I’ve been thinking a lot about conversations around a ritual at last week’s Pantheacon that turned away both transgender women and men at the door without previously making it clear that it was a limited-access ritual. (Two posts with background and links to additional comments can be found here and here.)
[It’s worth noting that other rituals at the event were somewhat more explicit about limitations: my quick count through the program found 4 rituals identified as for women only, 2 identified as for men only, a couple with age limitations, and one ritual with additional limitations: all-white clothing and that participants not be bleeding (either via menstruation or cuts/scrapes)]
My thoughts on this are complex, both because of some of my own deeply held beliefs about ritual, and because I’ve had several years of doing Pagan event organizing. And also because of the knowledge that gender identity, the creation of women-only spaces (and how one defines who can participate in them) are both complex topics, and ones where there’s a lot of history, and many people on various angles of the conversation who have strong feelings, many of whom have felt hurt, left out, or otherwise not listened to at various points in the debates on the topic.
My first belief is that when we are talking about participatory religious ritual, that touches about transformation of the self, vulnerability within community or before the Gods, or anything else of that kind, that a fundamental right of the potential participants is to decide whether or not to participate in that ritual at that time. That means providing sufficient information to make an informed decision.
My second belief is the idea of religious group practice as a haptocracy, a word I coined from the Greek hapto or ‘to work’. In other words, the idea that the people doing the largest work to make something happen get the most say in how it happens. The people doing the work to plan and facilitate the ritual don’t stop being participants because they’re planning the thing: they still get to decide if there are circumstances in which they would not be comfortable participating.
Based on these two principles, I do clearly believe that if a group of people want to put on the effort of a ritual, they get to decide who can come. Those choices have a wide variety of consequences and results – but they still get to choose.
Likewise, people who might be interested in attending get to decide if they want to be in that space in that way, given the stated limits, requirements, or other description.