Keep Your Respectability Politics Out of My Paganism

I have made several posts here, in the past, about how I have no need for respectability politics, both explicitly and implicitly, not necessarily because I don’t care about coming off as “respectable” to others (though I admit, I really don’t care about that, either), but because it’s ideologically incompatible with so much of what I consider to be truly important.  The fact of the matter is, one simply cannot advocate for civil rights while also blaming those who are most-vulnerable to human rights violations for making the movement look bad.

As a trans person, the only love I have for gays in the 1980s is what came from the art community, especially the underground.  Why?  That was officially the decade that suburban bourgeois and -aspiring gays and lesbian “activists” decided to officially throw trans people (as well as drag queens and effeminate men – but, intriguingly, not drag kings or butch women, for reasons that ultimately come back around to misogyny, but that’s another story for another time) under the bus for “making the movement look bad.”

As a trans man who is also a male crossdresser (think about what that means, try not to hurt yourself), I have no real love for a lot of mainstream trans activists of the 1990s and early 00s, either, because they’ve proved more than willing to throw drag queens and other effeminate men under the bus because we “make them look bad,” as if there was some magical way to offer legal protections and socially normalizing trans women while also denying even just the latter to a genuine man in a dress.

Respectability politics is a con game, in the end, and it can be shown, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to be a product of Capitalism (which is itself a product of Protestantism), and like Capitalism, really has no place amongst true civil rights activism.  Now, this is not an anti-Capitalism blog, true, though I do believe that the personal is political because there is literally nothing we can do that doesn’t somehow relate back to how we are politikon, political animals designed for and living in a highly social world (id est, not at all the same thing as party politics).  So then what happened?

Well, last night, I passed out for nearly twelve hours due to a burrito that apparently had soy in it (my big food allergy), and I woke up to see this here being shared by a friend on The Farceborg:  Pagan Priest Wins Right to Wear Horns in Driver’s License Photo.

My first thought was “Oh, dear, does he look like a tool…,” but I followed the link, anyway, because I wanted to see what he was saying his “priesthood” was and how exactly this gave him an exception on “religious headgear” grounds.  Turns out that, last year, he legally changed his name to Phelan MoonSong (ho boy…) and he states that he literally wears goathorns every day as a dedication to Pan (fair enough, I guess), and has managed to cherry-pick some texts to justify the status of “religious headgear” in the same way that a traditional nun’s habit, or a Muslim woman’s hijab, or a Sikh’s turban would be allowed as “religious headgear.”  A DL or State ID photo should accurately represent how one looks most, if not all of the time, which is why there are certain rules in place to keep people from wearing outlandish costumes that do not at all represent how they look on a day-to-day basis, and to comply with the US Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights’ granting the freedom of religion, there are specific clauses stating that only specific types of items that cover some portion of the head and neck area are allowed – otherwise, how many fifteen-year-olds would get their Restricted Driver Permit photo taken dressed as a ninja? (Be honest:  enough that we can see the sense in these rules).  In an ideal world with ideal pagan community, even the fact that MoonSong had to invoke the ACLU to get his driver’s license photo approved should have just ended with this story.

…then I read the comments, and literally the first one was John Halstead whining like the petulant tyke he is about how MoonSong is supposedly making all pagans everywhere look bad, and this isn’t “serious” paganism, anyway, and OH, HIS ATHEIST NOT-GODS, PEOPLE: ALEPPO!!!!

In case you’re still honestly wondering, I don’t have the highest opinion on Halstead.  I didn’t have a good opinion on him, yesterday, but today, it went even lower with his belligerent defense of respectability politics.  I know I’m not going to change his “mind” (I doubt anything short of a frontal lobotomy could, really), but for those of you who might be both reading this blog and somehow one the fence about “pagan respectability”, let me break down the reality of the deal here, for you:

  1. This guy’s DL photo literally won’t change anyone’s mind about pagans.  Those who know about paganism will know MoonSong does not at all represent all pagans, and those who don’t actually know about the pagan community fall into two camps: those who don’t know, yet, and the willfully ignorant.  The former camp will learn, if we teach them, and the latter cannot be taught.
  2. There is nothing about MoonSong wearing horns that ever could “set us back twenty-five years” (as another commenter said) in terms of mainstream acceptance.  Those legal battles over the last twenty five years that pagans and polytheists celebrate as milestones, such as Patrick McCollum going to court for pentacles on US Veteran headstones, have been fought and won and, with luck, will continue to be protected by those who truly value religious freedom.  As to our day-to-day interactions, see Item 1 – people either do already, or do not yet know that MoonSong is representative of only his religion and himself, OR they are willfully ignorant and will remain so.
  3. If you think that shit like MoonSong’s DL photo has some great magic(k)al ability to “make us all look like weirdos,” I highly advise you to think again, because the answer is that it does not.  The fact of the matter is, in a highly Christianised society like pretty much the entirety of Western Civilisation, pagans are already weirdos by default.  You can put Fiona Horne on Aussie telly all you want, those who believe we’re weird just for being pagan will believe that she’s just an exception.  You can put Patrick McCollum in a suit and send him to court, most people are still going to believe he’s a weirdo, albeit one who cleans up once in a while and pretend to seem normal.  You can put Stevie Nicks (at this point, it’s pretty much an open secret that she’s some kind of witch) in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, this just means she’s a double-plus weirdo, cos normal people don’t end up in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  MoonSong wearing horns in his DL photo didn’t make us look weird – we made ourselves look weird simply by being pagans (whether we accept that label or not).

I think it’s great that he was able to do this without going to court – it sets a precedent that even the highly disorganized pagan religion that he apparently practices is worthy of recognition and status.  It will now be harder for such things to be challenged, in the future.  This is a pagan community milestone worthy of some acknowledgement.  Kudos to him.

That said, it’s still not going to have much effect on our day-to-day interactions with non-pagans.  Did we suddenly become great esteemed pillars of society when the pentagram became an acceptable religious symbol on the headstones of soldiers and veterans?  Ha!  Don’t make me laugh – the only real-world effect that action had is that now soldiers can have a pentacle on their headstone, and the government will pay for it, that’s it, that is what McCollum put on a suit and tie for, not for John Halstead and Aline “M Macha NightMare” O’Brien to tokenise for their play at respectability politics (and really, the latter and her goofy-ass “craft name” really shouldn’t be fooling herself with respectability politics, but hey, I learned something else about her today that makes me question her position of relative esteem in the pagan community).  My neighbours aren’t going to start thinking I’m any weirder than they already do because of some vague associations one may imagine I have with some jackass in Maine who wears goat horns, and trust me, I’m the transvestite dwarf on the third floor who plays the harmonium and sings “Lady Stardust” at 3am from his balcony, my neighbours already think I’m plenty weird, even before you bring in the fact that I worship multiple god Who were venerated in ancient Greece.  If you don’t want your neighbours thinking that you’re weird, might I suggest pulling a Star Foster and start going to church?  Cos really, if you think this Mainenite in goat horns is enough to tarnish what you erroneously seem to think is some highly favourable public opinion of pagans, then you don’t know much about the general public at all, and that’s a fact.

4 thoughts on “Keep Your Respectability Politics Out of My Paganism

  1. Can’t agree with you more. As a practicing druid, I’m not going to show up at the DMV in my full moon best but if someone else wants to, more power to them.

    There are much bigger battles to fight in this world (Equal rights for all LGBTQ for example…).

    At the end of the day, some of us wear our pentacles inside our shirts and some wear them out for the world to see…no different than the Christian wearing a flashy cross or (insert gaudy religious symbol being here).


  2. holy crap. i just now found, then read this. you are hilarious. i’m totally book marking your blog. or subscribing. whatever. fucks sake am i old.


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