30 Days of Hymns, the Sacred Triad, the Morrigan #4: sexual sovereignty

to you, Morrigan
I begin the process
of decolonizing my body
I have grown like a tree
around rock
around my trauma
folding it into myself
it has curved me
stunted me
and it is time
to eject it

I will grow deep roots
around these rocks
and with all the force
of the earth
I will expel them
and I will sing your praises
upon the bloodied earth

for you, Morrigan
I begin the process
of re-loving myself again
of re-discovering the country
I left behind
when first it was invaded
a refugee
from my own flesh

My body is mine
and I abdicated too soon
how can I enter into
consensual trade agreements
if I have not reclaimed
my throne?

I am a Queen, like you, Beloved
I decide who enters this land
and who gets to stay

and reclaiming my throne, I offer you
sweet wine
the color of blood
fresh meats
a feast for a sovereign

and I sing your praises
upon my sacred land

for you, Morrigan
I deny all the wannabe
Kings and Queens that came before
those parasites that took up residence
in my head and in my heart
paying no rent
and wrecking the place

they have been served their eviction notices
they have lost their deposits
never again will their hands
touch this flesh
never again will their words
sway this heart
and I have boarded up the entrances
to my soul
only those I choose may enter
only those worthy, sovereigns in their own right

and having denied the liars and charlatans from my past
having secured my future for a true sovereign
I sing your praises
within the hallowed hall that is my soul
and I paint your countenance upon the walls

This place is protected
by my devotion to you
giving me the strength
to protect myself
drawing upon my own power
drawing from the earth
that is your home

for you, Morrigan
I have reclaimed my body
mind
soul
in the name of pleasure
in the name of love
in the name of sacred consent

all acts of pleasure
are thy rituals
when they reaffirm
my sovereignty
my power

and having reclaimed myself
I sing your praises
in the forest
on the hills
in every corner
of my truly sovereign life.


30 Days of Hymns: The Sacred Triad

Bodily Autonomy, Consent, and Vaccines

Something I’m getting kind of tired of is the argument from the anti-vaxxer crowd that their choice has to do with bodily autonomy and medical consent.

Well, yes. Obviously. But the thing is, the issue of consent is never a black and white thing. Yes, in the realm of ending rape culture and stopping sexual assault, the rallying cry has become “anything other than an enthusiastic yes is a no”. Which is a good rallying cry! And a good, overall basic explanation of what consent is when it comes to things like rape and sexual assault. I am totally for that as a rallying cry, don’t get me wrong. It just doesn’t cover things like informed consent — where you might enthusiastically consent to someone but only because you don’t know they are knowingly passing on an STI to you, and yes, that is a sexual violation. (I wouldn’t call it rape, because I try to reserve that word for specific instances in the interest of not muddying its meaning.) Or other thorny issues regarding knowing the whole story before consenting. Consent can be violated in more ways than just ignoring a no or not hearing an enthusiastic yes. It’s more complex. It’s a conversation; it’s communication; it’s an ongoing process.

And honestly I wouldn’t even bring UP rape or sexual assault, except that I know if I don’t someone will in the comments, trying for a “gotcha!” But here’s the thing: bodily autonomy and consent may be topics that are connected to both the areas of sex and medical choices, but you cannot make an equivalency between sexual assault and being told to vaccinate. They are not the same thing. (Nor can you make an equivalency between rapists and anti-vaxxers, and if you do in the comments the banhammer is coming out and squashing you like a bug that’s just crawled into my kitchen.)

When we’re talking about bodily autonomy and consent as it relates to vaccinations, specifically, we’re talking about how we live and interact with other humans. We’re talking about everyday interactions with people; we’re talking about keeping our communities healthy and hale. This is an area where your bodily autonomy and right to consent intersects with mine.

Imagine something for me. Imagine it’s the future, and extreme body mods and nanotech is the norm. Imagine you go and get a bodymod that makes it so every time you breathe out, you release toxins into the air, and every time you sweat, the toxins pool on your skin, passing onto everything and everyone you touch. Imagine the toxins can live for a very long time after they’ve left your body, increasing the odds they’ll poison people who pass through areas hours after you’ve left.

Now, these toxins aren’t 100% lethal. Many people are immune, and won’t even notice they’ve been poisoned. Their bodies will fight it off. Other people will get very sick for a few weeks, but will ultimately survive. But there are people — notably among them the very young, the very old, and the immunocompromised, who will not only get very, desperately ill, and suffer greatly, but they will ultimately succumb to the poison and die. Your toxin will be fatal to them.

Well, bodily autonomy, you say. You have the right to get a bodymod — and yes, you do. This is true. You have the legal right to get a bodymod as dangerous as a toxin that will kill a sizeable percentage of the people you encounter. And a law preventing you from getting that bodymod would, yes, interfere with your consent, with your right to exercise your autonomy.

But the people around you have the right to consent, the right to bodily autonomy, too. And your bodymod infringes upon their rights.

The thing is, you can cry bodily autonomy when it comes to changes you make your body that affect other people. You can, and you’d be right. Just as they can say “I did not consent to this change you made that affects me” to you; just as the change you make or refuse to make will cause them to react in ways you might not like.

If you choose not to vaccinate your child or yourself, you are exercising your rights, and no, society or the medical community cannot force you to get a vaccination. They cannot violate your consent.

But your choice does affect other people, it does violate their consent and bodily autonomy, and it will have consequences.

The consequences could be as mild as your friends not wanting their children around you or your kids, or having your kids expelled from public school/not allowed to attend. Or if you’re quiet about your choice, and let your unvaccinated child play with your friends’ children, you could be responsible for your friend’s child becoming sick or dying. You could pass on Rubella (German measles) to your pregnant friend and cause them to miscarry. You could pass on a disease to someone undergoing cancer treatment, who is immunocompromised, and you could not only compromise their care but you could potentially kill them.

That will be on you. It will be your fault. And you will have violated the bodily autonomy and consent of the people you infect — possibly people you care about.

Bottom line, when it comes to diseases like measles, or whooping cough — diseases we have vaccinations for and have for years and years, and diseases that are easily passed on to others* — if you make the choice not to vaccinate, you should also make the choice to not interact with other people. Move to a cabin in the wilderness and grow your own food.

Because I don’t consent to getting infected by you or your kid. I don’t consent to you coughing measles onto me and making me ill, because my fucking vaccination didn’t take the first 2 times. (I’m going for a third, because fuck if I want measles. But gods know if it’ll work.) And when I have kids of my own, I sure as hell don’t consent to your unvaccinated brood making them ill.

It is about bodily autonomy and consent. It’s just about more than yours, because you’re not the only people on the planetWe have to share this place with you.

So keep those consequences in mind.

~Morag

*I’ve also seen the argument from anti-vaxxers about how they should be able to refuse vaccines because “what about Gardisil or Cervarix, which are new???” I want to emphatically state here that those vaccines are not what we are talking about. We are talking about vaccines for easily passed diseases, vaccines that have been around for ages. Gardisil and Cervarix are new and they protect against strains of an STI that can cause cancer, specifically. That is an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THING, and honestly bringing up them up in a vaccine argument is a strawman. Of COURSE you should be able to refuse Gardisil or Cervarix. Of COURSE they shouldn’t be compulsory. They are NEW, the companies have engaged in questionable practices in getting the vaccines out, and cervical cancer can’t be spread by a cough in a waiting room for fuck’s sake. Honestly I can’t even believe I need to explain this.

Consent culture, sovereignty, holy embodiment

Content warning: violation of boundaries; non-consensual touching

I have to say, I’ve been reading some of Thorn Mooney’s posts over at Patheos Pagan and I’m a fan of her writing style and the subjects she covers. I may no longer consider myself “any fucking flavour of Wiccan at all,*” but she’s still managed to inspire me in my witchcraft practice, and the rest of her stuff is just good.

Such as this week’s post: Pagans, Hugging, and the Fine Art of Consent: A PSA. Seriously, well worth a read. In fact, I think it should be REQUIRED reading before people attend pagan festivals.

Predictably, there were a few comments from people who think their entitlement to others’ bodies trump personal sovereignty — to them, I say, “Hug without my consent and get your ass cursed.” In fact, can I get that on a tee-shirt? That would be awesome. But the rest of the comments were good, from people who truly understand this issue.

A lot of pagans like to say the body is holy — well, the holiest thing about your body is that it’s yours. It belongs to you and only you, and only you can say what happens to it. 

In theory. In practice, we live in a kyriarchal culture that teaches us to disregard consent and to feel entitled to others’ bodies. It starts in childhood and continues on to adulthood. This shit can be hard to shake; it can be difficult to learn how to draw clear boundaries, to tell people when they’ve violated them.

Story time. I am not a confrontational person. Yes, I rant on my blogs, but that’s the equivalent of venting to my S.O. when I get home from a social gathering — not the same thing as bringing up things in person. It actually makes me acutely uncomfortable to inform people when they’ve violated my boundaries, or to even draw those boundaries in the first place. Why? Long story; summed up with “trained that way (by the kyriarchy)”.

I realize this is an issue. It’s one I’m working on. I do need to be better at delineating my own boundaries. That’s not in question here.

But.

I went to a Beltane event a few years ago. It was my first time attending Beltane put on by that particular group. I was excited, because Beltane is one of my favourite holidays, and I was getting to celebrate that year’s with my then-boyfriend and my then-wife (now fiance and ex-wife, respectively).

It was as Neo-Wiccish ceremony, which didn’t bug me, really. I can find meaning in things. However, there were two things that happened that were direct violations of my boundaries and personal sovereignty — and when they happened, I was in so much shock I couldn’t muster any proper rage until far past the event.

One was my being forced to participate in “Women’s Mysteries.” There was no option for people who were uncomfortable with binary-gendering, and you HAD to go to the one that matched your assumed gender. If I’d presented as male that day and they’d not realized I was AFAB, I would probably have been kicked out of the Men’s Mysteries when the naked wrestling started. (How do I know there was naked wrestling? Because the women’s mysteries were so BORING that my wife and I escaped and snuck off to watch the men’s mysteries. We didn’t get very close, though; there was a guard. And before you argue that watching the men’s mysteries makes me a terrible person, let me remind you: I was forced into boring mysteries that nonetheless reinforced some severe dysphoria for me to the point of almost being triggering, and I had to get away, and there was no where else to GO but to watch the men’s mysteries.)

The other thing happened when it came time to pass a kiss around the circle. I had no issues with this, as I was standing between my then-boyfriend and a female friend of mine — I didn’t mind kissing them. I have issues kissing strangers. The High Priest had issues with this, however, because he stated the kiss had to be “male-female”, stopping me from passing the kiss to my female friend, and kissing me without consent on the lips before I could say anything.

You should be feeling pretty grossed out right now. It was a gross thing.

I haven’t been back to that particular group’s Beltane since this event happened (I went to their Imbolc in 2012 because it was different people in the group running it), and when I see the guy who kissed me against my will at any events I walk the other way to avoid him. I have heard that the event organizers are working towards being more inclusive of genderqueer identities, at least, so there IS improvement happening. But it doesn’t change the fact of what happened to me, at a pagan event.

Would this happen at an event like pagan pride? Perhaps not. Events like that are open to the public, so the rituals tend to be a bit tamer on the sexuality side — I’ve yet to see a kiss passed around a circle at pagan pride. However, I know that people get groped or otherwise touched without their consent at events like pride — so it’s not like this was an issue limited to this one group. It’s sort of endemic to pagan subculture. (If I had a dime for every time I’ve been touched without my consent…I’d have a lot more jars in my life. #witcheslovejars)

The point is, we — as pagans — have to be better about this if we truly want to grow our communities, if we want to build communities that are truly supportive of everyone in them, not just the old guard. We have to get better as respecting others’ sovereignty — especially if we honor gods or goddess of sovereignty (there are quite a few of them out there!). Even if the gods don’t come into it at all, we need to be better at this. If we truly do believe that the body is holy, sacred, a temple — then bodily sovereignty should be the BASIS of all our interactions. If we truly believe in the sacredness of embodied life, then there should never be any incidence of hugging or touching without consent. 

I’m not trying to state what all pagans believe with these statements. Rather, I’m referring to the numerous comments I’ve seen in DEFENSE of non-consensual hugging that have been along the lines of “Pagans believe the body is sacred, therefore hugging is sacred!” That line of reasoning is inherently faulty. If you truly do believe the body is holy, then you cannot argue for the presence of non-consensual hugging, nor state that people who have issues with hugging should just “not come to pagan festivals”. I mean, you can, but you’ll look like someone whose logic chip short-circuited beyond repair and then no one will listen to you about anything.

The thing is, I think the people making this argument truly don’t understand how EASY asking for consent can be. Really, very easy — assuming you can handle a response of “no” as just a “this person is not a hugger” and not a personal rejection — yes, even if you see them hugging someone else. Some of us have levels of knowing people where hugging is okay for close friends/family, but not acquaintances.

Here’s the script.

You: (meeting someone new for the first time) “Hi there, nice to meet you. Welcome to [pagan festival]. My name is [name], and I’m a hugger. Are you a hugger?”

Them: “No, sorry, I don’t like hugging.”

You: “No need to apologize! I am still very pleased to meet you, and you are welcome here.”

OH MY GODS, SO EASY

Or even easier: open your arms and say “Do you hug?” When they say no, shrug, smile, and say “That’s totally cool.”

On this issue, it’s easy to be better. It really is. You just have to take that extra step to make it a habit — just like you did with your daily meditation, or weekly ritual, or monthly devotion, or whatever habits you have in your pagan life that you built over time. And yes, you might fuck up. It happens. Apologize and aim to do better next time.

Look, even I have trouble with this and I’M NOT A HUGGER. Why do I have trouble with this when my instinct is to NOT hug people I don’t know? Because a lifetime of socialization that taught me I was a bad person for not wanting to hug people I hardly knew has dulled my ability to HEAR my instinct — and this is not limited to me. Lots of us are socialized that way from childhood and it can be difficult to break a lifetime of conditioning. That conditioning led me to believe that everyone likes hugs, and that I am the strange one for not wanting them — so I need to buck up and just hug people, or they won’t like me. It took me to adulthood to realize that wasn’t true, and that I wasn’t alone.

So yeah, I get it — new habits are hard to build, old habits are hard to break. But compared to some of the other areas where we can work on bettering our world, this shit is downright easy. And I don’t know about you, but I want to raise my future kids in a culture where they understand they are allowed to refuse hugs, that they are allowed to draw lines in the sand, to state their boundaries. It would be great if the pagan subculture was a place where they could feel safe to declare their boundaries.

So give it a whirl — if not for yourself, then for future generations of pagans.

And if you’re still in the camp of “I’m never going to ask permission and people can fight me off when I come in for a hug if they don’t want one,” well. No one will have any sympathy for you when you get punched in the face or someone summons a murder of crows to peck at you. I am just saying.

-Morag

*Others may look at my practice and decide I am a flavour of Wiccan because of the bits that cling to me like lint. They would be wrong.