with the advance website ritual listing, though it was unclear then that it was a ‘main’ ritual. She expressed to Selena in advance of PSG that this was serious enough to consider canceling her registration.  Selena helped her schedule a late submission workshop on transgendered history in response.

*Note, from the PSG website:  [ A Dianic Women’s Ritual for Summer Solstice – Ruth Barrett

As a community of women who bleed, will bleed, or have bled our sacred bloods, we celebrate the Summer Solstice in a Dianic ritual that celebrates ourselves and honors the mythic cycle of the Goddess as She transitions from Maiden to fertile Mother/ Amazon/ Creatrix/ Manifester/ Maker. She uses her sacred uterine bloods to manifest tangible and intangible reality. We, in Her image celebrate our ability to heal, transform, and create our lives in this season of Her sacred fire. The ritual will also include a working around female reproductive rights. Think about in advance: As Creatrix in your own life, how do you use your sacred bloods? How do you feed and tend your creative fire? In honor of our sacred bloods and the summer solstice, please wear red as all or a part of your ritual garb. Bring drums and percussion toys if you have them. This ritual is for female born and raised women and girls. Facilitated by Ruth Barrett and women of the PSG community. ]

Melissa Murry at PSG Press Conference
photo: Bob Paxton / Circle Sanctuary

What led you to call Circle Sanctuary?
Melissa: I was concerned with the terminology used in the description of the Women’s Ritual as for women who  bleed, who have bled, or who will bleed. That is the definition that was used, but that does not define all cisgender women.  It is new definition that was created and used after Pantheacon to narrowly define the definition of women while the term “woman” is a broad term used in our culture to define self identified women. This is used to inadvertently define cisgender women, and it can be offensive because that use excludes trans-women who identify as women also.

Is it an unclear definition, what is there about it that causes concern?
The definition of that ritual was excluding women from PSG, but in the description for the ritual it was put forward as created and for all the women of PSG. I felt that there was an invisibility that was going to be created for transgendered women, like myself, who don’t fall within that definition.

So you objected to the limiting and exclusive definition of who the ritual was for, combined with the reference to the inclusive language describing a ‘community of women”.
Yes. I contacted Selena through the PSG website. Several people talked to me and eventually Selena called me, and we had over a four-hour conversation about the matter.  I can speak to what I took away from the conversation, but there was some confusion over the concern.  I understood the Pagan spirit Gathering was an inclusive event, and felt the exclusion of  a group of  women was not in line with the spirit of PSG.  Nor was it in accord with the values I believed Circle Sanctuary to have.

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Building bridges between Dianic and Trans communities at PSG

Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) played host to a press conference on Saturday to detail the progress made in discussions surrounding issues of gender rituals, women’s mystery traditions, and the transgender community.  As happened at other recent Pagan events, controversy was sparked by a women’s ritual limited to women who will, have, or had experienced menstruation, thereby excluding transgendered women.  Discussions involving Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, Dianic High Priestess and women’s Solstice ritual leader Ruth Barrett, and festival presenter and transgendered activist Melissa Murry took place before and during Pagan Spirit Gathering.  While the three women said they do not speak for all in their community they took part in what they termed respectful dialogue to search for solutions for next year’s PSG.

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On Wednesday night at PSG, a Dianic ritual for “women who bleed, will bleed, or have bled our sacred bloods” was held at the same time as the men’s Solstice ritual, which was open to all who self-identified as male.   These events are generally considered the main gender based rituals at PSG.  A second women’s ritual, held on Friday night, was open to any who self-identify as female.  At the Saturday press conference Rev. Fox said PSG is experimenting with ways that allow diverse groups to hold rituals with exclusionary criteria while still ensuring other rituals are more universal in nature.  She went on to say PSG added a workshop and ritual on Transgendered Paganism, presented by Melissa Murry, and a workshop on the Dianic Tradition, presented by Ruth Barrett, to help foster productive conversation about these hot button topics.

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Letter to the Editor: CisWomen only ritual at PantheaCon

Instead of taking part in a ritual which I needed I’m sitting in a hotel room writing this letter.  I didn’t attend the Sacred Body ritual hosted by Z Budapest because I couldn’t face the protest.  A protest sparked by pain.  I know pain.  I was sexually abused in my marriage for 17 years.  Then I was abused for 5 more years by different men.  I hated my womanhood and my body.  Rituals like the one offered by Zsuzsanna have helped me begin to heal and I need them.  I’m not a bigot.  I don’t hate you.  Please, sisters, hear my words.

My marriage was a nightmare I wouldn’t have thought would happen to me.  I didn’t start out feeling like dirt.  Despising myself so much that I would agree with my husband this was what I deserved.  He would abuse me himself and with objects in place of his penis.  A wooden spoon from the kitchen.  A tool from the garage.  Dear sisters, my body is hurt and scarred.  When I undress I can see the damage.
After years of my family and friends pleading with me to leave him, and then abandoning me when I couldn’t, I found the Goddess.  I found community.  And that helped me to leave my husband and move to another state.  I circled with a small group of women.  I wasn’t free, though, not yet.  I was ashamed and didn’t own my body.  I sought out men who were as bad as my ex-husband.  They hurt me and the small coven tried to understand and help.  If a man wanted me, I couldn’t say no.  I let him and hated myself.  I had not yet reclaimed my body, sisters.  I didn’t deserve the love of my coven and I hurt them when I moved away.  I ran.
I was alone in the small town I moved to.  Alone and sick at heart.  I worked with a therapist and no longer slept with any man who demanded it.  I could no longer stand the thought of being naked with a man. After a few years I attended Heartland festival and there was a women only ritual for healing and for reclaiming our bodies.  I was sick and shaking when I went to circle with them.  I didn’t know if I could be naked in front of strangers.  They would see what a miserable bad person I was because these women would read it in the marks on my body.  I underestimated their wisdom and that night they saved me.  That ritual was my first step in no longer hating myself.  Hating my weak, ugly female body.

I am sorry if these next words hurt any of my transgender sisters, for you are my sisters.  When we disrobed, if I had seen a penis I would not have been able to stay.  Even today I can’t contemplate being naked with a male.  I am sorry, sisters, for my weakness.  I know you are not a man, but when I see a penis, I feel fear and pain.  This is my work that I need to do and I’m sorry my work hurts you.  I’m trying.

This is why I was at Pantheacon.  I am alone where I live.  I do not have a coven, I do not have pagan sisters where I live.  I go to festivals and I was at Pantheacon 2 years ago so I can be with my community and gain strength from my sisters.  All my sisters.  But I need these rituals of healing and of reclaiming my body as sacred.  I’m ashamed to say I need to have them without seeing a penis.  I hope this changes soon as I long for the day when a safe space includes everyone.  But I need this.  Can you sisters, all my sisters, find it in your heart to understand this?  To forgive me?

I did not go to the ritual at Pantheacon this year.  I wasn’t aware there would be protesters until I was at the hotel.  People at the convention have been talking about the ritual and emotions are high.  My friend that I’m attending the convention with was called a bigot and hateful because she planned to attend the ritual.  I am not hateful.  I am not a bigot.  I could not walk walk past those silent people sitting and standing in the hall in front of the doors to the ritual.  I am not defiant or strong enough to walk past the reproachful looks.
I thought there was a place for us all.  A place where we can all come together and a place where we can be apart working on what we need.  A place for celebration and a place for healing.  Yes, this ritual excluded all men and some women.  It excluded my transgender sisters so people like me can find healing.  So I can have a safe space in which to do this deep work.  To look at this body and have others look at this body and see something sacred.  I’m sorry this has hurt you.

The community has spoken and rituals like this will go away.  Or the women who attend them will be shamed.  There are fewer of these rituals now then there used to be at the festivals but even one is too many and too hurtful now.  There is no place for women like me in our community.  Our views and feelings are judged bad and wrong and outdated.    Please, sisters, accept my most profound apology.

Blessed Be,
Addendum: A asked me to add her answer to a question a few readers have asked.  The question is:   If there was a ritual with a post op transgendered M to F and she did NOT have a penis, would you still be upset?  The answer is:  No, I would not be upset.
Editor’s Note:   As with all such letters, the views held are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of PNC.  The issue of inclusion and exclusion in rituals at PantheaCon and other Pagan festivals has been a very contentious one over the past year.  PNC-Bay Area and the Wild Hunt are covering the developing story at PantheaCon.  We welcome comments, but please respect our comment policy. 
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