Transphobia Not Tolerated at PantheaCon

[Note: This is similar to the original post at one of my other blogs.]

 

A handful of activists have ensured that Max Dashu, now known as someone who holds certain transphobic views, has been disinvited as a PantheaCon presenter. As a mother, as a sexologist, as a writer, as a neopagan, as a person–I’m glad.

As a mother–one of my adult kids is trans. And even if he wasn’t, I’d still be concerned for everyone else’s kids.

As a sexologist–as the ethics of sexual and gender inclusion are writ deep in this profession.

As a writer–my books are love songs to people who are sexually and/or gender diverse. I love them with all my heart.

As a neopagan–because my spirituality, and my patron deity, has no tolerance for hate.

As a person–because human beings can be better than this. Because our collective history as a species, barbaric as it is, also encompasses values of kindness, acceptance, and hospitality. Goodness is possible.


First a bit of the background.

From PantheaCon Website

“Theme for 2019: Unity, Respect for our Diversity, and Connecting Webs to Heal the Earth What are we doing to heal our mother, our selves? What are we Willing to do for the Earth and for our Community?

This year we especially want to emphasize that PantheaCon is a Safe Space for all. We tolerate no harassment of anyone by others. This is called Pax Templi where differences of opinion are set aside for the duration of the Sacred Space.”

Community/Activist Repsonse

When events and organizations make statements about safety and inclusion it is reasonable to take them at their word. So, when a few people spotted this problematic speaker on the program, they protested on behalf of their communities.

(By the way, “TERF” means “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” in case you don’t know. I’ll be using the term below.)

One of the activists who alerted the conference to the problematic speaker is Colin Davis, who blogs at Patheos. I have their permission to quote from their statement posted on Facebook.

“…a laurel: the PantheaCon staff with whom I’ve interacted around this issue have been absolutely spectacular, supportive, and committed to the kind of inclusion and acceptance that this community has every right to expect. They have been incredible allies for the trans community, and continue to do so. I am honored, humbled, and proud to be able to say I stand with them.

In closing, I want to point out that standing up for my trans and nonbinary siblings is not misogyny, no matter how often some say it is, and that stating safety concerns is not libel… especially given the outcome. If we are to have a truly safe and inclusive environment, we cannot give any platform or discursive space to the voices that call for exclusion and hatred based on identity.”

Davis’s last point about the importance of not giving a “platform or discursive space” to exclusionary speakers is another key point. Please hold onto it.


Regarding the Ousted Speaker

I mostly want to focus on actions and statements in this post, not personalities. Others have covered the qualifications, merits, and deficits of Max Dashu and have tracked her comments, positions, and noted her associations with others who take TERF-type positions. But in case anyone is wondering if her TERF reputation is deserved, here is a quote from Dashu, which I have lifted from the comments section attached to “So-Called Predators in the Bathroom… Again,” Lady Idos, May 3, 2016, Ms. Blog. There are many problems with her assertions below. Trigger warning… transphobic vitriol.


Max Dashu says:
May 6, 2016 at 10:11 am
When are people (feminists, yet!) going to get that the main issue for women is not that trans women are sexual predators, which the vast majority are not, but that the laws are being rewritten in an all-encompassing way that allows male predators into women’s spaces? As if no issue of female safety exists, as if only trans women face an issue of safety. When under these new rules, just by pretending to be women, dressing in female guise, saying they are women, *any* man can gain entry into bathrooms, locker rooms, saunas or whatever, and perv on the women in those spaces. When did feminists forget that straight men like to transgress and violate female boundaries, put cameras under stalls and up women’s skirts? that they do commit rapes in bathrooms? Yet all over the place, we see this reality being denied, by feminists! in the name of defending trans women. Looking fixedly past the reality of male violence, denying that any problem exists in the rush to make new laws: what kind of feminism is this? Safety in bathrooms is a female issue, not just an issue for trans women. (And sex and gender are not the same thing.) So incidents like the guy in Seattle who came into the women’s room and took off his shirt, and when challenged, told the pool officials, “The law has changed, and i have a right to be here.” He didn’t claim to be a woman, nor dress as one, he just wanted to intrude because he could. Male entitlement is bottomless, don’t think this won’t be a problem.


Please see this page on Transgender People and Bathroom Access if you are even half-tempted to consider Dashu’s position as reasonable. Plus, there are already laws to protect people from sexual assaults and other crimes. The Seattle guy? He’s an outlier and a kook (see section below). It would be just as ridiculous to base local, state, and federal public policy on the Seattle example as it would be to base policies on the fact that a man I dated once (sadly) followed me into a community college bathroom to scream at me for not wanting to date him a second time.

I first learned of the PantheaCon’s issue yesterday, in an esoteric social media group. There was a vigorous conversation in the thread and I threw myself into it with my usual polite passion. I tend to include links and sources when in this mode. I was particularly keen to address points made in one person’s “I can see all sides of this” posts, which seemed to focus on click-bait about men “pretending” to be women to game the system for perks, as if these kinds of outlier incidents justified TERF attitudes about transgender and gender variant rights.

I added the following links to the thread: United Nations Foundation statement on trans rights, and the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. I also posted the Transgender Day of Remembrance website so that people could understand the kind of violence that many trans people face. I asked people reading and posting in the thread to educate themselves about trans issues using this material. (I think this request actually came before the other poster added click bait.)

I am Wondering About Knee-Jerk Reactions and Weaponized “Fears”

I woke up this morning with this thought. There’s something about the way that TERFs react that reminds me of how some racist white women (and a few men) have been captured on camera, weaponizing their “fears and discomfort” by calling 911 on people of color doing ordinary things. (Here is a good post about why we should not give the racist 911 callers cute nicknames.)

By broaching this subject, I am emphatically NOT comparing the experiences of POC in the U.S. with that of trans and gender diverse people in the U.S. (though many people are both). I DO  want to examine similarities between the knee-jerk responses of TERFs and the white 911 callers. I think there are some. And there are differences too, of course.

In the last year especially we’ve seen a lot of viral videos of white women calling police on black people and other POC for having barbecues, waiting for AAA, trying to get into their own apartment complex, babysitting, etc. We can easily see how distorted and ugly these actions are. We can see the racism. We can see the over-reactions. We can see that the automatic assumption of criminality is unfair and unwarranted.

We can also see how wrong and dangerous it is to call in authorities with guns–because “we” (meaning white people here–people of color have always known) now also have a greater awareness that police often shoot black people, often for no reason. For no damned reason. (Black people shot by police in 2018.) And there’s now some discussion on the internet of how white women (in particular) absolutely have to manage their own “discomfort” and fears instead of calling the cops. Read “White Women Weaponize Their Fears and Femininity to Assert Their Power Over POC,” Cameron Glover, May 18, 2018, Afropunk.

What’s less visible are the very real dangers to trans people when inflammatory public figures and scholars also “call 911” by whipping up public fears and resentments. Brutal people, criminals, and even everyday bullies use the inflammatory statements to justify their right to do very bad things to anyone who does not conform to their notions of “proper” gender presentation. The Transgender Day of Remembrance documents this very thing in stark terms that we should all be able to understand. But there are also other forms of violence, of micro-aggressions, and these do damage too.

(I want to note there that people with intersex variations are also at risk here.)

The most unreasonable of the TERFs persist in denying all reality of trans and other gender experiences. To them, a trans woman is always going to be an entitled man in disguise, a “perv” as Dashu says, someone presumed to be dangerous and/or criminal. I wish someone would write an article called “Radical Feminists Weaponize Their Fears and Femininity to Assert Their Power Over Trans People.” We must see that the automatic assumption of criminality–especially as it impacts trans women–is unfair and unwarranted.

TERFs seem to refuse the opportunity to examine their own “discomfort” and “fears” with regard to trans people and their own intersections of cis-privilege and female oppression (intersectionality is a term invented by black scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw). The “privilege” of using one’s own discomfort and fears to affect public opinion, discourse, and policy must be examined. Academics have an even greater responsibility to do this, frankly, as they have educational privilege and supposedly also have critical thinking skills.

Some of what’s needed are facts, the ability to understand those facts, a dollop of empathy, a desire to become better educated about issues, some self-knowledge, and tools to manage our raging sympathetic nervous systems.

However, because TERF reactions to a trans presence are generally distorted, we can’t count on them doing much of the above. So to deny them platforms, then, is perfectly appropriate as they have not “done the work” IN THIS AREA to make them fit to speak to a wider public, like Panthea.Com. (I put that in caps because, yeah, some have done other kinds of work elsewhere.)

Please note similarities to our seemingly national “discomfort” with immigrants, Muslims, you name it–and to our dangerous, knee-jerk reactions to these “threats.” We ALL need to learn to manage feelings of “discomfort,” fear, and perceptions of threats where none exist. We really, really do. And when we’ve got histories of abuse ourselves, and are likely to be triggered, the necessity for self-awareness in this area even more crucial.

We must realize that the automatic assumption of criminality is unfair and unwarranted, no matter what our nervous systems are screaming. React to real dangers, yes, but not to imaginary ones.

Outliers, Con-Artists, and Kooks

Finally, here is my response to the person (sadly, an academic) who posted the three “click bait” news articles in the thread (for reasons which remained largely murky for most of the duration). One had to do with a trans woman who assaulted fellow inmates; one was a screenshot of some fool who wanted to know if he could qualify for a STEM scholarship by pretending to be female; and the third had to do with someone who changed the gender of his driver’s license to get a cheaper car insurance rate.

I said:

“Hey, are there jerks, con artists, and abusers in every subgroup imaginable? You betcha. White cis female imposters like Rachel Dolezal pretended to be black in order to game the system. White cis female Andrea Smith pretended to be Cherokee and boosted her academic career until exposed. But no one who is reasonable uses these examples to argue against affirmative action in universities, or against welfare. TERFs, however, inflate stories like the above to justify their ‘fears’ and ‘discomfort’ and then promote and inflame these fears in others. The result is violence and social and economic injustice against trans and gender variant people. However I’ll take your sparse selection of outlier examples and raise you with all the names of all the dead on the TDOR site–people who have been shot, stabbed, mutilated, you name it–often for being in the ‘wrong’ place. I do not believe that posting what is essentially click bait advances this discussion. A much more robustly insightful examination of prejudice and entrenched systems of oppression is in order.”

There is so much more to say on this topic. But at the moment, I’m spent.


Disclosure: I am a 64-year old white, cis-het woman with a hidden disability. I am the mother of two adult children. One is trans. As a sexologist and writer I have been vocal in support for trans and intersex rights. My pronouns are “she/her” but gender neutral would be fine as well. To borrow a phrase from a friend and colleague, “I am reluctantly gendered” as female. I’ve also experienced sexual assault and coercion as well as physical violence, and have sometimes been afraid as a result. For most of my life I’ve identified as a feminist (of sorts) but certainly NOT a “radical feminist.”


 

Announcing the Sequels

A_Fairy_Under_Starry_Skies,_by_Luis_Ricardo_Falero

This weekend (which was a particularly awful one, I must say!), I was inspired with the titles of the next two books in the Guild of Ornamental Hermits series. I always knew I’d be writing a trilogy of “mid-life magic”–and have had a general idea of theme and location–but titles were elusive.

So, the second book in the series takes place in California (and that’s all the spoiler you’re going to get). It will be called The Witching Work of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits and I’ll be starting it on November 1st, during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

The third book will bring a deeper look into the history of the guild, and some of it will take place in England during the witchcraft persecution of the 17th and 18th centuries. This third book will be called The Perilous Past of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

Just thought you’d all like to know what’s up with my works of fantasy fiction.

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Elf and Human Magical Intersectionality

This is an excerpt from Chapter Twenty, Stalking the Wild. Elves and the human “hermits” try to parse magical intersectionality and magical identities…

So Indigo did her best to explain. We did our best to understand. Scrying wasn’t so hard. It’s just fortune telling with a crystal ball or a mirror or a plate of water. Trying to see things. The rest of it was more complicated. Finally Indigo shrugged and said, “We’ll walk you through it when the time comes. Don’t worry about it.”

tom-obedlam-illustration-3

Jennifer sighed, “I thought magic adventures were supposed to happen to you when you’re a kid, not when you’re a post-menopausal rock ’n’ roller!”

“Yeah,” Massive agreed. “Hermitville ain’t no Hogwarts!”

“Yep, Hashtag Muggles No More.” Tomma giggled, while the Wubbies began to squeal for food crumbs.

The funny thing was, the Fey Folk were totally digging this exchange. They were apparently all avid fans of human movies. Archie said Elven academia was obsessed with critiquing movies and literature which depicted human encounters with magical beings and powers. There were even sub-disciplines which dealt with questions of magical intersectionality—various types of oppression and privilege involving magical and non-magical beings—as depicted in human media.

Aarrf was saying things like, “So, now that I’ve learned I’m only half-human, how do I present my authentic self in a culture based on werewolves and furry jokes? A culture that doesn’t even acknowledge that people like me exist? And I don’t exactly feel comfortable with the Otherkin community either, because I tend to see them as emotionally othered, not genetically othered. What do I do with my lived experience as an actual part-phouka? And does my phouka blood enable me to know the true phouka experience, as I wasn’t raised as a phouka?”

And Tomma was saying things like, “Maybe that’s just internalized self-hatred, Aarrf, that you can’t see that many Otherkin folk might also be genetically othered? I mean, look how our culture treats animals! How would you expect it to treat people who are part supernatural animal? Denial, that’s what!”

Breadcrumb was expounding on examples of sexism in Harry Potter movies, “People make fun of Hermoine for actually working hard to get better at magic. What’s up with that?”

And Roz was saying, “Yeah, and what about all that ‘sexy witches on Halloween’ stuff? As if we can only be valuable, magically, if we’re also sexy according to the false standards of beauty foisted on us by a sexist capitalist economy! As if our only real magic is between our well-shaved legs!”

“And our well-shaved armpits,” yelled Maxine.

“Or in our well-shaved…uh, nevermind,” Tomma pretended to look embarrasssed.

The professor was giving Parsifal an earful about human perceptions of class conflicts between so-called high Elves and “lower” magical beings like brownies and gnomes. “For example, in War for the Oaks, the queens of both faery courts are consistantly overdressed, which is supposed to indicate their high status among the fey folk, however the humans equate this with snobbery and despise it.” (Parsifal just fondled his puffy buttons and didn’t say much.)

“Like Miz P?” Tomma asked.

Meanwhile Septimus was muttering, “Well, we do like to dress up you know! The magic garment industry is one of the most important in the Realm.”

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Dire Deeds – “The Movie”

My book is about people who are old and/or gender variant and/or not white and who have varied sexual orientations (LGBTQIA etc.) and diverse relationships, having the kinds of magical adventures that in mainstream fantasy fiction and films are mostly reserved for white, cisgender, heteronormative children and teenagers.

So it is not surprising that as I was writing, I also thought cinematically! Who are the characters and what is the kind of magic adventure movie that I’d like to see? This means a lot of “behind the scenes” fantasizing as well as writing. This often took the form of creating and revising character bios and by “casting” the characters as if this book were going to be a movie. This kind of fantasizing helped me to develop my characters by looking for real-life actors who somehow “fit” or embodied my conceptions of the book’s characters and also let me play around a little with character “chemistry” ideas. As the book developed, some of the cast would sometimes change. A new actor would sometimes replace a previous selection.

During this fantasizing, one strict rule of mine was that a trans actor would have to be “cast” in a trans role. A Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) actor would be cast in a Kanaka role. An intersex actor would be cast in an intersex role, and so on. Of course, an actor of any gender, ethnicity, or age can play an Elf–and so they do. (No one is going to look very much like a Tolkien Elf in my fantasy movie–besides, my Elves are all wild for mortal subcultures and artifacts.)

What follows next is FANTASY CASTING – like a fan game, okay? It’s strictly for fun (unless the Wachowski Sisters give me a ring). Got that?

So, pretending that The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits is now headed for the big screen, there are at least eleven good roles for trans/GV actors, including major characters (either as trans/GV roles or playing cis roles); two major roles for intersex actors; and fourteen good and major roles for people of color (these overlap with many of the above roles). The characters below are human and Elf. The Elsewherians (they are “corporate”) and Fomorians (they’re like witch burning inquisitors) are mainly ensembles of bad guys (not listed as individual characters). I’ve also neglected to think of a couple of the deities that show up in magic rituals as “characters,” but I suppose I should.

mazzolani-10

The “Hermits” (*main book narrators)

*Babe Bump – intersex woman, pansexual. Imagining singer and actor, Eden Atwood, (with darker hair). She’d be terrific. And this song is a perfect way for her to express her feelings for her new sweetheart! Eden has been “the face” of Babe almost since the first chapter.

*Tomma Bedlam – a trans woman who has claimed a gender fluid/non-binary identity by the time we meet zir, pansexual. Imagining Jamie Clayton (Sense8). How I love her! But would she want to play someone who is gender fluid and non-binary? In any case, Jamie has been “the face” of Tomma since the first draft of the first chapter!

*Oyster Olson – trans man, asexual, pan-romantic. Imagining Will Krisanda with a little grey hair (Brothers). For me, he’s been “the face” of Oyster Olson for the last year and a half as I’ve been writing. (But he’d have to learn to play blues harp or fake it!).

Aarrf Perry – a gender queer (they/them) “human puppy” who is also head of Hermitville security. This character requires a certain kind of versatility and has a pretty intense character growth. Imagining Tilda Swinton (identifies as non-binary gender).

Joe Hillstrom – cisgender man, gay, photographer and personal trainer: Imagining Chiwetel Ejiofor, because he can pretty much do anything as an actor and I love him.

Glysandra Shakti Om – cisgender woman, hetero, tantra instructor. Imagining Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders). Or could be a cis role played by a trans woman (who?).

Maximus Gordon – cisgender man, hetero, polyamorous, musician and singer. Massive is supposed to be 6’7″ and built like a football player, and so though I imagine the face of Morgan Freeman (with grey hair and beard), I actually don’t know how tall he is, or if he can sing!

Sybil Perry – cisgender woman, heteroflexible, polyamorous, musician and singer. Imagining Loretta Divine.

Minnie Richmond – cisgender woman, heteroflexible, polyamorous, musician and singer. Imagining Annie Golden. I’ve also thought of flipping the roles here so Annie would play Sybil and Loretta would play Maxine.

Jennifer Juniper – cisgender woman, hetero, musician and singer. Imagining Rhiannon Giddens.

Frank Talk – intersex man (sexual preference unknown), musician. Imagining intersex activist and professional pirate, Mx. Annunaki Ray Marquez.

Rozaline Rae – cisgender woman, bisexual, musician/singer. Imagining Poison Ivy (of The Cramps), if she’d be so kind…

Ginger Croom – cisgender woman, hetero, age 70ish, winery heiress, Hermitville founder. Dies at beginning of the book. Gotta be a “big” personality in flashbacks. Not “cast,” but Charlotte Rampling in a cameo is a persistent fantasy. Could also be a cis role played by a trans woman (who?). Who would be the young Ginger?

Sidley Croom – cisgender man, bisexual, Ginger’s younger brother. Imagining David Strathairn.

Bad Guys & Irritants

Anna Phylaxia – cisgender woman, hetero, pretend “domme,” CEO of Anna’s Wicked Wares. Imagining Pooya Mohseni (trans woman actor) as fantastic in this cis female role.

Stanford Lawsome – cisgender man, bisexual, Anna’s assistant. Imagining Reeve Carney (Penny Dreadful) with bleached hair and a spray tan.

The Lawyer® – gender neutral (ze, zir), Elsewherian, preference unknown. Imagining Jamie Casbon (Brothers) with a very corporate wardrobe.

Sri Nimrod – cisgender man, hetero. Self-righteous yoga guy with man bun. Small role. Haven’t cast him yet, but that Portlandia comedian could do this role well.

Film Crew

Miranda Jackson – cisgender female, lesbian, documentary filmmaker. Imagining Lea DeLaria (Orange is the New Black).

Shank Stoma – Trans or gender queer person, sexual preference unknown. Camera. Imagining Hudson Krakowski (Brothers).

Eddie Sedgwick – Nonbinary trans male (they, their). Camera. Em Grosland. (Trans actor. Em would also make a good Elf–see below.)

Toledo Jackson – Cisgender male, hetero. Miranda’s goat-selling, former tweaker brother. Hippie dude. Imagining someone similar to Russell Brand, but even more unraveled.

Jason – Cisgender male, hetero. Obnoxious to women. Kicked out of the crew. Small role. Imagining a white, frat guy type. Not cast.

Hawaiian (Kanaka Maoli) Neighbors

Namaka – cisgender woman, mother of two including kapu (sacred) child. I imagine someone like singer/activist Hāwane Rios or singer/activist Laulani Teale.

Uncle Iolana – cisgender man, kupuna (cherished elder), age 70. I imagine someone like singer Liko Martin.

A baby (gender not specified) and a boy of ten. Not cast.

Elves

Note: The Elves have 29 genders in their world and many of the Elf genders have developmental “shifts” to other states over the course of their lives.

Septimus Sitwell – Filly Lord gender, pansexual. Imagining Benedict Cumberbatch. Because I can… And because Septimus has some great lines.

The Wee One (aka T.W.O. and Breadcrumb) – Filly Lassie gender, pansexual. Character based on Angela Mae, a clown and bellydancer (used to perform with Gooferman). Would love to cast Angela Mae in this role. She’s super-talented.

Professor Osbert Almond – Lord of Ice gender, pansexual. Imagining Tom Hiddleston with long hair (but more gloss and gleam than Loki) — mostly because he is an amazing actor and could bring a lot of depth to the professor, who has a complex backstory.

Parsifal Berry Blue – Murlord gender, pansexual, T.W.O.’s dad. Character based on the real-life Puddles, the Sad Clown with the Golden Voice. Would love to cast Puddles (Mike Geier) in this role.

Maud o’ Bedlam – Lady Flame gender, pansexual, T.W.O.’s  mom. Imagining Eva Green (Penny Dreadful).

Indigo – Simple Female gender, lesbian. Imagining Samira Wiley (Orange is the New Black).

George Potts – Lady Pheonix gender, pansexual, married to Archie Smegley. Imagining Jake Zyrus (trans man actor/singer).

Archie Smegley – Murlord gender, pansexual, married to George Potts. Imagining Scott Turner Schofield (trans man actor) .

Gingevus Sitwell – Filly Lord gender, pansexual, brother to Septimus. Imagining Bill Nighy (with longish hair).

Tom Crumpet – Simple Triad gender, pansexual. Imagining Emmett Jack Lundberg (trans man actor).

Sally ‘Round the Roses – Imagining Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (trans woman, lead in Tangerine), who would be lovely in this role.

Jack o’ My Lad – Simple Male gender, pansexual. Imagining Thomas Brodie-Sangster (cis man actor) or Em Grosland (trans actor).

Sulferous Pete – Simple Dyad gender, pansexual. Imagining Kingston Farady (trans man actor, Black is Blue).

Who’s There – Murlette gender, pansexual. Imagining Bae Doona (Sense8). (Korean name. Family name is Bae.)

Hamfast – Simple Dyad gender, pansexual, shapeshifter. Imagining Richard O’Brien (Rocky Horror Picture Show).

Hamfast shapeshifting as Goddess Mal-i-bu Bar-bee – Imagining Stormy Daniels in a cameo appearance.

Shane – Laddie Gora gender, pansexual, Fomorian expert. Imagining Alexander Vlahos (long hair, goth).

This “casting” is actually a productive exercise for a (cis, white) writer to step out of a tendency to “cast white” and “cast cis” and really broaden the character possibilities beyond a token character or two, tossed in as a sop to “diversity.” It is also a way to search out and appreciate the work of talented people who in some cases have less recognition than they deserve. And it’s also a bit of “magical thinking.”

So mote it be.

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Why a Tale of “Mid-Life Magic?”

'Fairy_Islands'_from_the_book_Elves_and_Fairies_1916_by_Ida_Rentoul_OuthwaiteI grew up reading fairy tales and fantasy fiction. I always wanted to see myself as one of the characters in whatever I was reading and/or have that character’s abilities. Childhood examples include: Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (for having the coolest submarine and for being disgusted with humanity); Doctor Doolittle (for being able to talk with animals); and pretty much any fairy princess you can name (for magic adventures and caskets of diamonds, rubies, and emeralds) – except the Disney variety, thank god. I’m too old for that to have had much, if any, impact on my childhood! I loved and devoured books by Edgar Eager, E. Nesbit, Madeline L’Engle, C.S. Lewis–and of course J.R.R. Tolkien (in my teens). By the time I was eighteen, I had most of the Andrew Lang collections of fairy tales, each volume a different color. And the only relic of my late father that I possess is a book of Japanese fairy tales he sent to me after the divorce, when I was about four years old.

My children of course went through the Harry Potter series, C.S. Lewis Narnia books, and Tolkien. My ex and I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to each kid, more than once. (Tolkien really wrote for the breath and voice. It’s astonishing when you read those books aloud.) And there were other writers and other books. For my oldest, a number of brave girl warrior type adventures, and Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks and Finder. For my youngest, the Redwall series (Brian Jacques) and Bartimaeus series (Jonathan Stroud).

So my life has been steeped in such tales, and now, as I am older (much older), I want the magic adventures to continue, with characters that are my age or thereabouts. One of the few stories that has come close is A.S. Byatt’s The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye.

Plus, I have had my own true-life collisions with “mid-life magic” and this has been an unexpected and fascinating development. Sexology (I’m a sexologist) pales somewhat by comparison.

So, The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits is a story about (mostly counter-culture) people over the age of 40, and some who are much older. The Elves, for example, last a lot longer than humans and don’t age at the same rate. And I, as the writer, am able to wave my magic word wand around and grant attributes and situations, as well as varied genders, sexual preferences, and magic “superpowers” to the characters who have come to populate the Hermitville and The (Elven) Realm of my imagination.

And in that way, the magical adventures continue!

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Tolkien’s Valar and Maiar – Deities of the Elves

For the second draft of The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits, I decided to switch out almost all of the references to various deities actually worshipped by human beings (past and present) and replace them with references to J.R.R. Tolkien’s cosmic pantheon as described in his Silmarillion. Aside from Elves, I have also now replaced other references to existing magical beings and “faery cities” with words based on Tolkien’s languages.

The idea of “Elves” has been used so often, for so many kinds of beings–from Santa’s Elves to Tolkien’s, from Norse Elves to Emma Bull’s–and everything in between, that I feel okay about including them and creating my own concepts of them.

I did this (1) to avoid giving offense to people currently engaged with a variety of Celtic, Heathen, and other pagan traditions; (2) as a homage to Tolkien; and (3) to have more freedom to create a fictitious magical foundation for the Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

Tolkien describes his collection of deities, known as Valar and Maiar, and their functions in great detail. I use a few of these figures. I’ve also used some of their names to create four elemental “cities” (Arda or Ardae) that correspond to elements: Ulmaria (water); Manwaria (air); Auleria (fire); and Yavannia (earth). (Tolkien had used “Arda” as a word for the place humans live, but I snagged it to refer to certain locations in the Elves’ Realm.)

The magical training given by the Elves of the Hermits of Hermitville also has a lot to do with these faery cities and elements. The three major characters of Babe Bump, Oyster Olson, and Tomma Bedlam are all linked with Murias, due to their astrological signs. These three characters each have unique magical gifts. Babe is a medium; Tomma has an affinity with magical creatures; and Oyster is definitely wizard material. As such he is the keeper of the mysterious Book of Moons, created by the original Guild of Ornamental Hermits.

Creating the “mythos” that matches the story is definitely one of the challenging parts of writing fantasy fiction!

Johann_Landner_Litho

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Guild Origins: Twelve Founding Families

12 Families & Hermits

This chart gives a rough genealogy of the twelve families who, in collaboration with Elves masquerading as “ornamental hermits,” founded The Guild of Ornamental Hermits during the later part of the witch persecutions in England.  The esoteric purpose of the guild was to provide instruction and further collaborative magic between Elves of The Realm and human beings. The practical purpose of the guild was to identify and rescue people who were at risk of witch persecution. The activities of the original members, both Elf and human, will be the topic of a future book. In this first work of fantasy fiction, The Dire Deeds of the Ornamental Hermits, Ginger Croom, California winery heiress and founder of Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective on Hawai’i Island, has gathered together descendents of these first families, (aka “hermits of Hermitville”) and in the book, these descendents must come to terms with a magical heritage that had been unknown to them.

Information about the twelve families and the guild is found in The Book of Moons, a mysterious volume which Oyster Olson inherits from Ginger Croom. (The name, Book of Moons, is taken from the anonymously authored, seventeenth century poem, Tom ‘o Bedlam.)

The Elves who are currently involved with the “hermits of Hermitville” are the same as those involved with the twelve founding families. (Elves are more or less immortal.) The chart below details the ritual work done by each Elf in England and their more modern jobs titles in the 21st century (Other Function column). The chart also shows which Elves end up mentoring which “hermits” of Hermitville. Please note that Gingevus Sitwell does become the mentor of Glysandra, but this does not show up on this chart. Also, Professor Almond ends up switching to mentoring Oyster, further along in the book. But for now, you can get a sense of the personnel!

If you’re confused, not to worry. All will become clear in the book!

Hermit Functions.jpg

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“Hermitville in Hawai’i” – A Subtext of Spiritual Settler/Colonialism in Occupied Lands

Hawai’i nei (beloved Hawai’i) has struggled with many, many forms of invasion over the last few hundred years – people, invasive species, political, military, economic, spiritual, and so on. The results have not been happy or sustainable for either the islands themselves or for the original people, the Kanaka Maoli. This blog is not going to cover these issues here – there are too many, they are complicated, there are better sources – particularly from Kanaka scholars and activists (I’ll list some links at the end) – and my intention is not to try to represent. Instead, the blog entry is personal.

I’ve got an eighteen-year history of public and private support for the cause of Hawaiian Kingdom independence, as well as other issues in Hawai’i (support for preserving the sacredness of Mauna Kea and opposition to the TMT, anti-GMO, anti-military occupation, and so on). And I had an intimate, long-term relationship with a notable activist which ended last year, shortly after I moved from California to Hawai’i with the intention of at last making a life together. (This stuff happens. Sad, but it does.) I do have some other friends in the movement there – but things between us feel awkward right now. I left Hawai’i and moved back to California. (A change in location which didn’t change my status as a settler-colonist, but at least I am closer to my kids, mom, and most of my friends.) [Note: I co-created the above two websites.]

While I was living in Pahoa, in the Puna district of Hawai’i Island (Jan. 2016-Sept. 2017), dealing with my own post-divorce crazies, extreme homesickness for my kids and friends, and the “oh no! everything’s all wrong!” realizations about my new living situation, I was also the quintessential outside observer, a role that I am used to performing. What I observed were the social and conceptual “bubbles” created by transplants like me and their tenuous connection to the reality of Hawai’i and its people. There was plenty of lip-service paid to being on the island: products in the health food stores, for example, were usually branded with some kind of “tropical” or “island” names and imagery. But I don’t recall seeing very many, if any, locals and/or Hawaiians at the local ecstatic dance. (However, the Wednesday night market at Uncle Robert’s was another matter.)

So what I’m saying is, there were counter-culture hippie bubbles, retired “mainlander” bubbles, military bubbles, tantra bubbles, spirituality bubbles and other kinds of (mostly white) American bubbles. Many of the people in these communities seemed determined to only nod in passing at the deeper realities (if they recognized them at all!), and to skim over anything harsh or else complain in private. Yes, there was racism at the bottom of a lot of it, and cultural erasure, and entitlement, and more. I remember an incident at the water aerobics class I was taking (and really needed!). The teacher was telling us to step “like an Irish jig” and two Hawaiian women asked what that was, in all innocence: “We’re Hawaiian. We don’t know what that is.” The instructor ridiculed them as if everyone should obviously know what an Irish jig was. Right there, in Hawai’i, the home of the sacred dance of hula! I didn’t go back again.

(Of course there are also many ethnic communities that interwine and overlap in Hawai’i, besides what I mention above – Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Micronesian, Tongan, Samoan, etc. – but this blog is focusing on the “mainland”-type bubbles.)

I didn’t want to dive into some comfort-making bubble of invading ex-pats, but though I kept my distance from them and developed a bad case of social anxiety (exacerbated by the logistical/social difficulties of almost thirty years of multiple-chemical sensitivity), I was no better than the rest of my fellow transplants. In fact, I felt worse. With what I knew and espoused, what right did I have to come there? When it was evident that I wouldn’t be continuing my commitment to the native man who was my partner, any possible excuse for my being there evaporated. I had also been ineffective as an activist in Hawai’i (as meetings were generally NOT fragrance-free and my request for clean indoor air seemed to be interpreted as an unreasonable request for privilege). And so my dream of helping to advance these various causes as a someday naturalized citizen of the restored kingdom also came to an end, along with my love affair. (Yes, for many, many years, I was certain I would have applied for naturalization, if it had been possible. I even have a Hawaiian Kingdom driver’s license!)

So, while struggling with “adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood” (my official diagnosis) as well as some health issues and general heartbreak, I started writing The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits during the 2016 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The book was a way for me to include my observations about “bubbles” as well as my growing interest in paganism and the practice of non-denominational magic. I continued to write all year and added another 50,000 words during a 2017 NaNoWriMo “sprint.” (And I’m about finished with the first draft.)

Okay, that’s a lot of personal context there. But I offer it so that you’ll understand why this book has a serious premise at the heart of its fantasy. That premise is… some “imports” to Hawai’i should never have happened, and that includes spirituality imports. It is ironic that I deepened my exploration of the magical traditions of my DNA ancestors while living in Hawai’i, but it seemed the only pono (just or upright) thing to do. The message that came to me was that I needed to be deeply connected to my own ancestors and traditions in order to properly conduct myself as a guest of the ‘aina (land) and the local spiritual powers, even as I began to say my goodbyes.

In the book, Ginger Croom, a winery heiress from California, buys forty acres in Puna, and establishes the Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective. She gives ten acres to a couple of local Hawaiian families who have ties to that land (as a sort of apology, I suppose) and then hand-picks and recruits non-Hawaiian people from the West Coast and invites them to come live at the farm. She has her reasons for who she selects and why, but none of “the hermits” are aware of them at the beginning of the book. As the book progresses, it becomes clear that what she hoped to create should NOT have been established in Hawai’i without permission, or in close proximity to an active volcano. I can’t say more than that without creating spoilers – but you might be forgiven for thinking that the book contains metaphors for early missionary activity in Hawai’i. The unspoken assumptions of settler-colonialism and occupation are also referenced and/or challenged in various ways throughout the book. Anna Phylaxia and her real estate schemes for Hermitville represent just one kind of “evil force” active in Hawai’i, perhaps one of the most obvious.

What do the Hermits and Elves (yes, there are Elves) have to do to contend with all of this? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

The book is a fantasy. It is a tale of mid-life magic, among other things. It’s about a merry band of quite diverse misfits who are getting old in the wrong place, who are forced to learn magic, and who become responsible for clearing up the mess of their own misguided occupation. The book is mixed with humor, whimsy, satire, and serious ideas. Not everyone will like it. But as I write and tell this story, I am also doing what I can to meet my obligations to bring attention and awareness to certain communities and issues that are touched upon in the book. Blog posts such as this one are part of that responsibility. Hawai’i saved my life (another story) and so I owe it.

Here are links to websites pertaining to the Hawaiian Kingdom and other issues in Hawai’i. Please visit them.

First, enjoy this video of this strong and beautiful protest song, Kaulana Na Pua. Lyrics and song history.

Hawaiian Kingdom Blog

Many excellent documentaries by Na Maka o ka ‘Aina.

Noho Hewa – The Wrongful Occupation of Hawai’i. The fierce documentary by Anne Keala Kelly. Here is a review of the film, re-published in her blog.

Dr. Haunani Kay Trask, video 1982.

Dr. Haunani Kay Trask, video 1985.

McKinley Lies, with Dr. Lynette Hi’ilani Cruz, video 2011.

Journey to Justice, Part 1. With Dr. Lynette Hi’ilani Cruz and Eiko Kosasa. Part 2. 2012.

Liko Martin and Laulani Teale, “All Hawai’i Stand Together.” Another beautiful song.

Hawane Rios, Mele ma ka Mauna, “Warrior Rising.”

Pohakuloa – Now That You Know, Do You Care?

Stop Bombing Hawai’i. [I co-created this website with Linda-Faye Kroll.]

More links to come. This is only a small sample of informational links available.

Resistance

Intersex Characters in Hermitville

Babe Bump, the book’s primary narrator, and Frank Talk, one of Hermitville’s fine musicans, live in bodies that have intersex variations. However, Babe and Frank each deal with a different set of circumstances, as the intersex variation of each character is different.

Babe was born with partial androgen insensitivity. Fortunately for Babe, her parents resisted medical and social pressure to force genital surgery on her. She self-identified as female at an early age and so did not want androgen therapy at puberty. If you want a simple label, you can think of her as a woman with XY chromosomes. Babe is generally “out” as an intersex person as she is an activist for intersex and trans rights (as well as a well-known neo-burlesque performer).

Frank keeps his condition relatively private, but confided in Babe during the first few months of their residency at Hermitville. Frank has 47 XXY chromosomes, which is known as Klinefelter Syndrome. Most of the other Hermits don’t know, mostly because Frank doesn’t think it is any of their business. He is a performer and he focuses primarily on his music.

Though I am not intersex myself, I included intersex characters in this book, as well as other gender variant and sexually diverse characters, for several reasons – including my background as a sexologist and commitment to sexual and gender rights, my being the mother of a trans non-binary person, and just a general sense of fairness. In the interest of greater visibility, more such characters need to be included in a majority of written and filmed materials. However, characters with such variations do not necessarily need writers to be hyper-focused on the variations, either. This could just be a part of who they are, not the totality of their identities or the totality of how we view or understand them.

So, even though this is fantasy fiction (I’m not an Elf either, but I’m writing about them), I am hoping to do my part to help heighten visibility and awareness for a number of different types of people who are marginalized, including many people in the LGBTQIA etc. categories. The struggles that Intersex people face are almost beyond imagining (including forced surgical mutilation), and yet are very little known to the general public.

I encourage readers to check out these links:

United Nations Intersex Factsheet

Organization Intersex International USA and the Intersex Campaign for Equality

Mx. Annunaki Ray is an intersex activist with many incredible links and blog posts. Check out the page on links for intersex allies, including this printable PDF from OII.

Below is the symbol for Intersex Awareness Day (Oct. 26) and Intersex Day of Solidarity.

flag

Finally, if a movie is ever made from this book (Hear that, Wachowskis? I’d want YOU to direct! That’s my dream!), I would want intersex actors to play the intersex characters, trans actors to play trans characters, and so on – so all these folks could get more work!

Edith Sitwell and Tom o’ Bedlam

Here are two of the most pervasive and enduring influences on me, as I make my way through the writing of this work of fantasy fiction.

First, Edith Sitwell’s English Eccentrics, which has a chapter on Ornamental Hermits. Some of England’s “landed gentry” really did hire ornamental hermits to flit about in the shrubbery for their amusement. I believe this should be a 21st century career choice, with better wages and job security, even a union, of course! The San Francisco Chronicle once rejected my (somewhat satirical, somewhat serious) advocacy of a unionized Hermits Guild as a career option for people in need of work (I would have applied!), but the editor did compliment me on providing the most obscure literary reference to come across their desks! I still think a Hermit’s Guild could have made neat use of cast-off costumes from ACT and Beach Blanket Babylon!

In fact, in 2016, the village of Adleburgh advertised for a professional “village idiot,” which I am convinced is very much in the spirit of Ornamental Hermiting.

ornamental-hermit

Secondly,  Tom o’ Bedlam, a poem written (most likely) in the 17th century, author unknown. And this musical version by the Rude Mechanicals. The late Michael Rossman, of Free Speech Movement fame, is the vocalist. Nay, more than a mere vocalist! He became Tom when he sang. Should this book ever be made into a movie, I’ll lobby hard for this version of the song to be part of the soundtrack. My character, Tomma Bedlam, named zirself after this poem. The “madness” of another character also loosely follows Tom’s trajectory.

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/339842

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