Thursday, 11 June 2015

Standing on my own

It's hard to know where exactly to start, so I guess I will start at the beginning.

This is something that I need to talk about, because it's been bothering me for a few months now. I feel like I need to just put it all out there in order to move past it. I initially stated that I would not talk any further about this, but enough time has passed that I think there are a few things that need to be addressed, because there is still some misinformation out there. Again, I will not be outing anyone or smearing anyone. I try to avoid doing that unless necessary.

About a year ago, I started to look into the Norse pantheon. I had worked with Thor in the past, and about 6 or 7 years ago I did an experiment where I worked with the Aesir for a month. At that point in my life, I didn't connect with them. I don't know why I didn't, I partially blame the terrible book I had for guidance, and the fact that the person who initially agreed to guide me flaked out. However, this time around I endeavoured to learn as much as I could from a reputable source, because the last time I had no idea what I was doing. My headspace was different, and I was in a different place spiritually. My spirituality has grown and changed as my life has changed. Researching into my own genealogy spurred an initial interest - a chunk of my background is Swedish and Danish - and the experiences of a covenmate helped to further my interest along.

I approached my friend RedMenace, who is a practicing Heathen, and they agreed to teach me what they knew. We spent a number of sessions discussing cosmology and theology. I felt confident going forward, armed with book recommendations and a passion to learn further.

I wrote a bit about my experiences openly on my previous blog with Odin. Interactions with him were not sought after, but something that merely happened. When gods or spirits or ancestors come calling, you answer in some way out of respect. I wrote more about my experiences, and different techniques I utilized to connect with him. None of them were specifically Heathen - but I don't identify as Heathen, so I figured if that was an issue, Odin wouldn't have shown up in the first place. I don't presume to speak for or know the will of the gods.

About 5 months later, RedMenace messaged me to let me know they had gotten some hate mail about me. I was initially gobsmacked. Why the hell is someone emailing RedMenace in regards to something I did? Wouldn't have been more productive to email or message me to resolve whatever issue? I found it who it was, and I was less surprised, but still mildly shocked. This person is a member of a well recognized organization locally who puts on events and rituals - an organization whose first mandate is "We hold that each one of us has their own path to follow to truth and spirit." To be honest, I had never really interacted with this person beyond being paid to do so in my former job. We attended a few of the same events, but never really interacted. There was no real beef. I wasn't particularly fond of said person, but I had no real issues with them - so this came sort of out of left field.

I sat on it for a bit. I wanted to find a way to address this, but I wanted it to be beneficial to others. I did not reply to the sender. Instead, I decided to post the initial email, because I felt annoyed about it for a number of reasons, and I know it is not an uncommon email to receive - especially in the pagan community. Inevitably, someone is going to disagree with how you practice or what you do, even if you're not doing anything wrong. The main the point I think is important to underline is that you do not need to stand for other people trying to tear you down, assert some kind of moral superiority over you, or telling you how and when you should be practicing. Your practice is between you and your gods or spirits.

I also think transparency is very important, and when people behave badly they often do so to gain something from it. Whether it is attention, drama, or they feel they are in a safe space to do so due to anonymity. We need to examine our ideals and beliefs, and stand by them even when it is inconvenient to so.  So, by posting the email (albeit in edited format - I removed all identifying information about said person, because I wanted to focus on the behaviour, not the person), I felt I was addressing something that more people should have been addressing.

It sort of went, well, viral.

Thankfully, I had a lot of support. Many people knew who sent the email, without me having to tell them. I got a lot of private messages over facebook and emails expressing their shock or their complete lack of surprise. How the other people found out who wrote the email is beyond me - maybe the person told everyone they wrote it.

I also had a few people that threw some pretty ugly accusations at me and fucked off. I suppose I owe them a thank you, they saved me some trouble later on. I was very disappointed that people I had known for over a decade decided to remove me from their spheres without even talking to me about what had happened. Either way, surprising as it was, no loss there.

Afterwards, RedMenace received a few more emails about how I was 'pissing on their ancestors' and etc. They told them, in no uncertain terms, that the emails were unwelcome, the issue was none of their business, and to fuck off. I also got an email, a few comments, and a lovely comment from a sockpuppet account on tumblr, as well as finding out my writing was posted to be mocked because I wasn't 'heathen' enough. I did not respond to anything, just kept record of everything in case it is needed.

 I have to say this - I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea of bringing in some third party who is uninvolved to do one's dirty work. If someone has an issue with how someone else is practicing, they need to question whether it's something to address. Acceptable times do this - if the person is utilizing racism, sexism, abuse, or other heinous things in their practice, and promoting such practices. Unacceptable times to do this - any time someone does something you disagree with. Bringing in someone uninvolved is both cowardly and childish. They did not ask to be involved, and I'm not sure what involving another person serves to carry a point. Fight your own battles, or say nothing.

The other person mentioned in the email decided to email the organization that this person is a part of to let them know what was going on. She felt that this behaviour was unbecoming of a person who was supposed to be high up in an organization about multifaith movements. The response she received seemed pretty hands off, a whole 'it happened on their time, not on our time, we are washing our hands of this'. Not an effective way to handle something like that, but okay. Oh well, she let them know, it just meant we would no longer associate or recommend this group to anyone.

A few days later, we got a message from someone in the community about some troubling information about the email perpetrator. They sent us a number of images, showing this person to be involved in some sexist, racist, and bigoted Facebook groups. They said more could be found via simple google search. Here is an example of one of the many images - I have blurred the name and photo of this person.

From the Facebook Group Description: "Europe yes, EU no! For Europe of the people, not the Europe of the multinationals!" This comes a mere 3 weeks after this person's group helped host an Interfaith Harmony Event. Yep, an event meant to bring many faiths together.

I can't articulate how wrong this is. What a shining beacon of tolerance, am I right?

The person emailed the organization back again, reaffirming her previous points, and also bringing up the fact that this person had some pretty troubling and bigoted beliefs that have been expressed in a public way - and she made it very clear that we are not the only ones with this information.

She was told, and I am not bullshitting, that this person is a valued member of the community, that they are 'proud' of their heritage (uh, so am I, but I don't run my mouth off about diversity being white genocide), and that she could go pound sand. I quote "own personal outlook on (their) culture and (their) path. (They) is entitled to (their)  own practice as much as anyone of us are, and (they) cares deeply for (their)  culture.  (They) makes a significant contribution to the Pagan community with (their)  efforts through (group). (They are) a hard worker and has accomplished a great many things in (their) time on the board, a commitment that is not to be taken lightly. (They) fulfill (their) duties as a board member admirably." I wish I could say I was surprised, but I'm not. I kind of expected them to rally around this person. Perhaps the group isn't aware of the activities mentioned. Perhaps they are. It doesn't matter. It is still something that should have been looked into - to either prove the good value of this person and us full of shit, or to confirm our accusations. While I understand they don't feel they are able to take remedial action, I feel like they most certainly can. They can remove them from power. I don't understand how they can justify not even asking for proof, or standing behind someone who says inflammatory things like the image above after participating in an Interfaith Harmony week. I don't get that. How would the many organizations that this organization associate with react if they knew? This group often represents and acts as the face of the local pagan community in the wider public and local interfaith community. I don't want them representing me. I don't want anyone associating my beliefs with this group. They don't represent any community I am a part of, because my community (and my tradition, for that matter) embraces all races, faiths, orientations and identities.

Complicity via ignorance is still complicity - it's enough to tarnish an organization's good name. In the working world, business owners have been hung out to dry because of their racist, homophobic, or sexist employee's actions. The whole Kenny Klein situation happened for years because people excused his behaviour and allowed other people to be abused.  We are all finger-wagging and clucking when people try to bring up this behaviour  - don't be starting drama, oh that's just how (name) is, oh that's just rumours. Look, everyone - assholes, creeps, criminals, and predators exist in every faith, every organization. We are so quick to sweep it under the rug, so rushed to prevent judgement, that we always forget that one important fact. While I think it's important not to jump on every bad thing you hear about people, I do think it's important to have an open and frank discussion about proper behaviour while in a position of power. There is a serious lack of professionalism in this situation. I could out this person, use their name and out their info to everyone - but aside from making a mockery of them, it doesn't address the issue in a professional manner (and takes away from the issue itself).

This group, and their lack of action, stands complicit in this person's bad behaviour. If they make the choice to stand behind a racist, bigoted person who spends their time trying to harass people online (I am not the only one, I have been told), that is their choice. They have made that choice, and they have chosen to accept any repercussions going along with it. The sad thing is I used to have a lot of respect for this group - I often recommended their events to local people looking for something to attend or handed out their information for curious seekers.

The thing that kills me the most about this whole ordeal? No one asked me what happened. No one asked my side. I have borne the brunt of something that should have came to light ages ago. There are people in this community who know this person is toxic, and they have known for fucking ages. Why didn't they speak up before this person was allowed power? There are so many people that are all talk and are willing to talk big, but aren't actually willing to do anything about it because they are afraid of causing drama. When did drama become a bad word? I'm sorry, but a little drama is okay if it means that a bigot or abuser gets dealt with before they worm themselves into positions of power, or before someone gets hurt. I'm disappointed in those people as well - I expected more.

We all know right from wrong. This is just an example of what happens, unchecked in our communities, because we are afraid to speak up against stuff like this. I'm not as afraid, because I have nothing to lose. This person has already smeared me, my tradition, and my coven in a very public way. Although I spent many years volunteering my time and efforts for this community - putting on rituals, holding meetings, working in conjunction with other groups (including this one) and teaching - my contributions are long forgotten in favour of someone who took their power through manipulation. There is nothing to salvage - everyone already thinks the worst of me. I can stand here and talk about this because, honestly, I don't care what the wider community thinks anymore. I'm already the villain in their eyes, and I guess I have to make my peace with that.

I wanted to share this, because I think it is important to show everything for all sides, even the ones you disagree with. My opinion is that the act of harassing someone is deplorable - and it gets old after awhile. Part of growing into a mature person is realizing that not everyone shares your views or opinions - and navigating how you feel about that and dealing with it in a productive manner is part of that process too. Education should always be the first step.

And so, I light the match.