Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Our Father of Spree Killers: James Holmes and the Breaker of Worlds

So what's so compelling about the Joker as a character? It may be that he's the ungovernable force of horrific violence. Almost all of Batman's adversaries are deranged fetishists of one kind or another. They're fixated on money or vengeance, compulsively acting out their obsessions with dualities or riddles or umbrellas... The Joker, though, is just deranged. He has no master plan, no grand scheme -- not even any particular desires, other than to be a wild card that, as Michael Caine's Alfred muses, just wants to watch the world burn Douglas Wolk, Hollywood Reporter
A little after midnight on July 20th, 2012 James Holmes walked into an Aurora, Colorado theater and opened fire on the audience. Twelve people died and fifty-eight were wounded in the barrage.  Upon his arrest Holmes declared that he was the Joker: since that time he has offered no other explanation for his actions. Yet despite and because of this silence his rampage has inspired no shortage of commentary. Some blamed lax gun control laws. Others suggested that the death toll would have been lower had more theatergoers been armed.  Satan and marijuana came under scrutiny: better mental health care and school prayer were touted as possible solutions.  

It is a  typical human response: we want to explain the unexplainable, to fathom the unfathomable, to make sense of the senseless.  If we can name the demon we can gain power over it. We can force it into our triangle of cause and effect, we can bind it to our rules and measurements, we can view it through our favorite rational or spiritual crystals.  But the answers we are offered ring hollow, their glaring flaws pointed out by detractors who offer their own equally hollow solutions.   We can continue this trend, our high tremulous arguments whistling off the stones as we walk past this latest graveyard. We can distract ourselves with platitudes or with fantasies of revenge. Or we can look through this wound in the veil of our expected order in search of Mystery.  In the place where knowledge fails, perhaps we may instead attain to Understanding. 
L'acte surréaliste le plus simple consiste, revolvers aux poings, à descendre dans la rue et à tirer au hasard, tant qu'on peut, dans la foule (The simplest Surrealist act consists of going into the street, revolvers in hands, and firing as quickly as you can into the crowd) - André Breton, Second Manifesto of Surrealism
According to the myth He lies on a rock deep beneath the earth, held fast with the entrails of His son. When He is finally released from His torment (or so the story goes) He will lead an army against Asgard in a conflagration that will destroy numerous universes.  This is one of Loki's most famous and least understood aspects, the one honored with the kenning "Breaker of Worlds." The Breaker of Worlds has lost everything save His cunning and His hate.  He knows full well the cost of His vengeance: He is ready to take out His pain on the just and unjust alike.

We need not like this face of Loki and we certainly don't need to use it as an excuse for antisocial behavior. But if we are going to understand Loki, we must engage with his thorny and unsettling aspects. Writing him off as a "Nordic Satan" misses the point. For pre-Christian northern Europe the important dichotomy was Fire/Ice rather than our post-Manichean split between Good/Evil. Neither should we emasculate Loki and turning him into a happy harmless prankster spirit.  Treating your cobra like a boa constrictor may work for a while, but sooner or later the cobra is going to teach you the difference.

The old Hermetic maxim tells us "as above, so below."  Those who have eyes to see may find the Gods in every aspect of being. If we have the courage to look into the shadowy places where James Holmes lovingly planned his terrible act, perhaps we will gain a furtive glimpse of the darkness underpinning Loki's light
By destroying we create. We create the feelings in you of what it is like to be the victim, what  it is like to be fucked and destroyed. Because of your annihilations, we create and raise new breeds of Children who will show you fuckers what you have done to us. Like Easter, it will be a day of rebirth. It will be a start of a revolution of the Children that you fucked. You have never felt a single ounce of pain your whole life, thus, by destroying you, by giving you pain, we attempt to show you responsibilities and meanings of other people’s lives.  - Cho Seung-Hui, before murdering 32 students at Virginia Tech
Today scholars refer to James Holmes and his colleagues-in-arms as rampage killers.  They come from all walks of life, all ethnicities, all religious groups.   James Holmes was a promising scholar: Martin Bryant, who in 1996 shot 35 people in Tasmania, has the IQ of an eleven-year old.  In 1984 an unemployed security guard named James Huberty went "hunting humans" at a McDonalds in San Ysidro, California, killing 21: a decade later Tian Mingjian, a first lieutenant in the People's Liberation Army, murdered 23 in Beijing.

Perhaps the only thing these disparate murderers have in common is their burning hatred of the world. Most rampage killers die in the act, either by their own hand or in the inevitable return fire from law enforcement. Their shooting spree is a swan song to their old lives. In ripping down the thin veneer of normality which protects their victims they destroy themselves as well. They knowingly and willfully annihilate themselves in the Ragnarok they call into being.

But yet this annihilation is also a transformation into a higher state, or at least a more famous one.  Once mocked and scorned - or worse yet, ignored - the rampage killer forces himself onto the world stage. And the world is quick to throw roses and rotten produce alike.  Charlie Starkweather was a garbageman with bad vision and a worse attitude. After a two-month murder spree with his underage girlfriend in tow he was memorialized in films like Badlands and Natural Born Killers.  Bullied at school, Eric Harris and Dylan Kleibold went on to become Columbine High's most famous alumni.  The dead are mourned and soon forgotten: their killers become celebrities.
You see, their morals, their code, it's a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down, these... these civilized people, they'll eat each other. See, I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve. - Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight Returns 
In the spring of 1940 Batman #1 introduced a malevolent clown called the Joker.  First presented as a psychopathic killer, over the years the Joker was mellowed into a   nutty but ultimately harmless criminal mastermind.  Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns hearkened back to the old, murderous Joker: Christopher Nolan's film of the same name brought him back in a big way and Heath Ledger's chilling performance brought him to life.

After Ledger's untimely death, The Dark Knight Rises featured Tom Hardy's Bane: the Joker did not even rate a mention. Still the audience at July 20th's midnight showing might even have been watching closely for his sudden appearance. (Persistent rumors had suggested Nolan would use CGI and Dark Night Returns outtakes to produce a Joker cameo).  It is impossible to ascertain Holmes' mental or spiritual state before and during this attack. But it is equally impossible to deny that a real-life cameo appearance from the Joker would look every bit as bloody and senseless as the Aurora slaying. Or that the audience would have met this shooting spree with delight rather than horror had it gone down onscreen rather than off.

Perhaps that is the greatest Mystery here: what is it that we find so fascinating about senseless violence?  We think it unusual that one person might decide to shoot into a crowded theatre. But we take it as a given that millions will sit in crowded theatres and watch people pretend to kill each other. We declare the Joker to be "a terrifying and humorous villain who will remain etched in our memories" with "the deranged threat of a punk star like Sid Vicious." Then we are surprised when people in Colorado, and Maryland, and Maine decide to follow his example.  Many are asking why James Holmes committed this crime. Perhaps they would do better to ask why nobody else did.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wrapping Up Our Latest Argu*ahem* Discussion

As this conversation has grown increasingly confrontational, I thought it best to reaffirm my respect for everyone involved.  Diotima, Byron Ballard and Ginger Strivelli have all done fantastic and courageous work in protecting the rights of religious minorities.  I am hoping that they can leverage that work and that experience and understand the impetus for the Pantheacon 2011 and 2012 controversy.  And I'm hoping that I can keep a more civil tone, something which I occasionally find... challenging.

I agree completely with Byron that it is important that women have space where they feel safe.  By definition this means space which they control, space where they can admit and exclude whom they will.  No matter how I feel about Lisa Vogel, she has the right to invite or disinvite anyone she wants to the party she throws on her land.  Whatever my thoughts about Z Budapest, she controls admission to her Goddess Spirituality Festival. I support them in those private endeavors without reservation.

I also recognize the right of religious expression, including the right to choose one's fellow congregants and set articles of faith.  Catholics reserve the mystery of priesthood to men-born-men: rabbinical courts, not judicial bodies, determine who is or is not a Jew. We can hardly deny Dianics the similar right to control their ordination requirements and membership rolls.  In this ongoing dialogue, I've noticed that many Dianics feel like they are under attack on all fronts.  For whatever it's worth, I have no interest in tearing down your private rituals.  Obviously many women have found and find comfort, security and meaning in them.  I can disagree with the details of your faith while affirming its value to believers.  (And who can deny that the Dianic current has had a potent, potent influence on our society for the last 50 years?)

This is what I mean when I speak of "setting out boundaries."  We can enumerate and uphold our mutual rights despite theological or political differences.  Once we recognize those rights, those safe places, we can begin the process of healing and reaching out to each other. But before we can start on the Marshall plan, we need to work on an armistice.

I think it's also important that we keep the scope of these battles in proper perspective. A few rabble-rousers turned Ginger Strivelli's efforts to stop Bible distribution in her child's school into a direct and personal attack on Christianity itself.  ("First they take the Bible out of our school. Then they teach our children socialism and Satanism and Global Warming.")  In a similar vein, Pantheacon's policy is not a "patriarchal attack on womanhood" but a decision that trans-exclusive rituals cannot be included on PCon's public calendar.

As some of you may know, I'm a houngan si pwen in Haitian Vodou: I've held Vodou-inspired ceremonies at several Pagan events.  Let us say I decided to hold a Danto ritual at Pantheacon 2013: in keeping with Haitian custom, this fet Danto would culminate with the sacrifice of a black pig.  And after PCon security escorted me and my porcine companion off the premises, suppose I went on a long online tirade about how unfair and racist PCon's organizers were, how they refused to allow me to practice Haitian religions and how all those protesting vegans and animal rights activists were really closet white power devotees seeking to subvert African traditions by any means.  Do you think I would receive a warm and sympathetic reaction?  (Hell, I can't even set a lamp or light a candle -- two VERY important parts of our faith -- at most indoor cons, thanks to insurance regulations against open flames).  

The point here, of course, is that public space invariably comes with strings attached - and sometimes your religious rights are trumped by the property owner's rules and regulations.  In the case listed above I could certainly hold a Danto ceremony without a sacrificial pig (and without candles or lamps).  Or I could declare that those restrictions were incompatible with me holding a proper ritual and bow out of the ceremony altogether.  The same holds for Dianics wishing to hold trans-exclusionary rituals and workshops... with the added caveat that I can't rent a con suite and sacrifice my animal there.

Monday, July 16, 2012

More on Pantheacon, Dialogue and Armistice: Responding to Diotima

Responding to yesterday's post, Diotima said:
Kenaz, I am sorry to find you think I missed the irony in your original post. Help me out here. Was your point that people who disagree with you on the subject of exclusionary ritual are like the poor, persecuted Christians of poor, benighted Asheville where the hippie peace freaks are taking over the healthy, traditional culture? Byron thinks those Christians must learn to change with the times in order to accommodate the rights of a minority culture? And isn't it ironic that Byron apparently doesn't get that she needs to learn to change in order to accommodate the rights of a minority culture? Yes? Got that.
Diotima's contempt for the "poor, persecuted Christians of poor, benighted Asheville" is pretty clear.  I'm not at all surprised to discover the feeling is mutual.  For all the talk about "dialogue" and "discussion" it seems to me Diotima prefers gloating about how she defeated those slope-browed Bible thumpers to actually talking to them.   Nor am I at all surprised that Diotima refuses to address the class divide between Asheville's New Age newcomers and the working-class natives who have lived there for generations.
But here's the thing -- the irony is less than compelling, because your comparison simply doesn't hold up on a number of levels. First, there is a big difference between rights that are upheld by our government, an entity that has at least some control over all our lives on a number of different levels, and the right of a minority culture to attend any ritual at a Pagan convention.
Speaking of "rights that are upheld by our government:" the City of San Jose, California, where Pantheacon is held, protects transgendered people under the city's anti-discrimination ordinance. Trans women and their allies have no need to "dialogue with Dianics" in this situation.  A simple letter to the proper authorities, cc'ed to the Doubletree Hotel's attorney, would be far more efficacious.  Glenn Turner appears to have come to a similar conclusion. As the organizer and sole owner of Pantheacon, Inc., she's already agreed that any ritual open to women only must be open to all who identify as women. 

Much as Ginger and company managed to get their way not by "dialogue" or "empathy" but by asserting their rights and causing a stink, trans women and allies got their way by asserting their rights and causing a stink.  Far from "denigrating" either, I'm merely stating that both behaved commendably.  

Second, Byron was not asking anyone to change their opinion -- just their behavior when they are interacting in a required, government-controlled environment. It strikes me that you are asking Byron to change her opinion. Do you feel she is not entitled to her own opinion? Or is it that she should not be allowed to try and persuade others to her way of thinking?
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  Not everybody is entitled to public ritual space at Pantheacon to express that opinion.  Nobody is arguing that Z Budapest etc. change opinions, any more than you and your colleagues are insisting that Buncombe County's Christians burn their Bibles and repudiate Jesus.  In both cases we're stating that your private views and rituals are not appropriate for the public arena.  And while I believe Byron should be "allowed to try and persuade others to her way of thinking," I also believe that I (and others) should be allowed to disagree with her.
The argument around exclusionary ritual is still in the stage of determining what, if any, injustice has been done. There are disagreements about this. People need to talk about it, discuss it, argue it out, and Byron is in the middle of presenting her side of that argument. Unlike Byron's fight, your fight is not a matter requiring people to adhere to established Constitutional law, it's a question of determining what the rules at Pantheacon will be. The process of making the law is very different from the process of upholding it. You may not like the fact that there is a question in some people's minds as to what is or is not an injustice in this situation, but detracting from that discussion by making spurious, contemptuous comparisons is not helpful.
Umm, there IS no "argument." The woman who owns the convention has already made her decision.  The San Jose City Council has already made its decision.  Byron is welcome to express her opinion on a fait accompli, but there's really very little or anyone else is going to do to change it.  We can argue about the moral implications of Sherman's March all day, but Atlanta is going to remain part of the Union no matter how eloquently we plead our case.  
But what really bothers me, Kenaz, is your tone.
To quote Philip Marlowe in the immortal The Big Sleep, "And I'm not crazy about yours. I didn't ask to see you. I don't mind if you don't like my manners, I don't like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings."
Your post, instead of laying out a reasoned argument for required inclusion of trans-women in any women-only ritual (ironic in itself, given that we are dealing with an already exclusionary ritual), and perhaps even addressing with empathy Byron's stated concern that all women be able to attend a ritual where they feel safe, simply focuses on attempting to demean Byron's good and hard work to uphold Pagan rights at the level of local government.
I have never said that women should be required to include trans women in their private rituals, or that Z Budapest should be required to recognize trans women as women during her Mysteries.  It looks idiotic when your opponents claim that stopping Bible distribution means children are going to be expelled for wearing crosses: kindly refrain from using similar exaggeration.

I support absolutely the rights of women (and everyone else) to free association and to freedom of religion.  But that doesn't translate into a right to public ritual space.  The Christians may conflate your efforts to keep your courthouse a religiously neutral place as an "attack on Jesus."  Z Budapest and her supporters may conflate our efforts to keep exclusionary rituals out of public space as an "attack on womyn."  In both cases they are misguided at best and engaging in self-pitying melodrama at worst.
Finally, your suggestion that any good parent would simply move if they have a child and live in this area, is, frankly, risible, and underscores how little you know of this area and the people here. Byron, Ginger, and many of the local Pagans were not only born here, but can trace their ancestry in these mountains back for hundreds of years. Even assuming it was financially feasible, as Pagans they have ties to their landbase, their ancestors, and their families. As you know, Kenaz, some things are worth fighting for, and these women will fight for their rights here. Denigrating their efforts does nothing to advance your cause.
First, I never said "any good parent." I stated what MY decision would be, given the circumstances you described.  If moving were not an option, I would at the very least keep a low profile rather than rile up a potentially hostile mob.  My child's physical and emotional well-being is more important to me than keeping the Ten Commandments out of my local courthouse etc.  You are of course free to make your own parenting decisions and decide what battles are worth fighting and at what cost.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dialogue and Armistice: more for Byron and Diotima

 Commenting on my earlier post, Byron Ballard said:
I will address this in some depth a little later, if I may. But I think you are not really hearing (or in this case, reading) what I am saying. My blog post is the first of three and I intend to go into (what I hope will be) a more thoughtful analysis of the larger situation in the larger community. By raising the issue in the Buncombe county schools, you are inadvertently clarifying my own point--the ways in which different groups experience coming to womanhood is not an either/or. Just as the school situation--which is far more complex than you can be expected to ken as an outsider to it--is not either/or. So many paths and possibilities--I believe it is our duty to the community as it is now and to our world as it will be that we at least become familiar with all the possibilities. Engaging the community in strength and love and responsibility is my goal in this discussion. And avoiding being short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful is something that is an important part of my own Dianic priestesshood (goodness, what an awkward phrase). Neither of these issues--separation of church and state, and the paths into Women's Mysteries--is simple. We do all of the community an honor when we engage the discussion with mutual respect and at least an attempt at empathy. 
This could well be.  What I'm reading is that you're holding those who protested Z Budapest's ritual and those who protested Buncombe County's Bible distribution to different standards.  Quoting from your blog:
Sometimes women need to be in ritual with other women because they don't feel safe with men--even men who are transitioning to being women. This may also be true of men, but that is not my experience. Not only do they not share with transgendered Pagans the experience of having grown up--as women and girls--within this culture, but they simply don't feel safe. I am appalled that so few people seem to get that. They don't feel safe. At a gathering of this size, are you seriously suggesting that women's safety within sacred space doesn't have to be a consideration? 
That's short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful, in my opinion. 
Here's the analogy I've used with some people--suppose a group of African-Americans wanted to be in sacred circle together, to explore healing through their African spiritual roots. They choose not to be in circle with people of European ancestry because they cannot safely explore the full repercussions of having been enslaved--they cannot safely explore that--with white people present. But then I carefully explain--as though they may not quite comprehend how behind the times they are--that all humans originally came from Africa and so I have a right to be there. 
That's short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful, too.
In other words, we should respect the rights of Z & Co. to feel "safe" in space which excludes trans women.  After all, as you helpfully pointed out, "At this year's conference, there were other rituals that welcomed all who self-identified as women."  Those trans women and allies who fussed and protested until they got their way and forced Pantheacon to adopt a policy which prohibits trans exclusion in public rituals were being "short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful." 

Yet when Ginger Strivelli and her comrades fussed and protested until such time as they get their way and force the Buncombe County school board to adopt a policy which prohibits distribution of Bibles on school property, you seem to think they were heroic and courageous. You did not invite them to consider the feelings of parents who have suffered years of economic losses, parents who have found their city invaded by newcomers who hate Christ and hate their Christian way of life, parents whose tax dollars pay for that school, parents who once again feel they are being disempowered and bullied by a wealthier and more educated class of Unbelievers.  You did not suggest that they examine "all the possibilities" -- including the possibility of laying low and staying quiet -- or to give the Evangelical Christians the "mutual respect" of letting them distribute their holy book.  

I also note that you're using a lot of abstract words here, with little in the way of concrete suggestions as to where that dialogue should begin.   Z Budapest and many other Dianics and second wave feminists do not recognize trans women as women. Full stop.  What exactly do trans women gain from showing "empathy" to people who see them as a patriarchal plot, a mutilated man, or a psychopathology? Why should they "dialogue" with people who refuse to acknowledge their existence or identity? Why is acquiescing to trans exclusion more broad-sighted and kind-spirited than asserting one's rights through tools like protest and legal actions?

Meanwhile Diotima, who seems to have missed my use of irony, went on at length:
Kenaz, dismissing and denigrating Byron’s and Ginger Strivelli’s efforts to see that the First Amendment is respected in the schools of Western NC does nothing to advance your argument regarding exclusionary ritual.
My argument concerned appropriate and inappropriate responses to oppression.  I'd also quote once again my final paragraph, with boldface for emphasis: you can hit ctrl+ if you want bigger text.
I'd also add that in both cases there was a lot more at stake than just taking a damn book or letting a few Dianics have their ritual. Bible distribution in a public school affirms that the school/county is Christian territory and that everyone else is an outsider who is deluded at best and actively evil at worst. Hateful rhetoric about "mutilated men" and "transies" cheapens the lives of trans women and dehumanizes them. Standing up for your self-interest is not short-sighted, no matter how uncomfortable it might make those who would rather you sit down and shut up. There are times when silence is merely assent to oppression.
Back to Diotima:
You seem to feel that we should do our best to make sure that the Evangelicals who want to establish Christianity in the schools while excluding other religions feel safe enough to do so. We should not create anything messy or divisive and certainly not do anything that might negatively impact Pagan/Christian relations. 
When you've had Christians vandalize your outdoor altar, break up your public rituals with threats and weapons, had abusive children, parents and school staff drive your 14-year-old child out of school because of her religious beliefs, or come home to find that someone has brutally killed your cat and hung it in your door because you are trying to keep town meetings religiously neutral, you may find you are not as inclined to "Just throw the damned book in the trash" so that Pagan/Christian relations won't be adversely affected. When things like that happen you take it to the courts and the media and thank all the gods that we still have a First Amendment and not the theocracy that many evangelical Christians want. You stand up for your Constitutional rights.
Of course. I think that's perfectly good and noble behavior, whether it's done by Ginger Strivelli or by Thorn Coyle.  More on your experiences later:
 As a new parent, I expect you may see the importance of these women’s' efforts more clearly in another decade or so. Children in middle school are quite susceptible to pressure from adults and peers, and even if a child is raised well at home, having the school system support and promote a religion that preaches against gays and tells your child she is going to burn in hell because she is Pagan is something that will affect her school experience no matter what you do or say to her at home. The only way to change that is to stand up for your Constitutional rights. Again. And again. And yet again. Which is something that Byron has been doing here for decades, along with her long-standing and very successful interfaith and community-building work.
If you came to me as a client and told me your husband was vandalizing your religious items, threatening you with weapons, terrorizing your 14 year-old child and killing your pets, I would tell you to pack your things, take your daughter and get to the nearest women's shelter as quickly as you can.  And yet you stay in an area where these events appear to be regular occurrences.  Speaking for myself, my responsibility to my daughter's physical and emotional well-being outweighs my need to make a political point.  I wouldn't risk Annamaria's safety over somebody praising Jesus at a town meeting: neither would I stay in an area with so many toxic and threatening neighbors.
What the Gideons did by distributing Bibles in public schools is in direct contradiction to the First Amendment, and despite being previously shot down in the courts, they are still trying to do it. This should tell you something. Staying aware of and fighting the repeated efforts to "establish" the Christian religion at the expense of other religions in schools and other government entities is important work if we want to practice our Pagan religions without fear of reprisals. 
Byron’s and Ginger’s work in this area has been difficult, dangerous (yes, there were death threats) and time-consuming. But they did it to protect the Pagan children of Buncombe County from institutionalized discrimination against their religions. Personally, I think they deserve our thanks and respect.
Again, fighting for one's rights (or for the rights of others) is a good thing.  Unfortunately, this sometimes means people feel hurt, angry, even unsafe.  Dialogue and healing are wonderful things, but they can only happen once an injustice has been rectified.  And sometimes they can't happen at all. I doubt very much that Buncombe County's Evangelicals are going to someday realize en masse that Wicca is a great religion, that global warming is a reality, and that Obama deserves a second term.  And I doubt very much that many of the people on Radfemhub or in the Susan B Anthony Coven are going to reject their loony conspiracy theories about trans people.

In that case, we rely not on dialogue but on armistice.  We set up clear boundaries: we affirm the rights of those groups to practice as they see fit in their private ceremonies. But we also watch them vigiliantly to make sure their hateful agenda doesn't infiltrate other groups, through nonviolent but highly effective tools like protest, boycott, shunning and court actions.  In time, when those boundaries are established and we've both  established spaces where we can be safe from each other, we can start working toward dialogue.  But for now I really am not sure we have a whole lot to talk about.

Friday, July 13, 2012

From Pantheacon to Buncombe County: for Byron Ballard

In her Witches & Pagans blog, Byron Ballard posted her thoughts on the 2011 Pantheacon controversy over "women born women" rituals.  Byron seems to feel, based on her blog entry, that the trans women and allies who are pushing for inclusion (or, more precisely, pushing Pantheacon to refrain from putting "women-born-women-only" rituals on the public calendar) are being "short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful." In response I might point Byron in the direction of an incident which she knows very well - Ginger Strivelli's efforts to stop Bible distribution in Buncombe County, North Carolina

Does Byron feel that Ms. Strivelli was being "short-sighted, mean-spirited and unhelpful" in going against the express wishes of many, perhaps most, Buncombe County residents? Do the feelings of those parents who (as one blogger put it) "were crying tears (literally, not kidding!) that Jesus would be removed from their kids’ lives" count for anything?  Thanks to Ms. Strivelli's crusade, they feel that their schools are no longer safe places for their children.  They feel that their way of life is under attack -- and since they live in the Asheville area, where many locals have been priced out of the real estate market by the hippies, New Agers, and general freaks who want to turn the place into Sedona East, it's not hard to see where those fears are coming from.

The Buncombe County affair reinforced the Evangelical narrative that they are a victimized group set upon by a hostile confederation of secularists and devil-worshippers. It provided a flash point for their hostility and gave local demagogues a convenient issue with which to rile up their congregations.  In short, it was a messy, divisive event which did nothing to improve Pagan/Christian relations. And it all happened because one woman's daughter couldn't just take a damn book and throw it in the trash when she got home. 

I don't want to put words in Byron's mouth, so I'll leave it to her to comment on these thoughts.  Speaking for myself, I might note that this was a situation where the interests of the minority were upheld at the expense of the majority's interest.   Ginger Strivelli's daughter need no longer be ostracized when Bibles are distributed at her school: meanwhile, Christian students and staff who once could uphold the tenets of their religion and "share the Good News" no longer feel quite so comfortable, quite so... safe ... doing so.

Of course, I would also observe that nobody is stopping the majority from practicing their religion. Nor is anyone stopping students from praying in school.  All that has happened is that Buncombe County School District is no longer allowed to endorse (or to give the appearance of endorsing) one religion over another.  And I would note that a similar situation prevails at Pantheacon.  Dianics who want to exclude trans women from their rituals can do so at their own festivals or in their own homes. They can even hold these rits at Pantheacon in a private room or suite. They have not been silenced: they have merely been told that P'con's public ritual space cannot be used for trans-exclusionary rituals.

I'd also add that in both cases there was a lot more at stake than just taking a damn book or letting a few Dianics have their ritual.  Bible distribution in a public school affirms that the school/county is Christian territory and that everyone else is an outsider who is deluded at best and actively evil at worst.  Hateful rhetoric about "mutilated men" and "transies" cheapens the lives of trans women and dehumanizes them.  Standing up for your self-interest is not short-sighted, no matter how uncomfortable it might make those who would rather you sit down and shut up. There are times when silence is merely assent to oppression.