St. Harridan in Baltimore, With Yours Truly Modeling Awesome Stuff!

St. Harridan is a suit shop like no other. Their mission is to provide masculine-of-center people of all sexes a place to purchase suits and other dress wear that doesn’t bat an eye at things like chest binders, cutting jackets around bust lines, or making sure your hips aren’t emphasized in those pants. I’ve been a big supporter for a long time, and even entered to compete in their contest looking for models.

This weekend, in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, St. Harridan is creating one of their Pop Up Shops in the Embassy Suites. Although much of their business is conducted online, they hope to one day become a real brick-and-mortar chain, specifically because most suits require tailoring and that’s an in-person sort of thing. In the interim, they travel the country, setting up temporary shops so fans can shop in person, including making appointments for tailoring/fittings. If you enjoy wearing suits, or need a tailored tux (no more rentals!), or even just want to browse some awesome accessories (like bow ties!), I can’t recommend stopping by enough.

And if you happen to come by on Saturday, you may catch a glimpse of your favorite Del sporting some of those accessories in a photo shoot. Yes, I have been chosen as a model to represent this awesome company. And if people happened to feel the innate desire to shower me in bow ties while we hang out, who am I to refuse? I have been changing the way I dress when I present, opting sometimes for a shirt-and-tie look over the witty-tee-shirt-and-jeans I usually rock. So I’m not kidding about desiring more ties, especially bow ties because I only own one and I really love them. I invite all my femme shopoholics who like to play dress up with a live Teddy Ruxpin (I’m not really a Ken type) to come out and donate to the “Del is a snazzy gentleman” tie collection. Heck, bring your butchy cohorts and dress them up as well! Dudes with external bits look good in St. Harridan’s stuff too!

I do feel it necessary to add for my fellow fatties that their off-the-rack suits go up to a 50″ waist; but they offer custom ordering in larger sizes. And being measured in person, rather than dithering with a measuring tape in your skivvies, is a much more accurate way to ensure a good fit.

All the info you need is at the link above, including the address of the hotel. I hope to see some of you there!

Some, Many, Most

For the most part, I try to avoid the flames of blogger drama. I accept that I sometimes bring it on myself, or I wander into a snake pit not having heard the warning rattles. But I’ve been thinking about some of the recent dust ups (and if you weren’t aware there were any, stay blessed and don’t ask), and I may have one piece of the puzzle that might lead us to a better way to write about spirituality and religion.

Most people treat the written word as declarative: Because you are reading this, you assume this is a fact. Academia further culls the habit of starting sentences with modifiers like “I feel”, “My opinion is”, “I think”, “In my experience”, etc. The impression is that if someone is reading your paper, they take for granted that the things you state are things you think, feel, or opine about.

I don’t think the same thing holds true for books. I guess there is a meta sense that a (non fiction) book is a summation of an author’s point of view; but we usually assume that the author has done some amount of due diligence. If an author says “All Pagans are Caucasian”, the reader assumes that the author has looked at some studies, surveys, or other official data to support this assertion. However, if the author makes this statement because they’ve been to a lot of Pagan events and networked with (what feels like) the majority of Pagans, and nary a person of color was seen or heard from, that statement becomes misleading at best and just plain untrue at worst.

When you sit down and have a conversation with someone, you have the option of clarification -“Where did you read that? Or is that based on your own experience?” People have other context clues from which they can learn if a statement is based on experience, opinion, or fact. I might say that Sannion is a weiner who sends dick picks for funsies, and my tone and body language will clue you in as to whether I’m pulling the piss or if I’m delivering a sober warning. No one on today’s Internet needs to be reminded that it is nigh impossible to convey sarcasm, exaggeration, and flat humor in text alone.

Blogs fall somewhere in between all of this. I don’t expect a blog writer to be an expert who has researched the topics they write about – unless they make an assertion that they are, or if they list their qualifications before they launch in. However, there are times when bloggers make declarative statements (like “Polytheists believe that there are many Gods that eminate from a singular source”) that imply that the author has either had extensive experience defining polytheism, or is a polytheist themselves and has spent a fair amount of time with different polytheists, or that they have done some research to arrive at that conclusion.

I know few bloggers who don’t fall into this trap from time to time. We get this idea that we have something to share, and it is true for us (or feels true), so we state things as though they are true. We may have several reasons for using declarative statements – because we’re pretty sure something is true, because something is subjective and therefore we are taking a stand, or because our education/training has taught us this truth. And people seeking information and advice are more likely to take someone seriously if the author uses declarative statements.

I want to introduce a concept I picked up from teaching sex education. It’s a very simple thing that could put out a lot of these fires before they blaze and someone gets accused of torturing homeless people or whatnot. It is not a fire brigade, but more like a smoke detector.

Here it is:

Some.
Many.
Most.

Think you can remember that?

Here’s the context in which I learned it. If someone asks you a question about sex (or pajamas, or garden hoses, or the Muppets), there are many reasons why you might choose not to share your personal experience on the topic. (This is especially driven home for sex ed people who are working with children and teenagers.) So instead of personalizing the answer, you can choose one of the above words to make the same point.

So, for example, if someone asked me if people really dress up in pony tack and dance around a ring for sexytime fun, my answer might sound like:
“Some people do enjoy pony play. Many do it because being an animal lets them escape from complicated human thought and emotions, and some do it because they enjoy dressing up in fancy things and showing off.”

You have no idea what my personal experience with pony play is, but not only do you have a general idea on how popular it is; you also have a sense that it is usually about the animal experience, rather than the dressing up. But my answer was stated in a way that if you secretly fantasize about being a pony (or a trainer), you don’t feel ostracized by an answer like:
“I only know one pony player personally, and she’s my ex girlfriend.”
or
“I have seen it done, but it isn’t my cup of tea.”
or
“The only people who do pony play are doing it for the attention.”

In the end, my feelings about pony play don’t answer the querant’s question. If they really want my opinion, they’re going to have to ask for it explicitly, and even then I have every right to refuse to answer or to refer to someone else.

To break down the concept even further:
Some
“Some” is mostly used when you don’t know how many exactly, nor do you know if something is considered mainstream within that population or not. It allows you to share things that you have less knowledge about, and it’s a great time to make a referral to someone else who might have better information.
Examples:
Some Lokeans are trans* identified, and others are cis* identified.

Some people use drums for shamanic purposes; I’d ask Wintersong Tashlin about other forms of trance induction since I know he doesn’t use drums.

Many
“Many” is used when something is considered commonplace, stereotypical, or generally accepted. It leaves room for dissent or iconclasts, and it affirms that people in the minority are not alone. I tend to use ‘many’ with a description of the sample group I am acquainted with.
Examples:
Many Polytheist bloggers feel excluded from greater Pagan conversations and spaces. Some get pretty aggressive about it.

Many Lokeans find that He brings a time of massive upheaval in their lives. I’ve been a part of the Lokean community for 10 years and it’s fairly common.

Most
“Most” is used when you’re pretty sure something is universal, or at least so dominant that those who fall outside of it know they’re in a small minority. It helps you avoid words like “Every”, “All”, “Always”, etc, because most times using those sorts of declarative words is basically engraving an invitation for your detractors and people who disagree with you. “Most” gives a sense of a cultural norm without being exclusive.
Example:
Most people who read my blog either know me in real life, or found it because of the Month for Loki project.

Most people enjoy orgasms, and think of orgasm as the pinnacle of sexual congress.

I may be crazy (well, I am crazy) but I really do think that if most Pagan bloggers starting thinking and writing in terms of Some, Many, Most; that we’d be able to communicate and teach and share our experiences without excluding or agitating those who disagree with us. There are times when it’s a good and necessary thing to point out when someone’s wrong, especially when they forget to use inclusive modifiers instead of declarative statements; if that happens to you, the classy thing is to admit your error and make a correction. It’s okay to be wrong, and it’s okay to find out that your experience is limited in many ways (by your geography, gender, age, ability, level of engagement/study, etc).

I’m a little afraid that the end result of all this broiling is that fewer and fewer experienced Pagans will feel comfortable sharing their points of view, things they’ve learned/studied, or experiences. I know that’s my impetus for my blogs, and I think many of the blogs that find themselves needing kevlar panties are written by people with similar goals. I hope we can find ways to build a complex and interesting collection of knowledge, and not just leave behind incendiary rants, name calling, and expletives.

Speaking of essays that share knowledge and experience, I wanted to remind my readers that there is a mere 9 days left before registration for my Spirit Work 101 subscription service! For a mere $45 (less than $5 a month!) you receive exclusive, extensive essays and recordings about the basics of Spirit Work. You need not be a spirit worker to enjoy invite-only video chats, “Ask Me Anything” features, and discounts on divination services. Gift certificates are also available, if you know someone who might need to connect with other spirit workers and discuss topics like trance induction, energy work, speaking with and hearing Divinity, and much more. 9 more days, people!

Ancestors and your Beloved Dead

 

Many different forms of Paganism and Polytheism put some level of emphasis on honoring and/or working with Ancestors. This can be problematic for those whose parents/guardians were less than honorable in their parenting skills, whether that mean abuse, alcoholism/addiction, neglect, or abandonment. It is also difficult for those who were actively or passively “kicked out” of their family – whether their family has explicitly told them to go away and never come back, or if repeated attempts to connect with family show that they have no interest in connecting with you. Having a family whose identity is strictly bound to a certain religion or faith tradition that is incompatible with your life choices and/or spiritual beliefs may also complicate matters or make them impossible. Children of adoption may not have any knowledge about their blood lineages and may feel disingenuous trying to work with their adoptive lineage. In short, many Pagans may find it difficult or impossible to understand why Ancestor veneration is considered a meaningful and important part of spiritual practice.

At first, I made a fiat decision that I wasn’t going to include Ancestor work in my practice. I only know shreds of information about my paternal bloodline, and my father was abusive and neglectful. I felt very close to my mother (and still do in some ways), but my maternal family has never felt very comfortable with me, nor I with them. I also know that my father’s family was Catholic and my mother’s is as WASPish as they come, so attempting to integrate them into my wacky Northern Tradition Pagan-inspired practice seems disrespectful of their beliefs. Also, when I attended rituals that encouraged us to “look back and greet the Ancestors”, I heard nothing but crickets. No long-lost great great great uncles or nieces came lunging through the darkness to guide me in jack shit. So I would stand in respectful silence until that part of the ritual ended.

Later on, at a Samhain ritual, the priest used a phrase that changed the way I thought about Ancestral work entirely.

“You are the product of a million hopes and dreams whispered into the darkness; the yearnings of hearts longing to be remembered for their life’s work and the marks they left upon the Earth, among the people you stand with today.”

I wrote this down and spent a long time thinking and toying with this idea. I spoke about it to other Pagans who had similar reasons to disconnect from the traditional thoughts about Ancestor veneration. The more I tried to deconstruct the concept of “Ancestor”, the more I got an energetic sense of “Yes! You’re on the Right Path! Keep Going!”

So I started to play a game. I thought about what was happening in the world at approximately around the time I was born. Although I am sure in some ways I am the product of my birth parents’ hopes and dreams (and maybe Loki too), they are only three out of millions. So if I am the product of millions of hopes and dreams, who was doing the hopin’ and dreamin’?

The first and most obvious leap was to the early Gay Liberation movement. The mid-70’s was a time where many gays and lesbians were starting to come out both personally and politically. I’m sure that being able to live life as a queer trans* man without being locked away (in a psych ward or a jail) is something the gay liberators desperately hoped for the children born around them. Instead of taking on the whole movement, I looked for specific members that I personally resonated with – ones whom I thought would be honored and pleased when their names came from my heart and lips. Even before she passed in 2008, I considered Del Martin someone who would be pleased to see her struggles made manifest into pleasures in my life. I also felt compelled to find a genderfucker that I could connect with, and when I approached Divine in a meditation and asked her if she would be my ancestor, she gave me a giant hug.

I did this with many other outlier groups: I particularly felt drawn to working with those who died in “insane asylums” or other mental health facilities, especially those who were abandoned by their families (and possibly erased from those family’s trees). I also reached out to some who were working with ecstatic states of worship, regardless of their religious tradition. There are a few who died via suicide because they were lonely and forgotten. There are also some who died because their illness was not diagnosed or treated in time.

Before I knew it, I started having a pretty respectable list of those who have passed, who may have dreamed that someone like me would have the kind of life I have now. Doing this has made me incredibly thankful and gracious about the freedom and acceptance I enjoy, and I am painfully aware that many people laid down their lives for that freedom and acceptance.

As time has passed, I have had many close friends and family members, most recently my mother in early December, who have gone on to become my Ancestors and Beloved Dead. These days, I laugh a little when I remember how I used to think I had no ancestors to work with; now I never know who is going to show up when I make space for them in my altars and during my rituals.

I encourage you, regardless of how close you feel to your lineage, to play the same game. Think about who you are today, and whose dreams you are fulfilling. Do some research into what the world was like when you were born, and who has been forgotten or overlooked that you can identify with. Maybe even go to a local cemetery and find a grave that is in desperate need of tending; spend some time there and see if you feel some sort of permission to groom their grave and leave small offerings. See if your local historian society has an idea who that person was, what their life was like.

There are millions of dead who want only to be remembered, and they may not care whether you’re related to them via blood or not. And remembering someone is not very difficult, and can bring you a sense of connectedness and continuity in your life.

 

 

Words, Words, Words: On Toxicity and Abuse in Online Activism

Although written about activist communities, I found myself making parallels to the recent tenor of discussion in polytheist online spaces as well. I hear so often that people want to blog about important personal moments of spirituality or philosophy, but refrain because they’re afraid of using a wrong word or phrase and pissing off imaginary hordes who sent death threats and sexual aggression. And I can’t lie to them – it happens. I’ve had death threats, been accused of sexual crimes, and been told to hold ideas in less I invite further threats. This is udderly ridiculous and needs to end. There are many ways to state a disagreement or point out problematic theories without calling someone a rapist or a murderer. In 2014, I can only pray our community can collectively work to end such hyberbolic “calling out” culture and resolve to find and support ways to share differing viewpoints and debate ideas without abusing those with the courage to share their thoughts, experience, and feelings – things newcomers want us to be writing and sharing. And those of us with a little cache or respect in the community can stand to listen to anger without responding in kind.

Nuclear Unicorn

To all new readers: I’ve written a follow up to this article.

Not long ago my partner and I were seated in her car discussing the arbitrary nature of certain holidays and I opined, perhaps halfheartedly, that New Year’s was a worthwhile holiday simply for it being a useful vantage point for reflection, however arbitrary. It provides an overlook whence one can see a year of one’s life and world. A recent tranche of writing by severalprominentmembersof the trans and queer feminist gaming community has renewed my faith in that idea– with the overleaf of the year we suddenly find a great deal of penetrating insight into activist discourse and the risks incurred by our silence about certain excesses that have come to define us too often.

The wages of rage in our communities, and the often aimless, unchecked anger striking both within and without have…

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