I spent the last two months lost in the woods. Tragically, while true, this is not a literal statement. I lost the entirety of April and May to preparing for and putting on the Heartland Pagan Festival. In those months, I did not engage with social media except to shout into the void. Since I have come back from festival, and started checking in, I have found a number of clusterfucks waiting for me, and I have struggled with how to engage with them.
And then the last week happened. Yesterday morning, I struggled to write something relevant about Ruth Barrett, her heinous anthology, her history, and Cherry Hill Seminary’s inadequate response. This morning I struggle to address the violence in Orlando, and the routine, inadequate, responses to it. There are things I want to say. There are things that might be useful to say. I’m not sure how much overlap there is between those things.
I am not the only one who predicted this attack (or, rather, something like it) in the hours after last year’s supreme court ruling by which marriage equality was made national law. I must admit that that I, at least, expected it to come much, much sooner. Instead there was the long litany of murdered transwomen, mostly women of color, which grew steadily day by day.
Watching people blame “radical Islam” for the Orlando attack, when I have spent my entire life listening to mainstream Christians advocate similar violence, is sickening. I remember the mainstream gay bashing of the 1990s. I remember when, in the 1990s and 2000s, ultimately 4/5ths of US states decided that the federal ban on same-sex marriage was insufficient and passed state laws and constitutional amendments to the same effect. And I know my history. This shit isn’t new, and it’s not Islam. Or, not just Islam. Nor was Orlando the only attack this week, just the most successful. There was also the Target bathroom bombing in Evanston, IL, and the shooter arrested on the way to the Los Angeles Pride Parade. And probably a half-dozen more I haven’t heard about yet.
Meanwhile, I watch the slow rise of pro-gun and anti-queer paganism, and wonder how much longer it will be before I’m staring down a barrel at festival. There was more casual homophobia among Pagans in the 1990s, but I don’t remember people fighting this hard to kick us out. I do remember Heathenry rejecting the Pagan identity as a whole precisely because the larger movement was, among other things, more accepting of queers than they wanted to be. (Which is why I was so surprised and suspicious when people I knew started getting involved with the Norse gods.) That Cherry Hill Seminary would continue to employ Ruth Barrett after her repeated attacks on the transgender community, culminating in her TERF anthology project, tells me that her views are actually becoming more mainstream in the pagan community as a whole, despite being pushed to the margins of the festival circuit.
Paganism is not immune to the over culture: as queer rights progress, those who oppose us will continue to become more violent. And telling us to “embrace our own second amendment rights” in self-defense is basically telling us to violently secede, because there is no place in society for us.
Don’t look to me for a conclusion, here. Now is not the time to ask me about solutions, either. I am angry and afraid, and the only paths that I can see from here are defensive separatism or answering violence with violence, neither of which, statistically, pan out well for us in the end.
The one thing I am absolutely certain of is that assimilation is worse than death, and I will not no more conform to the heterosexist dualism of my fellow Pagans than to the white supremacist cishet patriarchy and materialist nihilism of mainstream American culture. I will not give up the magic. I will not give up the ecstasies. I will not conform to the prescribed roles for my sex, gender, or class.
I am a witch. The war is on, but I will not submit to a fair fight.