An Open Letter to the Women Attending Z’s Ritual at Pantheacon 2012
Sisters, I did not decide to sit across from you in that broad hallway Sunday night in order to intimidate you. Though advance word had gone out from Z that she needed protection, I was never there to cause harm to her or anyone else. Never was I even calling my actions “protest.” I was meditating in silence as counterpoint to what I and some others consider to be hate speech on the part of our common elder, Z Budapest.
I was there because my other sisters, transwomen, have been gravely hurt by being called “Transies” and men who are just trying to take things from women, again. These things have been said by Z in print, and in person. Just as you sisters have felt wounded by our common overculture, so these women have, too. I heard that one of you did not attend the ritual because you feared us. I’ve written in comment to your letter that I feel badly you weren’t able to receive the healing you needed. For my part in that situation, I deeply apologize. I’ve also heard that some other women did not attend Pantheacon at all this year because they did not feel safe enough to come. Those sisters happen to be trans.
(You will hear language in the current conversations that may sound unfamiliar. “Trans” and “cis” simply mean “across” or “on the same side” – ie Cisalpine and Transalpine in geography. As we all have sex and gender with variations among us, those prefixes currently seem to be the simplest descriptors. The English language is perfectly imperfect, as are we.)
It has been pointed out to me that I could have been more clear – could have provided a statement for Pantheacon staff to read, for example. In hindsight, that may have been a good idea. As it was, in the midst of a packed Con schedule, I was trying to highlight the pain caused by Z’s words in the least confrontational way I know how, and wrote about my reasons on my weblog. I would not disrupt a sacred ritual. I would not speak words of anger. I would sit in prayer and silence, with love.
I prayed for you all. I held Z in my heart as she attempted to get through her prepared statement – failing to do so in the heat of the moment – which apologized for hurt feelings, but not for words, attitudes, or actions. Then I listened to you sing beautifully inside the closed doors. Fifteen minutes later, we rose and left, some in tears, some walking quietly away.
Why did I do this? Why didn’t I do something else? The Pantheacon community has been in dialogue around these issues for the past year. The only words Z contributed to the dialogue sounded like hate speech to me. I did not even know she was attending Pantheacon this year, and when I saw on Saturday morning that her one offering was a ritual for “genetic women only,” after all her words that transwomen are not women, but Transies and infiltrators, in my heart, gut, and soul, I knew that this could not stand unmarked. I would sit because of the confluence of this ritual description, at this time, by this person.
A transwoman will tell us she was born a woman. A scientist will tell us that genes are variable. The community needed to see that someone stands with our trans brothers and sisters, and that we stand in respect and with love. So, feeling that words had not been effective – the struggles of the community had so little touched Z that it was reported that she spoke similar words two weeks before at another conference – I decided to bring my being to simply sit near where this ritual would occur. I informed Glenn Turner that I planned to sit in meditation. Jamie asked me to meet with ConOps, who showed me that they would mark off space for the meditators that would not block entrances or impede traffic flow. 89 others happened to join me. More would have come, I found out later, but for various reasons could not. We sat in the alcoves created by large pillars, backed up against the windows. We were silent so as not to disrupt. We were prayerful.
We all want a place to be seen, respected, and loved. There is more than enough pain to go around. There is also enough joy and power. We can, I hope, learn to lift one another up, to change culture so that everyone feels they have a place at the table, and a place to heal. It is truly my hope to learn to better build Beloved Community alongside you. I do not wish for the eradication of your sacred rites. I only wish for greater respect to be shown to our community by those who lead those rites.
Z said she is “sorry if I hurt anyone’s feelings.” That is a first step. May the future hold further conversation, tears, and laughter. May we learn to better understand one another, so we can build a more beautiful and varied world, together.
in community – T. Thorn Coyle