Feb 23: Starting a New Kindred

I apologize this notice is being posted so late; I had some due diligence issues on my end that kept me from posting this before now.

On February 23, 2013, there will be a meeting in my home in Hagerstown, MD with the intent of forming a new Kindred/Spiritual Group. It is open to any who might be interested, who meet the following criteria:

1. Must be able to attend at least 2 rituals or other gatherings a year in person. This is not a “virtual” group; our focus will primarily be on hosting and performing rituals in meatspace. Many of the potential members travel over 2-3 hours to attend functions, and we expect a few who will be traveling as far as 4 or 5. We will not be adding people to our online spaces who are not able to live up to our attendance requirements.

2. Our group will be hosting both public and private rituals; it is preferred that our members be comfortable attending/leading rituals where the public is invited. Usage of “Craft names” or other pseudonyms is fine as long as it’s consistent. Although it’s possible for a member to choose to attend only the private functions, we consider providing ritual to the public in a variety of settings a foundational part of our identity.

Our goal is to offer up to 8 public rituals a year, based on the “Wheel of the Year”. (It is unlikely we will offer all 8, especially in the first year.) Further, there will be smaller semi-private or private rituals that will be for members only (and in some cases, their invited guests). The private rituals will sometimes include “controversial” content, such as ordeals, possessions, blood magic, etc. Obviously, you can always opt-out of a ritual that does not feel right to you, but we’re really looking for members who are able to push their boundaries and at least try new things before they decide not to attend.

3. You must be actively interested in creating and maintaining the Kindred. This is not a thing you show up to and expect to be catered to or entertained. Although the group will have a Godhi/Priest and an Associate Godhi/Gythia/Priest/Priestess, as a group we are all equally committed to making the group function. It is likely that when members proclaim their intent to join, they will be asked to list a number of skills/talents/knowledges that they are willing to contribute to the Kindred. It is our ideology that good ritual is created collaboratively, and that no one person should feel obligated to give more than anyone else.

4. One of the things that ties the current group (heretofore referred to as the “proto-Kindred”) is a shared spiritual focus. Although we may separately identify differently, the group’s identity is Northern Tradition Paganism. We are polytheists. We believe in the usefulness of UPG/PCPG, as well as the established Lore. We believe the Gods are imminent and worthy of worship and respect. Many of us have personal relationships with Deities and/or Spirits, both within the Norse Pantheon and without – but this is by no means a requirement for all members. As we are still learning about each other, we are committed to a curious disposition about other people’s practices and beliefs. We are (obviously?) Lokean friendly.

5. This group is open to people of all genders and identities, of all sexual orientations and practices (including BDSM and power dynamic relationships). The proto-Kindred tends to be pretty open about discussing sex and sexuality, so even if you aren’t personally comfortable discussing what you do with your bits, it is probably best if you are okay hearing what other people do with theirs. And when I say all genders, I heartily include cis gendered folks; when I say all sexual orientations, I heartily include “vanilla” heterosexuals. It is not a requirement to have an encyclopedic knowledge about other people’s identities, but it is also not a requirement for members to educate others about theirs. (in other words, Google is your friend). Some members may not be public about these things, and we expect members to be considerate of those who see this group as a safe space who may not want to be “outed” in other situations.

This also means we are open to people from all different socio-economic status; it is my express wish that money never be a deterrent. When donations are asked for, there will always be non-monetary options – but please understand, not being able to pay does not mean you get to come “for free”; we will expect you to contribute via other means, including administrative work, physical labor, etc.

As of right now, our ritual locations are mostly handicap accessible. If you require accommodation, we will do our best to find a way to make it happen. This includes providing quiet spaces for those who need to de-stim/take a break and other atypical accommodations. We are open to persons with physical, mental, emotional, and social challenges – we want this to be a space and time where you feel comfortable and connected. Although we understand that by their nature some rituals may be less accessible than others, and that there will be accommodations we just can’t provide.

So that all being said, here are the details:

Sunday, February 23rd, 2013
Arrive at 3:00pm, Meeting starts at 3:30pm.
Estimated Meeting Length: 4 hours
Light snacks/drink provided; group may decide to go out to dinner afterward
Please bring:
Some way to take notes (notebooks, laptops, recorders, etc)
At least one solid idea of what you would want out of such a group
At least three treasures/talent/time offerings you can make

If you would like to attend, you can RSVP to delandrave at gmail dot com to get the address.

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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A Southern Girl’s Guide to Hospitality

This is a lovely guide to Hospitality that explains simultaneously how it works for both humans and Holy Ones. A word about semantics: the author uses the word “Kindreds” to mean “Gods, Spirits, Etc”, whereas some Northern Trad folks would ordinarily think it meant “the Norse version of a coven”. But definitely worth a read, as Hospitality is something very important to Loki, both that He offers it and expects it, and also expects many of His followers to offer it to those who need it.

MystikNomad

Let’s face it: a lot of the information out there about interacting with the Kindreds and establishing a devotional practice is damned intimidating for a beginner.

Most of us in the West don’t have a devotional tradition to draw on, and when we try to find others who can maybe show us the way we drown in technical terms and ideas we can’t understand yet. Add in the arguments about the info that is available and it can be more confusing than helpful.

I’m not an expert by any means, but I have been doing this for awhile. I figured I’d provide my perspective for any beginners out there simply looking for a place to start.

Maybe you’re new to the whole idea of hard polytheism, and just don’t know how to interact with entities who are real individuals and not theoretical constructs. Or maybe you’ve had an experience you…

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A Very Social and Socially Conscious Yule!

I apologize for the brevity of this post, but I’ve got some personal stuff going on that I’ll likely blog about when the tsunami recedes. I very much wanted to get this information out as soon as I could in hopes that people will still have room on their holiday calendars to come join us for a fun ritual in honor of the Winter Solstice.

On Sunday, December 22nd, we of the Apartment at the End of the Universe are hosting a Yule get-together and ritual. It will be very “low church”, and focus more on creating and sustaining bonds of friendship and fellowship for those who don’t have a spiritual home or are solitary practitioners by choice. You don’t have to know anyone, including me, to come; just let us know you found us via this blog and a little about who you are.

Our plans include:

-a low-stress potluck lupper (lunch and supper)

-Swap Meet With a Purpose: The Holiday Season’s commercialization focuses people on acquiring more than what they need, and our ritual intent is to combat that by creating a space for people to give away what they don’t need. So if you have more food in your pantry than you could possibly eat in a year, or a closet full of clothes you haven’t worn since Jncos were in style, or an altar piece that you no longer use, or even some free time you could spend helping a friend clean their house or watch their kids – this is a great place to send those things to a new home. You can bring as much as you like, and you can take as much as you need. We will have a simple structure to ensure that less aggressive or socially expressive people have a chance of getting what they need, too. And whatever is not taken home by a ritual participant, will be donated to either a local homeless shelter, a local domestic violence shelter, or listed on Freecycle/Craigslist. And if you have a particular need, let us know and we’ll see what we can find for you!

-A Short Participatory Yule Ritual: For those of you who like the smells and bells of the season, I’ll be leading a loosely-outlined ritual intended to help recognize how strong our support systems can be, and ways you can let others know about the support you offer them.

-Holiday Toast: It’s not a AEU ritual without a little alcohol. We intend to have eggnog, hot toddies, and other winter-y themed drinks. (If there’s one you particularly like, feel free to bring some to share!)

That’s it! Feedback from our Samhain ritual strongly indicated that people wanted more time to just socialize and share fellowship, and Yule is a great holiday to focus on such things. Again, people of all faiths, including “none at all”, are welcome to join us. Just please RSVP to delandrave at gmail dot com by December 19th. We’ll give you our address in Hagerstown, MD when you RSVP. You should plan to arrive by 3pm, and we’ll likely be done with the “official” part by 7pm.

Whether you plan to join us or not, have a warm holiday season. If you wish, you can join our intent by making donations to local charities as part of your personal celebration of Yule.

 

Cyber Monday – Support Your Local Shaman This Season

I have been offering a range of services over the Internet for the last year, and I figured that some of them might make interesting gifts for whatever holiday you celebrate (or just because).

The following listings all come with the option of a paper certificate (mailed to you) or a digital image of a certificate (emailed to you).

$5 – Three Card Peek
This gift certificate covers a short, three card reading looking at the past, present and future of a given question or situation. This can be done with Tarot or Lenormand cards, which can be chosen at purchase or left up to the recipient to choose. The results will be emailed to the querant.

$10 – Nine Card Lenormand Reading
This covers a 3×3 square reading of Lenormand cards. This deck is much more suited to everyday, practical questions rather than things pertaining to spirituality or relationships with Gods. This reading will reveal situations and potential problems/opportunities in a specific realm of the querant’s choosing, such as “my love life” or “my career” or “my partner’s new job”. The results will be sent as an mp3.

$20 – Celtic Cross Tarot Reading
This certificate covers what is probably the most traditional kind of Tarot divination. It looks into the background of the specified situation, revealing the past, present, and future influences. It can make plain what will happen if nothing changes, as well as options that can route the flow in different directions now that you know what to look for. These are better for in-depth questions, especially those related to esoteric or spiritual situation. This reading can be conducted via Skype or Google Hangout, or emailed as an mp3 (and the recipient can choose which one they prefer.)

$50 – Lenormand Grand Tableux Reading
This reading utilizes all 36 cards in a Lenormand deck, and gives a plethora of insights and possibilities regarding a chosen area (again, like romance or career) or even just of life in general. These readings take about 1.5 to 2 hours to complete, and are delivered via mp3.

All of the above are also available to be done in person, if the recipient is willing to travel to my home in Maryland. I rarely travel to do readings, but it is negotiable.

In addition to the readings, in 2014 I will be starting a subscription service for a series of Spirit Work 101 essays. These will look and feel like some of the essays you’ve loved here, like “God Sex” or “Work”, but will only be available to subscribers. Theses essays will come to your inbox once a month (at least), and will be collected at the end of the year and made available as a booklet. It also includes a Google Hangout at least twice a year (but likely more) where people can ask questions and discuss things related to spirituality, shamanism, spirit work, and ordeal mastery.

Read more about the Spirit Work 101 Subscription Bundle here!

Subscriptions to the Spirit Work 101 service cost $45, and can be purchased for yourself or given as a gift. I am closing this offer Jan 31st, so if you’re interested, now is the best time to sign up.

If you would do me the honor of purchasing one of these items, please email delandrave@gmail.com (not my personal email) and Rave will walk you through the process.

Have a wonderful and blessed Yule, and remember that we are meant to share with others what we already have, not what we feel pressured to acquire. Gifts do not prove love or commitment, nor should they be used in place of spending time and focus on the relationships in your life. Give freely of your heart, but do not force that flow by going into debt, financially or emotionally. This is the time we share what we have so all of us survive the cold nights and the barren days. The lesson of death’s gift is to celebrate the life you’ve been given and the people you have chosen to share that life with – nothing more.

The Power of Labels, for Good or for Evil. (A rant.)

“Why do we have to go around labeling ourselves? Why can’t we just be, y’know, people?”

“How come you can call yourself [epithet], but when I say it, it’s offensive?”

“I know some people prefer [reclaimed epithet], but I have negative associations with that word, so I don’t use it, and don’t understand why some people do.”

“As long as the [performer] is insulting everyone the same way, they should be able to use [epithet] to get laughs/make an impact.”

Language, it turns out, is a lot like Lenormand cards. A single card has a general, fixed meaning; but as soon as it comes into proximity with another card, both meanings change. Dictionaries feel comforting because it seals a set number of definitions to a word; it is earthy, solid, and changes slowly. But in fact, language is more cardinal; it flows like a breeze or a stream. People comment on my writing style, that it is less structured (and sometimes grammatically incorrect), but it makes up for it in being evocative. So instead of trying to force my thoughts into a foreign or standardized fashion, I concentrate on how the expression of those thoughts communicates the emotions I am trying to share.

Why Labels?

Obviously, I can’t answer this question for every single person who has adopted a label as a form of identity, but I can comment on my experience and the experience of those i have discussed it with.

Taking on a label for the very first time is the end of a long, internal process. People go from “I am obviously different from the people around me” to “I must be the only one who looks/thinks/feels this way, because I don’t know anyone else who does and I don’t see representations of that kind of expression in the media (at least in a positive fashion).” At some point, we find another person, or maybe a group of people, who prove to us that we aren’t the only earthling who is “this way”, and usually our new friend(s) have some sort of term that identifies other people as being “part of the family”. You not only feel supported and understood by this new circle of friends, but find out that your otherness is not wrong, bad, hurtful, or ugly. You learn that you can embrace and accept your otherness and find peace and joy by losing all of your fears related to being “this way”. So now, you use that term not only to have a convenient shorthand to explain to others who you are, but it acts as a beacon for more people to know they, too, aren’t alone.

I’m going to sidestep the obvious choice here, and talk about a label that took me a long time to embrace.

Around age 10, I started to gain weight. There were a number of factors at play, and none of them were lack of willpower or ignorance of the social and health risks of obesity. The change in how my peers treated me changed overnight – people who actively sought my friendship were now shying away from me, and people who had never noticed me before identified me as a target for bullying. I vividly remember a day in fifth grade, where I had gone to school in an outfit I felt proud of and good in, only to have an older girl start mercilessly tearing me down. She also threatened to beat me up after school, all because I had been happy about my outfit. I stomped into school and told my teacher about it, but because of the entrenched fatphobia in our society, the teacher actually told me that maybe if I wore baggier clothes, people wouldn’t notice my weight. My reaction? I told her I was quitting school and I marched home.

It was that bad. It may not sound like a big deal to you, but what you should understand is that I loved school. I hated the kids who bullied me, but I loved learning and I loved being around other kids. But when I got home that day, my (shocked) mother tried to explain to me that I legally had to go to school, and I informed her that I could go to another school, or maybe learn at home. (I didn’t know any homeschoolers, but I had friends who had taken long breaks from school due to illness.) She called my teacher, my principal, and the superintendent, and eventually I went back to school.

That was only the first time I remember being so humiliated by the word “fat”.

I have a million stories like that one, as most fat adults do. And they didn’t stop when I graduated high school, or during college. It hasn’t stopped. I still get harassed on the street, by all kinds of professionals, by waiters, clothing store associates, and even well-meaning friends who feel compelled to have a “come to Jesus” talk with me in regards of my weight.

I also have a long and hilariously sad history of doing all kinds of things, some of them pathological, in the pursuit of weight loss. I have been treated for anorexia, which is another source of humiliation in the hands of medical professionals because they assume only extremely thin people starve themselves for weeks at a time and hate their bodies. If a newspaper, anywhere, has published an article about a weight loss regimen, I have likely tried it – and by that I don’t mean “ate that way for a couple of days and then said fuck it”, I mean, “followed it religiously or semi-religiously for months at a time until I got sick or lost hope that it would work.” I’ve blogged before about a doctor who put me on an all-protein shake diet for eight and a half months, during which my hair fell out in clumps, my skin became sallow, I suffered from major vitamin deficiencies, and eventually developed long-term consequences in my nervous and digestive systems that I still fight today. And you know what? People cheered me on. Friends would see me and tell me how great I looked. I got tons and tons of positive reinforcement. I felt I couldn’t tell people how fucking miserable I was, that I felt socially ignored because I couldn’t attend gatherings that happened in any kind of food or drink establishment (I wasn’t even allowed to have coffee or tea), or that I thought I was getting sick because of it.

But today, I call myself fat all the time; I openly identify myself as a fat person, and I do work for fat activism. The very word that brought me to tears and made me quit school (for four days) in 5th grade is now the word I proudly wear on tee shirts and buttons. It was a long road that brought me to this place, and part of that journey was meeting other fat people who didn’t obsess about weight loss or diets or exercise. Fat people who wore fashionable clothes, even if they had to sew them themselves (because Gods know the selection out there is terrible!). Instead of saying the word “fat” because they hated me or thought I was ugly/diseased/lazy/slovenly/etc, these people were calling me “fat” because they and I had a shared history when it came to body size and prejudice. They and I became a “we”, and “we” were strong, beautiful, interesting, willful people who happened to have a single statistical point that was higher than the average. By reclaiming that word, not only was I removing the sting that comes when someone uses it pejoratively, I am also showing other fat people that they don’t have to be ashamed of who they are today. So when I call myself “fat”, it is shorthand for a incredible journey of acceptance, of myself and of other people; it allies me with a large number of folks who have collectively decided that no one statistical number can fully define a person’s worth.

I’ve been on this journey several times, in different ways. Each “label” I use to describe myself, represents a radical acceptance of who I am, as well as rejecting the notion that any of these facets of myself are meant to be hidden in a box of shame.

That’s “Why Labels”. I find most of the people who ask that question, have never thought critically about the labels that might apply to them, because they don’t see themselves in the role of “being other”. To boot, many of the people who ask that sort of question tend to be straight, white, cisgender, middle class men (or at least a mixture of some of those categories).

How come people who use an epithet in a reclaimating way are allowed to say it, but if someone outside of that demographic uses it, it’s considered rude (at least) or hate speech (at most)?

In other words, how come gay men seem to have permission to call each other ‘faggot’, but if a straight friend did it, it would be seen as rude? Of course, you can replace “gay men” with any subculture, and “faggot” with any epithet that relates to said subculture, but the answer is usually the same.

I spent a lifetime enduring quite a bit of psychosocial stress, depression, isolation, and hate before I saw the word “fat” as a source of pride. Unless you have shared that experience in some way, the word is being used in a different context, even if the user’s intent was not to harm. And yes, sometimes if you don’t belong to the subculture of that word, but you spend enough time and energy showing that you understand the people and the struggles they face, they may be more permissive about your use of that word. Like, I’ve spent over a decade hanging around gay men in a variety of situations, and there are some gay guys who don’t mind if I use the word “faggot” in a playful manner. However, even though I have friends who are okay with that, I never assume that all gay men are totally okay with it.

I usually advise people, “if you feel the need to ask if it’s okay to use a loaded word with someone, chances are the answer is no.” I understand that makes things a little unfair, because for some people it’s hard to read a social relationship in that sort of way. They’d rather have a direct communication about it. I’ve had people ask me about using some of my labels, and honestly, the answer depends, I don’t mind thin people calling me fat, but I still get angry when a temporarily-abled (my version of “nondisabled”) person calls me a crip or a wheelie.

Although I am technically a part of a subculture that uses a reclaimed epithet, I personally am not okay with it.

That’s cool. No one has to use a label they don’t like. And similarly, if you’re a part of a group of people from the same subculture, you can discuss your feelings about the epithet and whether or not it’s appropriate for the group to use (especially as part of the group’s name or identity, like “The Queer Men’s Chorus” rather than “The Gay and Bisexual Men’s Chorus”). You may also choose to vote with your feet, only joining groups who avoid using the reclaimed word. All I ask is that if you have a friend who has decided to use the label you personally don’t like, state your objection once, and continue to respect your friend’s right to label themselves as they will. I have plenty of friends with a transgender or transsexual history who do not identify as “trans”.** I even know homosexual people who don’t like the words “gay” or “lesbian”. And I know a ton of people who are considered overweight or obese who hate the word “fat”.

Labels are meant to be self-applied, and that means a person can opt out at any time. They can even eschew a label they once embraced, especially if their life has changed. I used to strongly identify as both “butch” and “dyke”, but I’ve changed since then.

But what if I’m using the epithet because it’s funny? Am I not allowed to lampoon people, especially if some of those people have reclaimed the epithet?

This is a question I’ve been personally doing a lot of writing about, regarding drag queens and their use of the word “tranny”. Not all drag queens use that word, but there are some pretty prominent ones who do. I can concede that part of it may be their own form of reclaimation, because many drag queens have been confused for transvestites, which is where the epithet originated. However, I have seen drag queens use it as a reference to trans* women, and that’s where I have an issue. Not all trans* women feel a shared identity or camaraderie (or “sisterhood”) with drag queens, especially since many trans* women find themselves explaining to many people how they are not the same thing. It is a similar issue with transvestites; one wears women’s clothing because it gets them hot, the other wears women’s clothing because she is a woman and that’s what women wear. Many trans* women have faced professionals who are convinced that their need to be seen as a woman is a matter of fetish, instead of identity. And yes, there are people who use the epithet “tranny” towards trans* women specifically to conflate them with transvestites in an insulting manner.

I believe strongly in the comedic rule of “Poking Up”. It’s pretty simple: you take stock of who you are and what privileges you have in the world, and then you poke fun at those who have more privilege than you. “Poking down”, or making fun of those who have less privileges than you will, at the very least, make your audience uncomfortable, and unless you’re more interested in the uncomfortable twitters of people who are laughing because they think they’re supposed to, rather than because they’re actually amused, it’s a bad idea. This is why a white male who performs a black female character is a poor choice, while a white male making fun of CEOs or politicians or police officers or anyone else who has more power in the world is hilarious. It would be weird for a temporarily abled stand-up comedian to do an entire set about people in wheelchairs, whereas someone who was actually disabled would kill with the material. It’s why rape jokes are almost never funny, because rape victims (not individually, but as a subset of humanity) have been purposefully, albeit temporarily, stripped of their power altogether – that’s why rapists rape.

So thus ends my rant on labels, which I meant to get out of my system months ago. I’ve just been finding myself in a number of conversations about it lately, and tonight it demanded to be ranted into the rantiverse once and for all. I welcome respectful dialog in the comments, but because of the subject matter, I will be moderating comments more closely. Play nice.

label maker