Friday, February 26, 2010

Echoes of a Past Life - Holes & Poles

The argument by right-wing fundamentalists -- and some not so right-wing ones -- that marriage should be the exclusive provenance of heterosexuals because of the fruitful nature of the one man + one woman pairing reminded me of this polemic I wrote back in my Pagan days. Pagans, I suppose that means Wiccans particularly, celebrate the holiday of Beltane on May Day with a enjoyably pastoral frolic in an open field: a tall pole, fastened with long colored ribbons, is implanted in the ground. Participants are lined up boy-girl-boy-girl in a circle around the pole, and holding the ends of the ribbons dance around it in a circular, weaving pattern, winding the ribbons down the length of the pole in an interlocking lattice and raising a whole lot of energy. It's enjoyable but insufferably metaphoric for the literal minded, and it becomes one of those unbearably Freudian exercises that my queer Pagan friends were always trying to figure out how to reclaim in a less overtly heterosexual manner.

It turns out that even though Paganism may seem like a left-of-center religion, that's not always the case. But as straight Pagans might find divine validation in this celebration of heterosexual union just as straight Christians find divine validation in Adam and Eve, the untidy presence of Adam and Steve seems to crash the party and suddenly the metaphor isn't so perfect. The response of the intolerant is to insist that everybody fall in line and end the discussion, casting out and condemning the parts of the equation that don't fit; hopefully the response of the rest of us is to check our assumptions and expand our understanding of the complexity of the human experience.

In retrospect I'm left asking a fundamental question about my argument: is fertility only the product of difference? I'm not sure I've gone far enough here in questioning that dualistic assumption. Anyway, here's the original article. It's another piece from Our Pagan Times, the newsletter of New York's open Pagan circle New Moon, and that's my sorry pseudonym.


Holes, Poles & The God/dess
by Moonchild
from Our Pagan Times, Vol. 2 No 6 (#16), June 9992 [1992]

Last month in OPT, Beth Goldstein's article "Beltane and You: An Engendered Approach," examined and defended one form of traditional approach to celebrating Beltane with a May pole. In addressing the problem that this ritual might entail for non-heterosexual participants, the article posited that sex is one thing, beautiful in its diverse possibilities, and fertility--reproduction--is another, beautiful in its unique heterosexuality. In essence, that the heterosexual imagery of such a Wiccan maypole shouldn't prevent those who are not heterosexual from fully participating in and appreciating the meaning of such a ritual done in the "traditional" manner.

It is my opinion--and I recognize this is an opinion not held by all homosexuals--that the maypole ritual as practiced by much of the Wiccan community is a limiting view of sexuality and fertility; and that the Freudian excesses of such a maypole ritual are not only potentially heterosexist but deforming to the understanding of a profound cosmic truth.

I am an exclusively homosexual man. Although in part this has to do with what I like to do in bed, it far more has something to do with who I am. What makes me different from straight people is not only--repeat not only--that I like to rub genitals and mucous membranes in different combination than straight people, but a profound interpretation of my place in the cosmic picture. Simply put, the Goddess didn't breath this life into me to enable me to make babies. Sure, my sperm could presumably help make babies as well as any man's, and certainly there are many gay people who do parent children. But if we accept that the Goddess is immanent in all life, and that the key to The Mystery is within us, and my life is not about reproduction of babies, where does that leave me, and my kind, on Beltane? Certainly not celebrating someone else's potentials.

Beth's article defines the realm of sexuality as "Heterosexuality Homosexuality, Bisexuality, Autoeroticism and Psychodrama," and the realm of fertility and reproduction as the Sacred Fucking-for-Pregnancy of Male and Female. Yet for me, homosexuality is not merely a question of what one likes to do (or not do) with penises and vaginas, and certainly not the equivalent of masturbation or psychodrama (phone sex?). Perhaps most important of all, it is certainly not a choice, though the decision to express it may well be one. It is, rather, a life-shaping force.

Beth says that regardless of sexuality men and women can and should be able to take "traditional" roles on Beltane with no internal contradictions. I say that these "traditional" roles are, in fact, potentially insulting to lesbians and gays, and the product of a giant pole-in-hole metaphor run amok.

Fertility exists at the point of balance between the Divine Male and Female, between the light and the dark, the earth and the sky, the cosmic force and form. This fertility exists on all realms and planes from the merest physical reproduction to the sweep of the winds and brilliance of lightning to the magical mental spark that creates symphonies. The ability to create is the miraculous interplay of difference. The physical replication of bodies by the interplay of male and female is only one of billion fruits of this fertile possibility. With us, too, lies the ability to turn the inner differences all of us possess--which sometimes manifest as the inner maleness and femaleness--into a fertile dance of explosive power and creativity. What this means is that to choose, as a symbol, the particular miracle of heterosexual reproduction is to make, in effect, a political choice. And to make this choice is to potentially exclude others whose choices are shaped by different realities.

It may be that for certain desired effect such a choice is made. That is not a problem, if the making of that choices is stated. The problem arises when we begin to make that choice for others. Should we decided that Beltane celebrates strictly physical reproduction then our celebration needs to speak to each participant in a way that fills her or him with the Divine. The Freudian pole/hole thing of many modern Wiccans just doesn't work for me.

When we deal with each other as Pagan brothers and sisters in this grand and gorgeously motley brood, it is incumbent upon us to speak clearly of all possibilities. Those of us who are blessed with heterosexuality will find our gifts and use them, and sometimes to the exclusion of homosexuals. The same is true of those of us blessed with homosexuality, or the shades in between. The Goddess blesses us with a divine ability to mold our Pagan religious practices to be true to our own hearts, and this is indeed the duty of us all. But there are times and places to come together and find the common ground, and hopefully that is the space New Moon aspires to.


  1. I came at this problem from a completely different place but I really love what you have to say. I found myself divorced, childless and middle aged. I realized that by some standard that I was stuck with, but refused to support, I was a failure as a man. I was more than a little disturbed to find that I was tearing myself to pieces over my failure to meet a standard that I claimed not to believe in.
    I finally realized that I did not have a useful understanding of gender or sexuality or my place in the world of gender and sexuality. That was some years ago and I've been working on a bigger understanding ever since. I will say that even that old Xtian bachelor CS Lewis had a better imagination than me. He still believed that maleness and femaleness were defined by physical function, but he considered that a problem caused by our fallen and physical nature. He imagined gender to be something much bigger than we could imagine. He suggested that angels and archons might know of many more than two genders and that gender was something that we, with our poles and holes understanding of gender would always have problems with.
    The very heterosexual man who taught me Tarot considered the generative force to be the primary force of all creation. He described that force in terms of male and female but I'm sure he was talking about something much bigger than making babies. I think he would be open to your criticism.

  2. "He imagined gender to be something much bigger than we could imagine. He suggested that angels and archons might know of many more than two genders and that gender was something that we, with our poles and holes understanding of gender would always have problems with."

    Thanks for that!

    I find myself wrestling on gay blogs these days with concepts of pregnant men and men with vaginas and women with penises: not in a judgmental way--I make none here--but as in a how does this effect my ideas of gender, which I had previously thought were generous.