Before Gail Simone wrote Alysia Yeoh as the first trans character in mainstream DC Comics, Neil Gaiman briefly introduced another trans character in the Sandman story A Game of You. Trans woman Wanda Mann is arguably one of the first trans characters in comic books, and, while I utterly love her character, the way she is portrayed is definitely extremely problematic. However, this is not meant to be a post discussing Wanda’s overall portrayal as a trans character. Instead, what I want to focus on is the exchange between Wanda and the witch Thessaly, and how their interactions relate to the current issues that trans people face within the Wicca and Pagan communities.
In A Game of You, the main character of this particular story, Barbie, is trapped in the Land of Dreaming by a nefarious creature called the cuckoo. Wanda, Barbie’s best friend, and several of her neighbors, including Thessaly and the young lesbian couple Foxglove and Hazel, were also affected by the cuckoo. They were all infected with bad dreams that could have killed them, but Thessaly’s training as a witch allowed her to save them. Wanda, Foxglove, and Hazel want to travel to the Land of Dreaming to save Barbie; Thessaly wants to go as well, but mostly to seek revenge on the cuckoo that tried to kill her. Thessaly claims there are only two ways to enter a person’s dreams: to ask the Dream King, who she doubts would help them, and to go by the Moon’s way. The Moon’s way involves using menstrual blood from Foxglove for the ritual. In this ritual Thessaly specifically displays cissexism.
Foxglove: Huh? Why me?
Thessaly: Because you’re menstruating. No one else here is. Hazel’s pregnant, Wanda’s a man… and I haven’t menstruated for a long time.
On top of this, when the path is finally made for them by the Triune Moon Goddess, Wanda wants to come with the other women to help Barbie, but Thessaly tells her she can’t.
Thessaly: This isn’t your route. It can’t be. I’m sorry.
Thessaly seems to be pretty clear here that Wanda, despite identifying as a woman, is not a woman. This seems to be enforced by the ritual she does; the spiritual forces she calls upon would not allow Wanda to be incorporated because she is not biologically female.
I had read this comic before, but it was given to me as a gift this last Christmas, and I started to reread it then. Not too many months before this, I began exploring Wicca and Paganism for a variety of reasons. Together these two things cause me to ask the question: is transphobia a problem in Paganism and Wicca? I do not claim to be any kind of an expert, as I am very much a beginner, and in part I am doing this post because I want to hear the thoughts of our Wiccan and Pagan followers.
When I first started exploring Wicca and Paganism I fell in love with the female spirituality and female images that are incorporated in many people’s practices. As a Christian who had been largely denied those things in my religion, I was extremely pleased to find them in Wicca and Paganism. However, as I read more, I began to be concerned about some things, like the fact that the potential to give birth seemed to be regarded as extremely important to being female, the heteronormativity that constantly seems to be the focus of much of the worship surrounding the God and Goddess, and such a large focus on biological gender that I was concerned about transphobia.
To my relief, some of my concerns were put to rest, at least in part (as I said, I still have much to fully understand). For example, despite certain rituals or holidays emphasizing the ability to produce life, much of Paganism and Wicca celebrates other aspects of femininity and does not, in general, attempt to boil women down to the biological functions. For queer practitioners, things are a little more complicated. Lazarus Kyraphia is a gay man who is a member of the Alexandrian Wiccan coven, an initiate of the Antinoian mysterious through the Ekklesia Antinooa, and has done graduate coursework towards a Masters of Applied Theology. He explains that much of traditional Paganism and Wicca has roots in homophobia. He writes:
I know that some Queer Pagans have been turned off to Wicca and gone in search of other Pagan paths that they feel better reflect their experiences as LGBT people because they feel that the God and Goddess of Wicca express a heterosexist experience. In all fairness, there might be some validity to this opinion. After all, there is a real history of homophobia within Traditionalist Wicca.
He goes on to explain, however, that in recent years the Pagan and Wiccan community has been very accepting of homosexual people, and that there has been a large effort made by queer Pagans and Wiccans to reinterpret or re-imagine the gods or rituals in a way that is open to all queer people. For example, Artemis’s disinterest in men could cause her to be read as a lesbian, or even asexual, since she seemed uninterested in sex in general. Kyraphia particularly mentions the Horned God, and how traditionally, horned gods never seemed to care about who they slept with. He even mentions interpreting the interplay between the God and Goddess has more to do with fertility and polarity then heterosexuality.
So while many of my initial concerns were addressed, I still had worries about the state of the Pagan trans community. Most of the discussion I could find about transgender Pagans and Wiccans was focused on PantheaCon 2011 and the Dianic Wicca. At the convention, a Dianic Wiccan group led by Z. Budapest specified that all women were welcome to join their ritual, but then denied trans women access. Z. Budapest explained why trans women were not allowed (warning for transphobia):
This struggle has been going since the Women’s Mysteries first appeared. These individuals selfishly never think about the following: if women allow men to be incorporated into Dianic Mysteries, What will women own on their own? Nothing! Again! Transies who attack us only care about themselves.
We women need our own culture, our own resourcing, our own traditions.
You can tell these are men, They don’t care if women loose the Only tradition reclaimed after much research and practice ,the Dianic Tradition. Men simply want in. its their will. How dare us women not let them in and give away the ONLY spiritual home we have!
Men want to worship the Goddess? Why not put in the WORK and create your own trads. The order of ATTIS for example,(dormant since the 4rth century) used to be for trans gendered people, also the castrata, men who castrated themselves to be more like the Goddess.
Why are we the ONLY tradition they want? Go Gardnerian! Go Druid! Go Ecclectic!
Filled with women, and men. They would fit fine.
But if you claim to be one of us, you have to have sometimes in your life a womb, and overies and MOON bleed and not die.
Women are born not made by men on operating tables. [sic] (source)
From the research I have done, the inclusion of trans people has become a huge issue today in the Pagan and Wiccan community, and for the most part, the people I have seen discussing the issue are very much supporters of trans practitioners. Although transphobic practitioners like Z. Budapest appear to be in the minority, transphobia is still a problem.
I don’t think that there is anything in Paganism or Wicca that could cause it to be more or less transphobic than any other religion. And I don’t see why trans individuals cannot be allowed to reinterpret Wiccan and Pagan beliefs in the same way that queer people have. On one blog post about Gender Essentialism in Paganism and Wicca, one commenter mentioned that there were groups already doing just that. They explain:
The presence of a hard and fast gender binary in Wicca was kind of a turn off for me. In the Radical Faeries in DC we expanded this concept into recognizing God-Forms as Male, Female, Both, and Neither. When theology fails you, change your theology. (source)
Paganism and Wicca seem to be, at their core, very accepting religions, even though there may still be problems. One of the things that upset me in A Game of You is that Thessaly’s transphobic beliefs seemed to be affirmed by the universe. The ritual and Goddess she called upon seemed to support her opinion that Wanda is not “really” a woman. But while Wanda’s portrayal still has problems, I was extremely pleased with the end of the comic. Sadly, Wanda dies, but afterward Barbie dreams of her with Death. In her dream, Wanda is shown as and recognized as a woman. So in the end, Thessaly is shown to be wrong—whatever forces that govern the universe recognize what Wanda already knew about herself, that she is a woman, regardless of her birth sex or her body’s biological functions. Just as Wanda was recognized by the universe as the woman she always knew herself to be, I hope Paganism and Wicca also come to recognize trans individuals as the gender they know themselves to be.