We Can Continue Trying


"Let's make an agreement. Lets all of us agree that none of us are to be used as cannon fodder for our anger and our pain." - Katrina Messenger


“Trans women –especially Black and brown trans women– are at high risk for violence, abuse, and death. Why? Because of misogyny.
To not support trans women is to not support women.” – The Author, on Facebook November 9, 2015


“Ain’t I a woman?” – Sojourner Truth

Forgive me for speaking to these topics. I'm no expert, and, as we all do, have a biased point of view.

Though I am genderqueer and always have been, I am not trans. Though I am queer, and have been lovers with women, I am not a lesbian. Though I fight for racial justice, I am not Black.

You could describe me as a raised working class/poor, grew into intellectual class/poor, now middle class white, slippery gendered, queer woman who answers to any pronoun under the sun, but who feels hideously misgendered if anyone other than my 89 year old Catholic mother calls me by my birth name.

And now, the topic at hand:

There is a tangle in our communities, as there so often is. A tangle in which trans women are being erased and called men, and many people have signed on. A tangle in which older women are being called hags, and many people have signed on. A tangle in which a Black elder rightfully complained about the constant dismissal of Black women as women, but who did so in a way that was hurtful to and dismissive of trans women, and many people have signed on. A tangle in which a white elder pushed forth a hateful petition, using harmful words, and many people, some gleefully, signed on. A tangle in which white cis men have talked down trans and cis women of color, and many people have signed on.

What do I do when I feel the threads of energy, or emotion, or communication are tangling? I pause, re-center, and take a breath. Then I ask myself to start looking for layers. I call up compassion for myself and the other parties, to the best of my ability in the moment. I listen more deeply. Then I try to speak. I try my best to own my part in the tangling. Sometimes, what I then need to do is to grow more firm and strengthen my position. Other times, I need to look at an angle I haven’t seen before, and broaden my view. Other times, I need to apologize.

There are so many layers happening here. Some of the communication snarls stem from outright bigotry. Some stem from pain. Some stem from histories that many of us haven’t experienced or even heard about. Some are generational. Some are about a paradigm shift. Those are never easy to be in the midst of.

In order to learn, we need to slow down.

My friend Crystal Blanton has been teaching me about Restorative Justice circles. In the process of restorative justice, everyone gets to speak their truth, one by one. Layer by layer. Round, after round, after round. Slowly, a broader picture of what might be true emerges. Sometimes there are tears. 
Sometimes people say things in the moment and their behavior later gives lie to their words. No process is without flaw, because no circle is completely whole.

But we can continue trying. We can slowly untangle ourselves and weave a stronger web.

If it feels useful, I offer my process here today: I pray. I breathe. I listen. I speak to people privately with my concerns or criticisms whenever I can. The only times I go public is when private conversations have failed and public speech feels necessary for the good of the whole, or when an acute public moment is about to happen. At least, that is what I genuinely try, in the last decade or so.

I know what it feels like to be called out in public. It’s happened to me many times. It doesn’t feel good. But I’ve tried to learn from it. Sometimes I’ve shifted slightly. Other times I have apologized. Still other times, I’ve stood taller in my position. But every single time, something in me has been changed and has deepened.

That is what I hope we all attempt to do here. Pause. Listen. Deepen. Learn. Apologize if necessary. Then make another attempt.

I recently wrote that we can’t escape community, no matter how hard we try. Many of you reading this want to build a world that feels more loving, beautiful, equitable and just for as many beings as possible. How do our words and actions best help build this?

I’m interested in your answers.


Web by Mockingbird

In a country where white, middle or upper class women have defined womanhood, I encourage you all to read the whole of Sojourner Truth’s speech.


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32 Responses to “We Can Continue Trying”

  1. David Salisbury

    While I don’t have an answer, I’d love to add another layer for us to think about, too: the massive yet unseen amounts of youth who are watch injustice within the community and think about whether they can see themselves in our community or not because of it. There’s the issue of caring for elders and understanding them, and there’s also the need to set a standard for a new, justice oriented generation that says “if you come here, you will be safe. Whether you are trans or cis or black or brown or non-binary or differently-abled…you will be safe here. And we want you to be here.” And right now, I’m not seeing that. How do we strike a balance between unraveling issues with older generations while also realizing that the longer we sit and wait, the more people are being hurt? When should grounding and contraction change to movement and expansion? Case in point: a young transwoman witch friend of mine who is not known in our community at all, emailing me, and saying “I’m watching all this and I don’t think I want to be around this community. My UU community doesn’t treat me this way.” And in that moment we lost a brilliant mind. I guess that’s the big thing I’m struggling with.

    • David Dashifen Kees

      I had a similar experience at the Parliament of the World’s Religions this past October. A young queer (their word) person asked me if the Pagan community was welcoming to people like them. As I hesitated in responding — because of my experience reading the words of some of those within the community — I could see that they were crestfallen. Luckily, we continued our conversation and I hope that I responded well to their question with respect to the work that we — collectively and individually — are doing.

    • admin


      Thanks for your thoughts. I think that’s a very valid layer to bring up.

      First off, I hope you read the very real challenge to the elders in my piece. That was part of the point of it.

      What I can say is how I try to do things: yesterday, I quite clearly stated in public that I stand in support of trans women. On my public Facebook page. I wanted to send a clear signal to my trans brothers, sisters, and siblings that their lives matter to me. And that to not support trans women is to not support women. Period.

      So, what that looks like to me is: while I’m having private conversations calling people out or expressing concerns – whether because of someone’s personal actions/words, or because an institution/festival is hiring a person who feels harmful to community – I’m simultaneously trying to make it clear to those who matter to me that I am on their side.

      The thing I say when people ask if a community is safe is: our communities are just as messed up as the rest of the world. A lot of us are trying to provide spaces that are welcoming. We’re working really hard to those ends – and sometimes failing. You’ve seen me try to do this in multiple ways, I hope, including organizing 90 people to sit in silence outside Z’s trans exclusive ritual at Pantheacon. And calling out the Frosts in pubic after a private conversation didn’t work. And trying my best to support Pagans of Color by action and word. I’m certainly not the only one. Though we need more, clearly.

      I’m not saying that private conversations are always the best answer. Sometimes a public calling out is necessary. What I would have liked to have seen on Facebook this week, however, was more monitoring of the conversations on the part of the hosts who were doing the calling out. When I see people calling out transphobia but allowing misogyny in the threads, I’m troubled. When I see white men telling a trans woman of color they know better than she does about the situation, I don’t feel very good. I saw a lot of unmonitored piling on happening on posts (including Teish’s, which got truly ugly). Piling on only rends community. It doesn’t build anything new.

      I fully agree with this statement you made on FB today: “What I oppose is putting them on your website, giving them a microphone, and then sending them home with a paycheck when they’re done. That’s not OK. Liking and sharing their insidious vile is not OK.” I’ve been calling individuals and institutions on this (for years). I just haven’t always done it in public.

      Perhaps this can become a conversation about diversity of tactics. We all need to look at ways in which our particular tactics need refinement or strengthening.

      Further thoughts?

      • admin

        Also, the centering and pausing does not have to take long! It can take five minutes or an hour or a day. Then we speak more clearly, and with greater compassion, regardless of how fierce the compassion needs to be.

      • David Salisbury

        I agree with all of that. And I want to say that I hope my post on FB was clear enough in that I’m more talking about folks like Z and RB who not only continue to ignore attempts at understanding, but keep committing worsening horrors. I don’t think Teish is the same person as RB by a long shot and I deleted comments that called Teish a *B* on my threads. Because transphobia and misogyny go hand in hand. Both are the work of patriarchy.

        I love the idea of supporting tactical diversity. Most people see me on street corners yelling at people with signs, but they don’t realize that I’m spending more time writing letters, sitting in community church basements with organizers, lobbying, etc. I think part of it is that some (certainly not you) are quick to condemn anger as a viable expression that can cause change, or think that’s all we do. I also try to remember that I have changed my views on things while being totally called out, so I know it works sometimes. But to balance that, I’ve changed even more by quiet conversations. So yes, totally support tactical diversity.

        And unrelated: I really want to learn tools to talk to my justice-loving young pagan folk that is healing and encouraging for them. To invite them to come in and make their voices heard. Because right now I can’t honestly tell them that they’ll be welcome in the present environment.

        • Helen/Hawk

          @ David Salisbury. Hearing what you’re saying. And wishing that the same care would be given for elders as you are wishing for justice-loving young. For just the same reasons.

          True, that some of those elders have a place to speak from due to the past. And yet…….the world is changing. And your closing paragraph above pertains to both: youth and elder. And the problem, as I see it is working for the changes while providing for both.

  2. Panther (Barbara Mann)

    One thing that strikes me… the volatility of the social media arena is perhaps a difficult one in which to have meaningful… even useful… dialogue on matters this serious. Not that we’re going to be able to stop that avalanche, but it is something that must be considered, I believe, in any work, any training to facilitators in our communities. It is far too easy to start a wildfire on Facebook, and almost impossible to stop it. Far too easy to make the hurtful comment when you aren’t looking the other person in the eyes. Considering what you’ve said before you hit “post” is so crucial.

    And being a person of elder age-range myself… by most definitions I’ve seen… and coming from a generation where “respect for your elders” was almost pounded into us… I try to remember that the generations who have followed mine can be every bit as wise and valid, even if they don’t have my years behind them. My age does not impart automatic wisdom, and I can be intolerant and insensitive and foolish. So my personal request is, treat me with the same respect you would wish yourself… but don’t put me on a pedestal or make me wiser just because of my years.

    Gloria was right about pedestals, at least in my experience, and it’s danged hard to climb up on one when your joints are a bit arthritic.

    • admin

      All of this is well said, Panther. Thank you.

      Personally, I try to seek out a wide range of ages and life experiences to learn from. It really helps my learning process and resiliency.

      • Panther (Barbara Mann)

        Yes! The more diverse my associations are in all ways, the less danger I have of falling into tunnel vision. It is a stimulating challenge and a precious gift to have such friends and associates.

  3. Damiana

    It’s great to read this! Thank you. So much has been said about Teish’s post, so I won’t address that in detail. This is what has stayed with me: I was astounded to see such crude, callow, foul language-filled invective in response to Teish’s post – especially from men. They should be ashamed of their nastiness. Those disgusting words I read reinforced the need to have women-only spaces – and of course that means trans women are included.

    I think Karina Heart’s words really express much of what the background is behind Elders grappling with trans issues. I hope that Teish apologizes. I also hope that between now and when the scheduled ATR conversation takes place that she works with informed, trusted community members to sift through all she said so she can learn and grow.

    It’s also sadly ironic that Teish’s reaction was to something satirical and fictional.

    • admin

      Well, I saw plenty of women saying pretty terrible things as well. I don’t think any gender has the corner on saying terrible things.

      I also hope that further conversation leads to grappling and growth. There is always room for learning and change…and even healing.

      • Damiana

        Yes, I know women said lousy things – but I emphasized male participation in particular. Why would I even consider respecting the opinions of David Salisbury when he referred to a woman as a bitch?

        I’m also confused as to why peopke call Teish a Pagan elder. Since when is Ifa a Pagan religion?

        • David Salisbury

          Damiana- I’m not sure where that’s coming from but I have not used that word in all this. I don’t need everyone to agree with me but let’s not put words in each other’s mouths if we can help it. That doesn’t help anything.

          • admin

            Thank you for clarifying this, David. I didn’t think you had done so, either, but it’s good to hear it directly from you.

  4. Damiana

    I forgot to add to my earlier comment that I do wonder how Teish is being impacted by her mother dying. Knowing that makes me feel a lot if compassion toward her.

  5. Sharon Jackson

    As one young First Nations man said, “stupid people grow old, too.” So you are right, Panther, age does not always confer wisdom.

    This whole social media tornado of pain is partially a result of what you said- not being able to talk in person, so that you can look into someone’s eyes and read their body language. Everyone is too hasty to jump to conclusions and to judge, especially while you are staring into a computer screen. I am not exempt from this, and I don’t know how many times in my life I have tossed off some ill-considered comment which has caused confusion, hurt and rage.

    I like to blame it on being a Sagittarius, of course, but in reality, I know I have to take responsibility. I think Katrina Messenger’s comment is the wisest thing I have read in a while. We all have to remember that on some level, each and every one of us carries pain and none of us is perfect.

    Thanks for this, Thorn.

  6. Terpsichore Barnett,

    I am confused and troubled because I care what is happening in my spiritual communities, but I have no clue when or where these tangled discussions are taking place. I consider myself to be an ecofeminist pagan, witch, wiccan, and with most of my heart-home in Reclaiming since 1998 (not currently active through lack of access geographically and physically). I am also a subcriber to and respecter of your work, Thorn. Are you able to clue me in, perhaps through links? Thank you very much.

    • . admin

      Hi Terpsichore,

      There is a lot happening on Facebook, unfortunately. On her page this week, Luisah Teish made some very hurtful remarks because (I’m assuming here) she was responding to the hurt of the continued erasure of Black women as women – and therefore erased trans women as women. Ruth Barrett posted on her page encouraging people to sign a petition to take the “T” off “LGBT” to exclude trans women. And Ruth seems to need to keep calling trans women “men”. People are responding to all of this on their own threads and pages, as you might imagine, calling out people who liked or responded to either or both of these posts. Some discussion felt useful and other discussion felt further alienating to me.

      • Terpsichore Barnett

        I appreciate that unfortunate information very much, Thorn.

  7. Sienna Newcastle

    I am a counselor for transgendered and genderqueer individuals. The problem of discrimination starts with seeing Males and Females as two distinct categories. This is the biggest lie we have ever been told. The only thing that separates a male fetus from a female fetus is the hormonal wash that is triggered by developing gonads. The luck of the draw. Which spermatozoa came in contact with which egg and when.

    Considering that NONE OF US have control over what happened at the moment of conception, none of us chose our sex, gender, sexual expression, or sexual orientation. It was a biological given, just like brown eyes or short limbs.

    Like height, weight, and haircolor, gender is on a continuum. There is extremely masculine, and extremely feminine, and a gulf of space in between. Most of us fall into the category of “in between”.

    Wouldn’t it be weird if we only had two heights; tall or short. You must pick one, and then act according to the norms of that group. What would someone who was 5’8″ do? Or what if we only had ‘blonde’ and ‘brunette’ and nothing else? What would redheads do? They would try to fit in, they would lie, pretend, hide. But they would never be comfortable, and they would never fit into the harsh binary.

    My point is that binary gender is a bullshit social concept based only in a passing reflection of biology. We need to get over our big need to know if every baby is a “boy or a girl.” We need to combine gendered restrooms. We need to stop stereotyping masculinity as predatory and to stop stereotyping femininity as vulnerable. Fewer people will step into those scripts when they stop being so prevalent.

    In the eternal words of Utah Phillips, “It’s only a wee wee, so what’s all the fuss?”

  8. Christine Kraemer

    Thorn, do you have a recommended resource about Restorative Justice circles? Thanks either way 🙂

  9. Lance

    I’ve been part of the pagan world for many years, and the trans world as well. As hateful, tired, and sad as many comments from some valued elders have been, I don’t want us to devalue everything they ever said or did. I keep seeing these very emotional reactions. It’s exhausting. I find myself in the odd position of reminding allies that things aren’t simple. I hunger for change and work for it, but I will keep valuing history while asking those elders to think again.
    What is my habit of putting up with crap, and what is compassion? Can I even know?

    • admin

      Thank you, Lance.

      Those last two sentences are very tricky to answer, and I just always hope people are getting a lot of support and love from their friends and families when navigating these challenging waters.

  10. RootRealm

    I don’t much follow all the goings-on in the Pagan communities, am pretty much a Solitary, and I just stumbled across this blog when I went to see what you were doing these days, Thorn.

    So Thorn, I wasn’t clear what you meant when you said, “to not support trans women is to not support women.” I’d like to suggest that it is possible to “support” trans women, while not being obliged to accept their self-definitions. I don’t view trans women as women, and yet I feel supportive of them, in that I support them living their lives as they wish and defining themselves as they wish. I wouldnt’ call them “men”, because I feel that this would reflect a refusal to acknowledge that their wish is to live as women — I feel fine calling them “trans women”, but not “women.”

    If trans women want to view themselves as women, their own self-definition is their privilege. I am not obliged to agree — to imply that I cannot be “Supportive” of anyone when I dont’ agree with terms they are using, or self-definitions they are using, is quite misrepresentative in its dismissal of the genuine compassion one may feel for others. I think it’s presumptuous as well as offensive, , to suggest that unless someone accepts the philosophical viewpoint held by transgender people, that they are not “supportive” of these individuals. Be careful of judging people who dont’ view trans women as women, and not leaving the possibility that they do feel compassion for trans women. How can anyone be so sure they know what is in anyone else’s heart? And while talking about compassion, make sure not to lose the compassion to allow people the freedom to have their own, fully free mind and their freedom to hold their own views.

    As I see it, transgender women’s view that they are women, is a philosophical or spiritual position, not a biological or psychological truth. It is not something that can be “proven” scientifically — and I think actually it might be more appropriate to regard these things more as mystery. And isn’t mystery what we are all about, as Pagans and Witches, anyhow? I like leaving things in that mystery realm — I think it ennobles them. And people who experience both genders, are quintessentially magical people and deserve to be associated with mystery and liminality. Ironically, I think the argument that Sienna makes about the limitations of a binary view on gender, is an argument against insisting that trans women are women. If gender is not binary, if we don’t all sort into one of two bins, why do trans people feel that they have to now fit into the new box?

    I am not a Dianic Witch, but when I see trans women knocking on Z Budapest’s door demanding to be let in, it makes me angry. I can’t understand why people are demanding to be let into a place where they aren’t wanted — and men have too often demanded access to women’s spaces, so I think for Z to keep her space for women only is appropriate. I personally like to go to rituals where everyone is included, trans women and all, and I welcome them there. But I dont’ welcome the world into my own house.

    Re Ruth Barrett’s comment — I have not liked the “T” being included in LGBT since the term LGBT began. I have never understood what transgenderism had to do with lesbian, gay or bi sexual orientation. Transgenderism isn’t a sexual orientation. I make jokes about all the extra letters that get added onto LGBT, and I dislike people throwing miscellaneous movements and issues into the gay bin. I am gay but I strongly dislike the term “queer”, which is very commonly used. So as you can see my views are quite different than many of yours, and actually it’s for these reasons that I don’t feel as comfortable in the Pagan community as I would like. So you can see that the issue of not feeling comfortable has many aspects. I think it’s just inevitable, in this human world, that it’s not so easy to find places to feel comfortable.
    We are blessed when we find them.

  11. Lance Allen Moore

    RootRealm: To address the last issue first, the T belongs to the LGB(T) because gender nonnormative behavior is why people hate/fear lesbian and gay people. Men *shouldn’t* love or have sex with men because they are men (gender), and so on. Transgressing boundaries is what it’s about.
    And for your consideration: ‘men’ and ‘women’ are non-biological terms. They are roles and forms of self-expression. They are *all* self-selected; generally, hopefully, a gender role is part of a human being’s honest heart-felt presence in the world. Gender/gender expression/biological sex (which is far more varied than we usually think about, by the way) are often correlated. But they are not necessarily so.It is all indeed a mystery, one worthy of exploration and trust.


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