Trigger warning: If you are/have been affected by assault, violence against women, battery, blood, or any of the things connected with that, and CANNOT stomach reading about it, do NOT read any further.
It’s been suggested to me to start with how I’m feeling right now. How I’m feeling is shell-shocked and definitely with some stress cracks and fractures on the surface that go deep, but I don’t know how far down.
My reality is that I am a Pagan nonentity, despite some small notoriety with friends and compatriots in certain areas; kink, paganism, interfaith stuff, etc. I’m still what you’d call small potatoes. That means that I am also a working Pagan. I have a mundane job that kinda sorta pays my bills; but not enough. I say this because it’s background for why I was where I was when I was. If that makes sense.
I was at San Leandro BART station, waiting for a connecting bus to an office nearby for an employment exam. In this economy, we’re all of us; pagan or not, struggling for work wherever we can get it. I was there early enough that my bus was going to be a while. As with most things where I’m in a (self-imposed or not) spotlight, I get nervous with waiting. So I started walking around and working off some of the nerves. Cracking my knuckles, popping my joints, talking myself down from that. I walked towards the entryway to the platforms where Clipper cards are read and passes are inserted to get through. From behind me came the shouts. “Hey! Stop! Get away from her!” I had already started turning and had a visual of the scene before me, a man had bum-rushed a female from behind (a dirty play in ANY book) and knocked her to the ground. Her bags went flying, the crowd surged as he bounced off of her and started kicking and screaming obscenities at her. The crowd separated them but he cut through them as she dazedly tried to stand up. She got to some sort of a half crouch before he was on her again. At this point, I’m now a part of the crowd actively trying to fight him off her. He’s a dog with a bone and there’s no way he’s letting go ever, is what it feels like. Like pushing against the current. But this one was one filled with rage, hate, incoherent, but direct. Anyone who stands in his way is a direct target. I can still feel his hand around my forearm when I got between them as he tried to get to her through me and the crowd. At that point, a larger gentleman (with from what I could deduce some mental incapacities) sacked him. Low and to the midsection, if he’d been in college or professional ball it would’ve been hailed as quasi-perfection. At this point, the woman has run off towards the same entryway I was at moments (was it really just MOMENTS ago?) ago, and the police have shown up and are trying to figure out the situation. I join my voice with others trying to explain to the officer that the person they should be asking questions to is the man on the floor and not the ones huffing and puffing trying to get their breath back. The woman comes stumbling back over, dazed, bleeding, and going into shock. I walk over to her and the officer follows my lead and joins me in talking to her. I can see the goose-egg on the side of her face, lacerations and bleeding on the top of her head and blood in her mouth. She walks over to a column and calls for her belongings. I start to administer first aid, asking her name, checking her eye responses; you know, the things you’re taught to do. My voice is calm, detached. Professional. She steps away from the column and I’m lucky enough to get a hand on her as she starts to go down in a faint. I drop my knee straight onto the concrete and guide her fall. In my head, I thank whomever’s listening that she stays conscious and ask for first aid materials, anything really. She’s in hysterics this entire time. It’s only when I feel the ice in my veins and the breath in my lungs so cold that I nearly want to start coughing that I realize that my first job is to get her to calm down. I make her look into my eyes (are they really mine right now? I wonder…) and breathe for me. My hand (mine?) is placed right at her heart and her eyes widen and she takes those much needed breaths. A few more women join me and offer words or ice packs as I call out for them. I start to work on keeping her with me, to keep the panic from creeping into her voice again.
Then she starts apologizing.
With all the raging love pouring out of me at that moment. I took her chin in my hand, looked her square in the eye and told her she had NOTHING to apologize for. NOT ONE DAMNED THING.
At this point, I have to stop writing. I feel physically drained from everything already written and I need to recharge. I may continue this, I may not. I’m unsure if I can or want to, to be honest, until I’ve processed and worked out some more of the things this loosened up inside me.
I am currently putting time and energy into a hospitality suite for Pagans of Color at Pantheacon. It’s a labor of love and difficulty because of the perceived notions about what that space means and how its effects will reverberate through the general pagan community. Discussion on a post I put up on Facebook (that I have since removed) derailed, HARD. There was an individual who was quite upset with the words white supremacist as a descriptor (and a valid one) for what I call ‘majority society’; white, affluent, male, gendernormative, heterocentric, and cissexist. Pointing out to an individual that while he WASN’T racist, there were those who looked like him that were, was read as an attack that didn’t actually exist. But the kneejerk reaction of needing to be labeled as NON-racist was so strong that I was surprised and a little unsure as to how to proceed. I stopped engaging the person I’m speaking about because he tried to get me into an either/or argument and I refuse to talk in logical fallacies, he decided to take my silence to mean that I agreed with him in his logical fallacy, thereby putting words in my mouth. That conversation was a while back but I find myself going back to it time and again, especially when this post started making the rounds. Keri’s experiences are all her own, but far too often, the question of racism in paganism, along with all the other -isms that exist in society get brushed aside, silenced when mentioned, or are casually dismissed as being ‘not important to the circle and its workings’. So, here’s my list of things I wish white Pagans realized when PoC (Pagans of Color) join the circle, (all of these are written in the first person singular, because these are things I WISH they realized, each PoC’s list will be different by a little or a lot, that is part of the joy of dealing with people NOT as a single voice for their ETHNICITY OR RACE, but as the INDIVIDUALS they ARE):
1. When I talk about marginalization, I want you to imagine an onion, and all the layers an onion has, how thick or thin they are as they get down to the core, that’s what marginalization is like for me. The more intersections I have, the more layers to my onion. I am a genderqueer, queer, kinky, poly, pagan, female-presenting, AFAB, Mexican American, lower socioeconomic status upbringing, working class, person. My onion is nice and thick. When white pagans complain about how demeaned they feel by the majority society and their tendency towards being Abrahamic Christian and the assumption that they are to, that’s a layer on their onion. But, they have the opportunity to be heard because their whiteness grants them that chance to state that they aren’t Abrahamic Christian. If I stand up to say that, it is automatically assumed that I must be a Santera, or some other derivative of that and therefore still have reverence for Catholic saints, etc. because I’m “mexican so that’s what you do, right?”. I have layers to my onion added, because of what people assume about me by seeing me on the street, in the circle, and at pagan gatherings, not REMOVED.
2. When I say that I want a separate space for marginalized groups within paganism, I’m not just talking about PoC (Pagans of Color), I’m also talking about groups that don’t normally get lots of exposure or attention. The second generation, the older women, the young women learning their sexuality, the men who want to explore in safe space the feminine within (dressing, acting, taking up roles traditionally considered female and not allowed or accessible in normative society), the Christo-pagans who have a need for sanctuary to practice their particular faith without getting the side-eye from ‘true Pagans’… All those voices and experiences deserve a space they can carve out and call their own to feel safe, not just from the rest of a ‘con or gathering, but from themselves. It’s not about self-segregating, it’s about self-care. When I am asked if I would be okay with someone making a space in a pagan gathering that was ‘whites only’ and how that would affect me, I honestly didn’t have an answer because, the majority population at a pagan event tends towards white, so why do you need another room when there’s a whole conference/space/gathering area where you can see each other?
3. Using questions like how I feel about any and all forms of racism as a way to goad me into stating that some racism is worse than others is just plain tacky. At worst, it shows that you’re grasping at straws for an argument, at best, it’s a blind statement to how you might think you’re being attacked when someone questions the privilege of your whiteness.
4. Declaring that you are upset by people choosing to have a space that marginalizes you because you’re white, is hard (for me) to take seriously. Do you actually HEAR yourself when you say these words? Do you realize how hard it is to hear this because that’s what it’s like for me and other PoC and marginalized groups for a few moments in a hypothetical situation? Our marginalization happens in our day to day. We are marginalized, othered, and shamed for things we have NO control over, just going about our day. I wish I could feel for you, I really do, and part of me does; but the part of me that does, is sardonic in its response because you have now been afforded a taste of what my life is like, CONSTANTLY.
5. My silence does NOT mean my consent. Silence means NO. My silence and what it means, does NOT get to be defined by you. By deciding for me, what my actions mean, marks me as the one needing to have my mind made up for me, and clearly, you as the white person, know my mind better than I do. No, you do not, therefore you should NOT ever be allowed to do that. It’s just another tactic that has been used in the past to drive home just how marginalized PoC are, and is plain bad manners.
6. One of the things that makes this hard for me is this commonly used phrase in paganism, “in perfect love and perfect trust”. A friend of mine and I were discussing it, I see it as part of the agreement I consent to by doing magic with a circle of people, not just with my deities. And this is the one that suffers the most every time I have to defend the need for space; the more I hear claims that people who are pagan CAN’T be racist, the more I hear that this is self-segregating, separatist, etc. the less I feel I can trust being in sacred space with you. This isn’t just about me saying that this space isn’t open to allies, which it is. It’s more about why did I have so FEW allies at the first PoC Caucus at Pantheacon? Why wasn’t my room overflowing with allies wanting to hear, listen, support, and learn ways to participate in the discussion around this social justice issue?
Paganism isn’t immune to these issues, if it were, there wouldn’t be the need to hear from one Heathen group after another distancing themselves from their more stringent contingents (the ones who claim that only Northern European descendants have the right to worship the Norse deities). We deal in interesting areas of life; we worship g*ds that are from a time that’s not ours, a people we may have no actual genetic connection to, and have experiences that science can’t explain but that feed our souls. Part of the experience within humanity is remembering that we all have walked a path long before we walked this Path together. I read a lot of talk about how each person’s path is different and the destination looks similar even if it’s worlds apart, but part of that is the fact that for some of us, the path has been thornier than just people not understanding the CHOICE to be pagan.
The main thing I wish white Pagans realized: I’m not any more different from you, just because I have a skin color that is darker than yours. The g*ds called us both, even if the way we are called looks vastly different. I ask to join this circle because I want to have that moment of perfect love and perfect trust with you, with the group, with my g*dden. If you can’t have me there because you hold onto some antiquated notion of what being non-white means, then tell me, before I enter into the circle with you. Don’t waste my time with your issues, I have enough of my own.
When a presenter is actively sought out to speak at a conference there is a joy and a trepidation that happens. Joy in being sought out, but trepidation that the expectation of what you can do has already been set. At least, that’s how I felt when organizer Juana Tango contacted me about Open SF. I had watched with interest on FL as talk about this conference started making the rounds and as a polyamorous person, had decided that I wanted to attend if it didn’t interfere with Desire, which I am on staff for. That fear was assuaged when it was decided by my Beloved and I that our honeymoon expenses would be covered by the same amount we spend on working and attending Desire so with heavy hearts we said we’d see our beloved Desire tribe next year. That meant that when Juana Tango asked me if I’d be interested, I was free and available.
As a presenter, it is hard to balance the needs of the conference with the needs to keep a roof over one’s head. As a new conference, and new to the Bay Area for presenting, not charging a speaking fee was the most equitable solution I felt for both parties. They were still able to get some amazing keynote speakers, Tristan Taormino, Yoseñio Lewis, and Ignacio Rivera were amazing both as presenters and in their keynotes.
Another stumbling block for me as a presenter/attendee was the fact that as a Queer of Color (QoC) I am more than willing to discuss what this means in all my different communities. So, not only did I present my “Intimacy of Sacred Kink” but I also participated in a panel discussion named, “Poly “isms”: Addressing Multiple Marginalizations in Non-Monogamous and Kink Community” with Virgie Tovar, Stacy Reed, and Invisibleank, to talk about the experiences we have had as People of Color in the different alternative sexuality communities here and in the broader areas we hail from that was moderated by Irene McCalphin.
Why do I bring up all this backstory? Because most of the media has been silent on the aspect of the conference that made the biggest impact to the attendees; the inclusion and hard work of making sure that marginalized communities in the majority society (which I define as heterocentric, cissexist, gender normative, male-dominated, and white) were represented.
This article from an attendee has a clear focus (and they’re an awesome blog to follow, IMO) but all I can hear is that the experience was one where the gaze was very much on the things he was interested in seeing and hearing and does justice to the presenters but only notes the keynotes and presenters he attended; all white. Which is not a bad thing, it’s just a thing. But, in a way, it also speaks to the experience of a person who isn’t of color and already subject to marginalization by the majority society.
This article does slightly better, but by drawing the focus on the ideas of communication no matter what expressions of sexuality happen in a relationship (kink, poly, etc.) while diminishing the idea that there was a presentation (which they mention) on kink, race, and class by Ignacio and Yoseñio, it lends credence to this being like any other typical conference. The article even asks that question in the beginning, “One of the first questions that arose was whether such a conference was even necessary. Isn’t sexuality something that comes naturally to most people? Does it need to be taught? Don’t people figure it out for themselves?” The producers, presenters, staff, volunteers, and attendees certainly felt that the answer was an enthusiastic YES! Because while sexuality is a personal thing, it is also a very political thing when it is not a part of the majority society, and therefore, being able to ask the questions of privilege within a sexual community, and how to deal with that, is important and necessary work. I’m not saying that it isn’t fun, sex is one of the most fun things out there, expressing my sexuality (in all its vast ways) is my life’s work; but I don’t live in a vacuum, and I can’t pretend that my sex isn’t informed by my experiences as a woman-shaped genderqueer of color of Mexican heritage of a lower working class/immigrant family. Even when I’m by myself, who I am isn’t set aside just because I have a Hitachi between my legs.
A big part of my willingness to participate in Open SF was Pepper Mint and the rest of the staff were willing to challenge themselves during the process of creating a line-up. In talking to him about it, he (I am using the gender pronoun I have seen most often applied, and apologize if this is incorrect.) talked about how there were people on staff originally who were upset and dropped out when the focus became less about the ‘fun’ stuff and more about the ‘hard’ stuff. A shame to have lost them, but at the same time, it meant that walking the halls of the host hotel I didn’t feel like I needed to wrap the flags of my intersections tight around me like a cocoon to shield myself from the White Male Gaze. I attended caucuses and presentations where the question of, “How do I make this work for me as a person of color?” wasn’t answered with there is no change because lalalalalalala I don’t see your color, but with careful thought out consideration for what that means in this country. And that, is a success to me.
Maybe I am biased because I attended more of the presentations by people of color than not, but for me, as a queer of color, as a non-gendernormative person, as a woman-shaped person, talking about how this body and the steps it takes as political acts, are a respite for a world-weary view. I grow tired of being the ‘one and only’ in a room full of people who when they step out of the dungeon space, or the cuddle party space, appear for all intents and purposes to be the majority society. I can’t do that. So, I live my full poly, kinky, pagan, genderqueer life, that’s a political act in itself. But, Open SF, gave me a platform to show me that I am not alone, and that the majority society types who inhabit these same spaces, now know I am there too. And I’m not going away.
1. Raising funds for the Pagans of Color hospitality suite at Pantheacon next year. Goal is 1000$USD through WePay. Click here to donate.
2. Intersectionality. As a person of color, from a low-mid to low working class, female presenting, able-bodied presenting, nonheteronormative, nongendernormative, non-Abrahamic religion practitioner, and in a relationship with a female, there are many things that I know aren’t counted in my favor. However, I can enjoy the intersections and the work inherent in each, strive to make injustice a thing of our collective pasts, and live an authentic life. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t days when I feel like crap and want to give up and crawl under a rock and wait for it all to be over. . . I have plenty of those days. Some days though, much better than others.
3. There have been days here in the Bay Area lately that have been cold and despite the sun the warmth just doesn’t sink into my bones. On those days, I grit my teeth and move as best I can, my joints are swollen and stiff, sometimes they lock up and won’t move. On those days, I’m grateful for tea and my wonderful cats (how great to use the plural again) and I am glad to not have to be at a job where I would be required to move much more swiftly than I am able to. But then I remember that I have expenses and I have bills (like we all do) and it hurts to not be able to pay them as quickly as I wish I could. On those days, I try to remember to have compassion for myself. Compassion for myself then emanates and becomes compassion for all who are job-searching, and for those who have jobs, and for those who work at finding others jobs, or manage the job market. . .the world.
Sometimes, this job, this being that coalesces sex and Spirit, it isn’t sexy in the way we’re conditioned to see sexy. But it can be highly charged and motivating, and make our breath quicken, our lips purse, and our sex throb a bit. Why?
Because, better to eat of the forbidden fruit of knowledge then watch it rot from ignorance.
At least, that’s what my morning meditation showed me. What might you see?
This article* has opened up a lot of my misgivings in talking about my sexwork as another service I offer.
In talking about sexwork, the first thing people imagine is something like Pretty Woman, the next thing people imagine, almost simultaneously is a woman on the corner who is doing it to feed some sort of drug or alcohol habit. I am neither of these things. If anything, I am a person who is more closely tied to a courtesan of the Medieval Ages. I know and learn many different skills (besides bedroom or sexual skills) and have a broad range of knowledge in a variety of topics, because I want to be a companion for the time I am asked to share with someone.
If I could get more people to understand this work by seeing past the Julia Roberts or the innumerable faces arrested for doing these acts on public streets, I would want them to think of it more along the lines of Inara Serra of Firefly; but we diverge into fantasy so seldom in real life. Where her clients were mostly affluent, rich, upper class, I am interested in the working man, the ones who are working day-in, day-out and do all the usual day to day grind and need a respite. For an hour, for a night, for as long as they have need of me.
Can I be those other two examples? Sure. That goes without saying. Part of the work entails becoming a blank canvas, something the other person can draw on, can imagine what they need onto me, without touching into that core sense of who I really am, because they don’t need to see that part of me, they need to see what they WANT to see. Sometimes that isn’t pretty, or even appealing to me. But it’s not about me. It’s about the intimacy that is created with a fictive person, with someone who isn’t really there.
A therapist is someone who is there, but it’s like the trope of the disembodied voice that parrots back to us what we say, because sometimes we need to hear it from something outside ourselves in order to really get at whatever it is that’s troubling us. So much of that ability to just give back and gently prod more from a client revolves around remembering that who you are isn’t more important than who is before you, that takes a willingness to look deep into yourself, to see that part of you that you don’t like at all, and still be okay with who you are. There is so much power to be gained from that process. . .
I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of this topic, and I will definitely be exploring and expounding on it, as I continue to talk things out and tease out the ideas in my head. Right now, it’s one very large ball of knots and twists, but I’m a patient sort and I like unraveling, in so many ways.
*The original author of the article, Stanley Siegel has been summarily fired from his column (after inexplicable censoring of this article and others), and would appreciate your support.
Growing up, I was told that the idea of getting a modification on my body was a sacrilege. That tattoos, piercings, etc. marred the body g*d had given me and made me imperfect for the afterlife. I was told all this after having my ears pierced at an age I couldn’t object to, and what I later found out was against my mother’s wishes. *shrug* I can’t hold that against her, she shouldn’t either.
However, as I grew up, I learned to see a certain fearlessness in people who would go and get these things done. That fascination turned into a bit of an objectification for me as I enjoyed meeting with, dating, and getting to be very close to people who had artwork that fascinated and captivated me.
As I grew older and made my forays into the kink communities I chanced upon a class on branding, a new and emerging body modification that was happening in the community at large and decided (against maybe my better thinking) to try it. I got up and in less than 15 seconds, had a crescent moon branded onto a shoulder blade. The pain was minimal to nonexistent and there was no bleeding. The cautery pen (the same kind used in vasectomies) had done it’s job well. I played around a bit with the healing process and have a smooth scar with very little indentation and marring. The skin inside didn’t die or nectrotize or any other horror story that’s out there. It’s been a fairly good mark on me.
As I worked and learned about my spiritual path, the brand took on a life of its own and worked as my very own caller ID, if you will. If I was in deep meditation and focused on the intent I’d decided on, I would feel the brand light up and burn under the skin, an uncomfortable itch that I would leave alone as this feeling of peace and joy came over me. It is a way to know that Spirit is close, that I am being listened to, or that I need to pay attention. It has gone off at the weirdest moments; moments when I’m not paying attention, when I need to be reminded to stop, drop into myself, and check-in on how I’m feeling, moments of trepidation to remind me that I’m uplifted and supported. And during Ordeal work, it lets me know that one of my Fearsome Foursome™ is around, helping me, guiding me, or pushing me through the working.
It’s also become a marker for my real-life relationship. I am My Beloved’s Shadow Prince. The Moon and the Stars was one of the first songs I heard from My Beloved’s lips, and the moon on my shoulder warmed in response. My Beloved also enjoys the imagery and the concept of the spiral and has incorporated it into two complementary pieces of jewelry we wear.
In the here and now, I am currently researching and in consideration of five pieces of body art. Four for my Fearsome Foursome™ and one for My Beloved.
The one for My Beloved is probably going to be the first one I do and its details aren’t necessary here. The other four, need to be written down to reference them. This is also a way to provide some insight into who They are.
The first is a butterfly adapted from Paul Borda’s Butterfly for Xochiquetzal (Head Matron), I’m not sure what I want to change yet, or even if I’m ‘supposed’ to make changes, but we’ll see.
The second is Kali’s yantra. I am an initiate in the Daughters of Kali through Sharanya and received the name of Duti at my initiation. It means She Who Is Ambassador. Quite fitting.
The third is for the Morrighan. There is a piece of poetry that speaks of her cloaking us in her mantle of red, black, and white feathers. I am invoking that imagery and a crow into the piece I have created for her.
The fourth is for Odin. His two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory, one holding a Valknut (as befits a dottir of Odin) and the other holding my bindrune.
The first part of all this is getting past the part where I remember that my flesh is no longer my own. I am reminded of this on a daily basis as I go through my day to day functions because that’s all I know to do. I walk in the beauty They provide. I walk in the mire of life because that is the path laid before me, and the one I consciously choose to walk for Them.
The second part is time and cost. That is on me, finding the artist who can do this for me, finding the time to get it done, finding the strength to survive the time in the chair, that’s where this all must have focus for me.
This may be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do; harder than inserting hooks into my flesh, harder than standing still while a flogger went after my back, harder than letting myself be tossed around and nearly drowned. This requires not shying away from myself and where my mind will travel, as the tattoo is placed on my flesh.