ROS 2016 – A Gathering of the Tribes

By Hollis Taylor

I have heard so much on the social air waves about Rites of Spring being a really amazing event, but for an Androgyne like me its not always that simple. I have been presenting as an Androgyne and even asking people to use third gender pronouns. In my experience, I found this request can cause waves even in peacefully queer friendly communities. Mostly because people don’t fully comprehend what I am asking. It seems some allies will easily pick up on what we need, but others deeply struggle with changing their language. I have been to LGBTQ community gatherings and still find myself as an outlier. Most of the reason we gather as people is about just having other kin, people like us, someone to relate to – that’s what festivals are all about for many of us. Many people who love festivals and attend in whatever capacity will return to the same desire of wanting to “connect with Tribe”. The Androgyne is not much different in that, we really would like to meet other gender variant people and if nothing else support each other. Sometimes its just a presence of other gender variant people or expressing ourselves fully or discussing details around gender pronouns. There are conferences around gender where we can meet other gender variant people but to connect with other gender variants whom also have an interest in a spiritual path is very rare. I love to connect with my gender variant friends in Drag – but rarely are they spiritual as much as they are creatively artistic.

Now that I began reviewing events for DiversiTree I had to approach festivals with a different attitude after some not so great experiences. I was willing to be delightfully surprised at how inclusive festivals can be for gender variant folks like myself – asking for special pronouns – using a variety of bathrooms and generally pushing boundaries simply by being ourselves. I know that many third gendered people hesitate to do anything social because of the gender dysphoria and being mis-gendered, almost constantly, can drive many of us crazy. I find that explaining what mis-gendering feels like and how it effects us is a key in education about gender pronouns. So a compassionate desire to treat other’s with respect is the foundation of taking that education to heart in a way that inspires and transforms their language. In many cases, only other gender variants really get the whole thing, although recently education has spread to more and more communities creating allies. The more people that understand the damage of mis-gendering someone and that a change in language is a necessity, the more we can welcome the third gender into society.

At Rites of Spring I was ever so grateful. I was rarely mis-gendered, meeting all new people and requesting neutral pronouns became progressively easy over the week. I was even more delighted when I began to attend the “Queering the Circle Affinity Group”. The topic kept coming back to gender over and over again. I met numerous other gender variant spiritual beings that were truly welcoming, understanding, and frankly fabulous in their own way. They even encouraged me to step up and help educate the rest of the community about the gender revolution and to offer some great programming for a gender variant community!

First, the fact that there is a meeting of Queers talking about their spirituality is spectacular in itself. Many queers have been lacking in spirituality. The Christian faith has disowned so many queers for being authentically themselves or trying to find what that is for them. Some other large faiths have also done this. Although recently, lead by the Unitarian Universalism and Earth based religions, spiritual groups have slowly been opening their doors to queers. I have witnessed other queer groups come together but comparatively its less than other spiritual groups, we are a minority. The Radical Faeries have been leading a very queer spiritual path for years and many others have also lead the way in that department like Lord Orion Foxwood.

Orion Foxwood is a very open minded queer elder that I was honored to interview in the video above. I also found a moment to attend his workshop. I found his message of stepping up into our authentic selves and moving past what keeps us from this fullest of potentials to be the most helpful. Orion was gentle, peaceful, intelligent, polite and attended the “Queering the Circle Affinity Group” several times. I am uplifted by having the opportunity to converse with him. I was surprised to hear that the questioning of gender pronouns and expression were helping to evolve Orion’s personal expressions.

ROS is treading new territory with ideas around having an Androgyne as a spiritual path and expressing their masculine/feminine sides in normally binary rituals. The conversation evolved over the week, always running out of time for all the people gathered to talk about it and understand it deeper. As the conversation evolved we heard about how this speaks to all people, both sides of the binary and all those in between. We even touched on some very traditionally “binary” spiritual paths, like Heathens, whom in this community have adjusted their ceremony to make exceptions for gender variant people. Loosening the rules around gender in order to evolve into a more inclusive spiritual group is something that immediately gets my deepest of respect.

I interviewed a gender variant person that asked us to use either or both pronouns as well as keeping her/his name private. Tracy, a male bodied feminine expressing heathen practitioner who helped facilitate the group, spoke of the history of the gender variance and queerness among the heathens. Although these facts are rarely discussed, Tracy is doing a fantastic job of bringing these facts to the light. This Third Gendered Heathen is also a reconstructulist helping to evolve old traditions into something that applies to our modern day world. Heathenry does build from day to day life into their spiritual work. Tracy explained, The woman was the preserver of the home and the food, the caregiver for the family. Female gender roles preserved their husbands, out on journeys, doing magic to preserve them. The masculine role held the role of provider and the brave seeker. Feminine influences in the tradition are seership and magic. There is magic and divination for masculine roles as well, like Runes are the most masculine. Most magic is feminine. In fact, Tracy said that men were outlawed for doing “women’s magic”. The enforcement of this rule intensified over the years and was influenced by the Christian faith. The rule was so intensely enforced that men were killed for practicing magic or anything else seen as “women’s magic”. When cultures project a weakening of feminine expressing male assigned people as lesser is a reflection of the moral value regarding women in the Heathen & Christian culture.

Tracy is trying to help reconstruct the old traditions so that she/he would fit into a more inclusive spiritual path. Tracy said, “One of the ways I practice heathenry is through seership & magic worker.” Explaining that she/he is looking into other worlds, when she/he embodies both polarities. “This speaks directly to my work with the seen and unseen. The constant crossing of genders and owning both sides of my gender expression that is a direct reflection of what I see when I do my work as a seer.”

Tracy has a seeress staff that is normally carried by female bodied people. Archeologists have found these traditionally feminine staff among the remains of male bodied heathen ancestors. Interestingly Tracy stated “Archeologists had originally gendered the body by the artifacts that were in the grave, but when they went back with more modern technology, studying the bones, they found that was not always the case.” There were certainly remains that indicated male bodied people holding the seeress’ staff. When I asked Tracy how she/he applies their third gender to their spiritual practice today she/he said “Live the questions and someday you may find yourself living the answer.” She/he explained that being present as a third gender, staying active in local and regional communities like ROS is just as important as uncovering the history of third gender among ancient tribes. Even though we are from different paths, its clear that we easily unite under the third gender umbrella. In Heathenry, she/he explained that the tradition already holds space for queer gods. Giving examples of Odin who dresses in traditionally women’s clothing in order to overtake big magic. Thor dresses as a bride while retrieving his hammer that had been stolen. There are also examples of the third gender expression from the other side of the binary with Goddess Skadi when her father is killed puts on men’s armor and marches against the Gods, whom express big fear of this third gender giantess. Tracy hopes that these stories and others like them will help the culture evolve into an inclusive spiritual path that opens their doors to the third gender. As an eclectic spiritualist myself I find these stories validating that third genders have been part of the spiritual history of the world. Tracy also co-hosted the queering the circle affinity group where her/his education and presence as a third gender was much appreciated and celebrated by the community.

I reached out to two individual GenderQueer individuals about their experience at ROS. One person, Charlie, said this is their 2nd ROS after exploring more pagan traditions. Charlie was raised Unitarian Universalist. Charlie attends ROS because its 5 days they can be celebrated and appreciated as their authentic selves. Charlie thought the group rituals felt inclusive although they would love to see more gender variant people in ritual, as well as more spiritual honoring for the path. Charlie thought, in general, there is a lack of gender variant queer spiritual leaders and believes ROS would welcome this potential path. Another gender variant person attending the festival, Jordan Tao, identifies as a genderqueer transman. Currently Tao identifies as an agnostic pagan although admittedly not involved outside of ROS. They might be willing to explore more at a future point in their life. When I asked Tao if they had found queer spirituality or ever explored it they said “My spiritual path and my queerness combined is not something that I’ve put a lot of thought into. I’ve always thought of them as separate entities, perhaps because of a lack of a good example of how to use both together. Thinking about it now, I feel that bringing the two of them together would be a positive thing for both.” It became apparent to me the more I spoke to gender variant people in this community that there was a desire but a lack of guidance. I also noticed that the community is ready to receive whatever guidance we can offer in that way. So I asked the question, “What can we do to have our spiritual practices be more inclusive in rituals and other group spiritual gatherings?” Tao’s response was incredibly intelligent and well thought out, “Speaking of such things, it becomes clear to me that there isn’t much existing space for those who do not fit into clear “roles” or “genders” other than male or female. A good start might be acknowledging that not all beings fit within the notions of male or female, that male and female are not opposites, and that other genders also exist and coexist. And it is up to us, as gender-varient and genderqueer individuals to stand up, stand out, and let ourselves be known and included.”

Impressively this question actually made it to the table by the last day for the Affinity Group Meetings. “How can we make ROS 2017 more inclusive?” To a deeper surprise, I was encouraged to present some of my gender workshops to the event. I was not only empowered but supported by the group with constructive feedback and input. Inspired I have began to offer these programs to upcoming events, I am humbled and honored by the opportunity. The Queering the Circle Affinity group at ROS has humbled me and truly inspired my deepest of passions. Truly an honor to facilitate the growth in gender variance spirituality in any way.

I was also uplifted at the “Kids Club”. I volunteered at the “Kids Club” and provided my services as a “Hobbit” for child imagination games throughout the week. So I had plenty of interaction with families I can relate to. Since I have a 23yo son that I raised in festivals as well as a 1yo grandchild that could very well end up at ROS or other similar festivals, I have a personal investment in creating space for children at festivals. The club space was open for people to wander in and out but was constantly staffed with parents and volunteers wanting to spend more time with children. There were games, toys, coloring, and other basics for kid’s space. This was also a great meeting space for the Hobbit adventures. Children’s programming is hard because children, outside of festivals, are usually bombarded with schedules and structured activities. Parents agree that children like to be more on the wild side at festivals, running around in the woods and other age old activities. All of the children that adventured with the Hobbit, Tobi Longbottom, enjoyed hikes into the woods, building natural faerie habitats in the woods, and imagination games that feed the soul of a children raised in nature based spiritual faiths. I was also honored to meet a mother of a gender variant child. Asking questions to fully understand the path a parent takes when a child expresses themselves as gender non-conforming. This mother explained how today the child mostly presents as a “boy” and now goes by a “boy” name. I was honored to spend some time in the woods with this spectacularly empowered child. I was humbled by the child’s awareness and ability to question gender norms. I was also impressed at the space and programming provided for children of all ages including “Bright Hawk’s – Magic Sunset Storytime” that almost all in attendance chose to attend. Clearly “Storytime” was part of the culture of ROS since almost everyone sat around and listened to the story. Bright Hawk delivered a Limited Edition DVD at ROS with her “Hippo Story” as well as other stories she has told in her 20+ years at the festival. Bright Hawk’s story is gender non-conforming and inclusive. Bright Hawk is a live storyteller and musician that, at least for the Hippo Story, combines both to create a live experience that I have never seen anywhere else. This is a recent evolution of Bright Hawk’s using her handpan, the Hang PANArt. This long time tradition was a celebration for this community and I was delighted to see something I value highly as a tradition at ROS.

The Fire Circle was several nights through the week and it was, as usual, inclusive. I wasn’t surprised to see a heavy collection of gender variant people there, many of us are called there because we are encouraged to be our most authentic selves. The Fire had a spiritual feel to it rather than a “night club” feel. A gender variant person took a strong role in the fire and I was honored to collaborate with this person for future androgyne style rituals. Although the fire was not all night it was certainly part of the event.

Overall, I was impressed with the Diversity of the event, hence my title. “Gathering of the Tribes” – I felt like there was room for everyone there, even me. I was proud that this community was impressively inclusive & spiritual.

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