Editorial: Addressing Outings, Conflict, and Community
Jason Pitzl-Waters — September 8, 2014
Normally on Mondays I do my weekly round-up of news and happenings within our religious movement. However, this week I’d like to instead address something in a more personal editorial. In the previous week, there has been a lot of discussion in our interconnected communities over an ugly and hurtful exchange that invoked issues relating to outing (aka “doxing”), toxic communications, and the reality of rape culture. For those who want some more background, Polytheist.com has a public statement up that talks about what happened. Since the initial exchange in question was made public, there have been a number of replies, a public apology, a response to that public apology, calls for a boycott of the prominent Pagan involved, and an ongoing simmer of activity as word slowly reaches different communities.
When this emerged, a number of people asked me when I would respond. As the Founding Editor of one of modern Paganism’s largest news sites, many look to us for an “official” report on important events. In this case I was hesitant, not because of the prominent Pagan involved, who actually offered to give me a public statement, but because I know how the magnifying “bully pulpit” power of this site works. Given that the genesis of this incident starts with the outing of public identities, I didn’t want to draw more people towards giving scrutiny to someone who is already dealing with the ramifications of being outed. So instead I want to briefly touch on some underlying issues, and the challenges our interconnected communities, our broader religious movement, faces as a consequence
There is no excuse for the outing (or “doxing”) of individuals who choose to use pseudonyms short of matters that would involve criminal charges (in those cases, the authorities should be called). The basic functioning of our movement depends on the safety of our assumed identities, as we are still members of religious minorities who largely live in countries where the dominant religious paradigm views us with skepticism at best, and with hostility at worst. Those of us with the privilege of being “out” can sometimes have a hard time understanding the ramifications of having your identity revealed, and thus being exposed to hostility, discrimination, or personal danger as a consequence. Even removing all dangers, calling Starhawk ‘Miriam Simos,’ when she’s asked to be called Starhawk, denotes a lack of respect that eats away at the basic functioning of any sort of community.
Relationships are the backbone of polytheism, of Paganism, and anything that perpetuates rape culture or abusive language is anathema to it. Our religious reality is about overlapping relationships: with gods, with spirits, with our ancestors, with our family, and with our wider religious community. Those relationships encompass every expression of gender, race, orientation, and ethnicity. It has to, or else we end up denying some piece of what we call sacred. I don’t have to like everything all of the time, I’m not endorsing some sort of false utopia of harmony, but I cannot forget that any time I break or poison a relationship my actions ripple out into a larger world, often in ways I could not anticipate. Further, hospitality is a common value many of our communities share, and we should bring that ethos to the Internet and social media in a real way. A chat window on Facebook may not feel like “home” but in a very real way we entering and exiting other people’s personal spaces and should ever be mindful of that. Lastly, as a family of faiths that encompass beings we call goddesses, the perpetuation of toxic patriarchal memes or sentiments degrades our mission of cultural shift.
We’re part of a broad movement of different faiths, but we interact in community. Community can mean a lot of things: On an immediate level it means our family, our direct religious community, and the beings who we honor in the course of our lives. However, community also means the friends we make on Facebook, the groups we join, the causes we support, the events we attend, the acquaintances we make. Sometimes the virtual world can feel very much like a life-giving and supportive community, and sometimes it can feel hollow and fake, and in those moments we can be tempted to forget the humanity of those we interact with. When that happens, horrible things can follow. I have been skeptical lately of whether there can be a national or international “Pagan Community,” or if true community can only be built in a small grass-roots manner, but even still we cannot deny those interactions we maintain outside of our personal faith communities. Our movement may be a convenient umbrella fiction for scholars and polemicists to bandy, but it is there, and we do have a stake in our small faiths finding a way to thrive in our modern world. There is no way to “No True Scotsman” our way out of people behaving badly, there is only doing the work to make sure we’re all accountable to the communities we participate in.
This has been a hard year for our community. We’ve been hit by the deaths of pivotal figures within our movement, by horrific crimes and scandal, by a world increasingly under stress, and it can seem easy in these times to simply drop our tools and walk away to the relative safety of our hearths and homes. I know that I have been tempted, when hit by that “one more thing”, to question why I am here. Wouldn’t my life be easier, better, if I simply kept to my own practice, my own family, my own tight circle of close friends? But I have to believe that our interconnected families, our almost impossibly diverse movement, is indeed worth something, and worth fighting to improve. In the years to come I do plan to focus more on my local experience, but I will not give up fighting for a better movement to be in, and to honor the amazing people I have met as a consequence of my outreach into ever-wider circles of community. I hope we can take this moment, and pivot towards something great, something that says “we have learned” and that we can build better in the years to come. A place where we feel safe once more.
Thanks for listening.