Dance Of The Witch

Is discrimination against transgender faith-based discrimination?

Callan Williams Copyright 1999

We know about people being discriminated against because of their biology. The color of their skin, their sex, these are divisions - classes - that are easy to understand.

But what of people who are discriminated against because of their choices, their behavior? People of size, gay people, transgenders? Is that the same?

Is there a difference between those who are oppressed because of their body and those who feel oppression because society has put a negative cast on their choices?

At Halloween, I walk down the mall
past mothers in cartoon witch outfits
and the crowds part

I am no cartoon today
people see me
a real witch
draped in black vestments
big red hair, dramatic makeup and cleavage
velvet and flowing.
walking between worlds.

Where I walk,
the ground trembles.

I have the power
of casting lightening bolts
from my tongue.

I am awesome and potent.

When people see with reverence and awe
tremble in my presence
feel the majestic power
and have their own fears come to the top
they respond correctly.

I am blessed by God

I walk between worlds.

I transcend the everyday
even the attacks
this culture uses to keep people down.

I am not protected by the Godzilla in my office
I am Godzilla, and King Kong too
swatting at planes like files
imbued with the awesome power of nature.

For people who feel discriminated against because of their choices, they feel strongly that their choices are not trivial or capricious. They have strong roots for those choices.

There seem to be two possible roots to justify those choices: biological or divine.

Are we who we are because we really are like people of color and females, a biologically different class, and that sets up the choices we make which expose that difference and open us to oppression? Gays, people of size, and many others make this claim, that their choices are merely a reflection of a biology that cannot yet be seen directly.

Are we who we are because we are acting out our beliefs in the calling our creator placed in our heart, and that sets up the choices which expose that difference and open us to oppression? This is the premise of religious persecution, people who feel that their faith is challenged when their choices are met with oppression.

I love the idea of Halloween,
a time when the barrier between worlds gets thin,
where our shadow selves come out and dance,

the everyday self put away

and we are loosed in revelry and deep connection to spirit & spirits

Halloween is for the weird, when we come out to dance, and should be welcomed for our power of walking between worlds.

For most on Halloween, costumes are supposed to be not real, not revelatory but only concealing,
and that, to me, misses the point.

If we don't reveal our own shadow, our potency, we miss the opportunity.

There are choices society must curb, specifically those which harm other people's body or property. This is the premise of the legal system. The legal system has in place remedies against those who discriminate against a class of people based on biology, though limited remedies for those who feel discriminated against because of their personal choices. This distinction is key and crucial -- class based prejudices are wrong, but having the freedom to be discriminating towards the individuals we choose to develop relationships with, be they business relationships or personal.

Does society, though, have a right to curb choices which offend the sensibilities of others, which challenge their belief structures? Keeping order in any culture requires more than the hard line of the law, it also requires the soft line of appropriate and moral behaviors, in which respect is shown to others. Society seeks to tame us, making us more socially normative with social pressures, so that we neatly fit in to a social order.

In other words, while there is no absolute right to demand someone else's choices be un-challenging, non-threatening and in-offensive, there is a social benefit to doing that.

The Constitution includes no right
to be comfortable in our prejudices,
never to have to face expressions
which push our emotional buttons.

We each must learn how to embrace diversity
not just demand others not express ideas that upset our world.

Christians in this country often want to talk about the "faith based discrimination" that is felt by those who act more from their beliefs about their personal relationship with their creator than from social expectations.

"Faith based discrimination" is not discrimination by people of faith, but rather discrimination against people who act from and express their faith. They see countries where Christians are not in the majority, and there see the enormous costs to those who believe in something other than what is socially expected. They feel social pressure in their own lives that confronts their beliefs, and they venerate myths that embody those feelings, like the apocryphal tale of Cassie Bernal being killed at Columbine because she stood up for her faith. They see a woman whose employer tells her to stop saying, "Have a blessed day!" and help pay for the lawyer to fight that oppression.

In Minnesota they filed suit for a woman who sees a transgendered woman using the women's room as discrimination against her religious beliefs.

What many of these people who are concerned with faith based discrimination don't see, however, is how they often want to silence and oppress those who also act from their beliefs about their relationship with their creator. Others who act from a deep belief in what their creator has called them to do are called heathens and perverts because their choices challenge, offend and threaten the faith of others.

In Salem, Massachusetts, a fundamentalist church has had actions where they block access to a Wiccan bookstore, because they believe that this might save people from bad choices.

How would they feel if the Wiccans blocked access to their church?

In this case, as in so many others, the golden rule of doing onto others as you would have them do unto you is swept away by a belief that they have the one true way to salvation and that means that they can oppress people with other beliefs that are wrong.

How do we judge the correctness of a belief structure? Is it only by antiquity, or the number of believers? Where is the line between a cult and a religion? To me, the only way to measure a belief system is in the way it deals with others. Does it demand the silencing and oppression of others, the building of walls & fortresses, or does it open to a diverse range of humanity, focused on the connection of all things in mutual respect?

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions,
may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?
James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance

I have come to believe that my own expression of self is not about biological class-based discrimination, rather it is about faith based discrimination. It is when I act from a calling that I believe my creator placed in my heart that I feel social fear, pressure and discrimination that feels oppressive. It is not about the correction of some physical handicap which others fear, it is about the expression of a divine nature which others fear.

There was a time when religious beliefs were not valued, when there was a demand that people abandon their beliefs, and the choices they made that were rooted in these beliefs, in order to fit in better. In these times and places, choices were just choices and could be changed to fit, not expressions of a relationship with the divine and sacred.

Some Black leaders have made it clear that they see a big difference in people being discriminated against because of their biology and because of their choices. They argue that civil rights were not meant to protect those who made immoral choices, only those who were biologically different.

For many GLBT leaders, that means that they had to find a way to justify their choices, their claims of discrimination, on the basis of their choices being rooted in biological differences. Yet, to this date there is no clear biological marker for their choice to love same sex partners, to transgress the expectations assigned to males/men and females/women. Even if a biological basis is found, the implications of that are very messy -- will a cure be demanded?

For me, I find it more useful and productive to respond to the social pressures I feel as faith-based discrimination. It is a struggle between following my deep inner beliefs about my relationship with my creator, and societies desire for me to keep silent about my beliefs, to not act from a place that honors the gifts my creator has given me. When I express my nature, as long as I do it without building walls or trying to silence others, I honor my creator. When others try to silence me rather than opening their hearts to my expression of what is divine in me, they act from their own relationship with society, a relationship that demands turning their back on the divine.

'Holy' to me means perceiving your life as a gift from God and therefore as your right rather than God doing you a favor. If you look at life like some kind of divine favor, then you end up feeling like you owe God all the time. And you don't feel worthy, and in turn no one seems worthy. Why should the creator be experienced that way when our existence is given to us, not loaned. Like the ancient rabbis taught: "A person is obliged to declare 'Because of me was the universe created.'" So when I take an apple in hand and thank the Creator for providing me with sustenance, I can do so in such a way that I experience the Creator as some stingy ogre who begrudgingly let me have something to eat, or I can experience the Creator as a generous mom.
Gershon Winkler

When people act from a deep connection with belief, they are beyond simple social control. They become challenging to the status quo, which demands obedience to the word of man over obedience to the word of God. Churches understand this when they work to get all working alike, all obeying the rules of the church rather than playing out the diverse and growing process that is nature, that is creation.

Society has an interest in faith-based discrimination in order to keep social -- human -- order. Those touched by their creator often don't just go along, don't just follow like sheep.

If you have been the target of discrimination by people of faith who have used their beliefs as a reason to separate and pressure people who do not behave or identify in a way those people of faith condone, you may also believe that acting from faith is always a negative. It's easy to want to sweep away the power of faith and rely instead only on social & political pressure, but when we do that, do we end up sweeping away the very thing which gives us the power to be ourselves, our own faith?

When people walk with their God
they are beyond being humiliated
by human sneers.

Ruby Bridges
a five year old girl caught in a school desegregation crisis
was asked how she dealt with screaming demonstrators
every morning
hurling fowl epithets.

"I pray for them," she said.

Is discrimination against people because of the choices they make oppression based on their biology or on their faith? Are they oppressed because of some visible physical difference, or some sort of manifestation of sprit in the world?

I choose to see the challenges I have when I walk down the street as based not in some illness, some biological quirk, but in people acting against my expression of the divine spark of creation that lives inside of me.

I feel it in my bones, this deep knowledge that I trigger the fears of people, not because I am disgusting, shameful, nasty, or twisted, but just because I am awesome and powerful, from my mind to my walking between worlds to my ability to be myself in the face of social pressure. This triggers the fears of some, the respect of others, but the awe of all.

I am frightening, but that's OK, because I am frightening because I am more connected with the underworld, the spirit home of the creator, than I am with the transient world of flesh.

I see and I speak truths, and that is scary. I show that humans are not protected by imaginary walls, even the wall between men and women.

I am attractive and terrifying in that attractiveness,
so much so that people want to dismiss or erase me to move past their own feelings,
the feelings I trigger, the feelings they own.

I am potent and awesome, and that means people respect and fear me.
To try to play small and normative to keep them comfortable is silly.

Madness is connected with greatness because
only one mad enough to break the bounds of cultural pressure can fly high enough to reveal new wonders.

People tremble, not because I am mean or stupid, but because they see the energy flowing through me.

I need to be both frightening and comfortable, putting people at ease with my compassion and beneficence, and not with my playing small.

I am a witch. I am terrifying & thrilling, powerful & good.

I belong here, because my creator has made me and put me here.

I belong.

Hiding my nature under a bushel only insults my creator
only insults my God.

"What I find amazing about Brandon Teena," said Hillary Swank, the actress who played him in Boys Don't Cry, "is that he just went out and lived his life without worrying about social stigma. He lived more in his 21 years than most people do in a lifetime."

The story is about people who have faith in their calling and follow that calling to become who they feel created to be, even in the face of immense social pressure. The story is about people who break the bonds of flesh to embody spirit, indviduals who become themselves.

The challenge these people face is faith-based discrimination, having others harass, abuse, stigmatize and marginalize them because they follow spirit rather than social order.

Sexism may be about dividing people by genitals. Transgender, though, seems to me to be more about following spirit, making personal choices directed by our relationship with our creator, than about biology. We are challenged for expressing our faith in our relationship with our creator.

To me, that's an empowering notion.

Callan Williams' writing can be found at

2000-01-28 18:53 -0500



i am firegrrl
burned away flesh
to find spirit

asbestos skin
beyond flames

pure of heart.
cleansed by fire

am I the devil
because I have gone to hell
and come back?
some will claim that is so
if i don't nicely assimilate into their beliefs
twisted from a book.

gone where humans fear to go
into the fires of humiliation and pain
returning queer,
safe enough to face what others fear is hell?
x-ray vision enough
to penetrate shells of concealment

the fires have strengthened me
power of woman
power of connection between worlds
powerful does not mean man
no matter how people want to put me down

i am not normative, never normative
unique individual powerful
normative is never powerful
except in numbers
individual power is always exceptional
always required
violating normative comfort
creating life
those who walk
between this world and the underworld
between worlds others see as separate and discrete

those who see though walls
those who walk though walls
unencumbered by the limits of the flesh
unencumbered by the limits of their history

those people are awesomely powerful
those people are exquistely terrfying.

call them smart
call them insightful
call them pyschic
call them two-spirits
call them seers
call them witches
call them magic
call them transgendered
they are potent

how much effort goes into
packaging that potency
into nice sweet packages
disney chunks
to take off the edges
of being big and awesome.

I learned to believe my bigness was bad
especially around gender shift
that without fitting in,
I would be doomed
to a lonely life
ostracized and isolated
because I am a monster.
in a world of sheep