As a gay, transmale, I was presented with a major stumbling block when I began seriously studying the Wiccan religion: the apparent emphasis on heterosexuality and the masculine/feminine divide. This is perhaps most evident in Traditional or Gardnerian Wicca, which describe The Great Rite as the sexual union between a man and a woman. To say I was perplexed is an understatement; in a religion which has feminism, environmentalism, and karmic elements, how did it get so caught up in this divide?
The answer is complex. Wicca is arguably a Neo-Pagan religion, revived in the 1950s when Gerald Gardner published a book about it, fearing that if he did not the religion would disappear. That said, Wiccan practices also appear to have been passed down through generations, largely in secret, given the persecution many witches or accused witches suffered during the Rise of Christianity. Much of the traditions and mythology that Wicca draws upon have been tainted by Christian ideology, as many pagan societies passed on their knowledge orally. It was Christian monks who began to write down much of the Celtic mythology, Druidic beliefs, etc that have influenced today’s Wiccan traditions.
It isn’t a stretch, then, to conclude that perhaps the Christian aversion to gender fluidity and sexual fluidity, in the name of control, influenced elements of Wicca. It has been shown that pagan societies, and especially Native societies, respected and in some cases honoured those who fell outside the heterosexual, cisgender experience. Often it was believed that these individuals should be listened to as they could offer a unique experience and perspective to the existing belief system. Christianity was effective at demonizing such an approach, effectively shifting much of the world into a patriarchal society, pushing strict gender roles upon everyone, essentially stripping individuals of their freedom to, at least outwardly, experience their own gender identity and expression as they felt was true to themselves.
Women have been aware of this for quite some time (perhaps the entire time), and men are increasingly recognizing the importance of feminism, not just for women, but for everyone. The strict gender divide and associated roles we are flung into from birth can lead to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual violence, in various forms. The violence may be more subtle, such as expecting women to take a smaller paycheque than their male counterparts, or it may be horribly overt, in the case of domestic abuse. Men suffer under this system as well; we are expected to be unemotional, sometimes violently so; to take what is ours; to never admit weakness. The result is a society based on competition, oppression, and violence.
Of course, this is my interpretation and conclusion based on my research and experiences; you may feel differently.
All of that to say, one can see how certain traditions within Wicca may place more importance on the gender divide and heterosexuality. It very well could have been Christian influence, it could also have been beliefs held for eons that were less accepted in the past. Some traditions even go so far as to reject LGBTQIA+ folks from participating entirely. This is as true of the more Traditional branches as it is of, say, Dianic Wicca, where some traditions reject transwomen entirely. On the flip side of the coin, there are covens and traditions which are exclusive to gay, bisexual, and/or transgender men, though they do not seem to be as numerous yet.
So what does all of this mean to me? It was difficult to assess in the beginning; there were so many competing elements, experiences, and influences at play. After a time, however, it came down to a few simple principles:
1. The Wiccan Rede
“An ye harm none, do what ye will.”
This is an underlying tenet of Wicca. It means that so long as you do not bring harm to anyone, including yourself, do as you will. This was a sticking point regarding my transition from female to male; so many people were upset when I came out. Had I then caused harm? Am I continuing to cause harm?
Simply put: no. You are responsible for your own actions, not those of others. The expectations, stereotypes, etc that you shattered by being authentic to yourself were not placed upon you by yourself in this case: they were placed upon you from the moment of being assigned male or female at birth by other people, based on society’s expectations as a whole. Thus, this perceived harm arises as a result of social norms.
2. The Masculine/Feminine Divide
The masculine/feminine divide, at first glance, certainly seems to emulate the gender binary. What is important, however, is that this perceived divide is just that: perception. What Wicca seems to say, in my understanding and practice, is that gender is a duality. This means that the divine masculine and divine feminine are present in every person, but they manifest differently for each individual being. Explained and seen as such, this reflects the gender spectrum more closely than it does the gender binary. It recognizes a variety of experiences, each reflecting the Divine, each as valid as the other. I could even stretch a tiny bit further and drag in Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, but this essay is getting long as it is.
3. A Note on Equality vs Equity
I am wary of the concept of equality. Equality, in my eyes, is giving everyone the same rights and then assuming that we are all start from the same circumstances. It’s similar to the gender binary in that sense: you are this or you are that. In this case, you are equal or you are not. The reality, as I see it, is that there are as many varied circumstances as there are individuals, making the practice of equality as forced and inefficient as the gender binary.
Equity, on the other hand, recognizes and acknowledges the varied circumstances from which we come. It thereby allows for different approaches in relation to different experiences, with the ultimate goal of us having access to the same opportunities, without assuming we all start from the same position on the racetrack. It is similar to the gender spectrum in this regard: every being is unique, and will need different things to attain a particular goal. This is also reflective of the principle of duality that runs through many Wiccan beliefs.
To conclude, it took a lot of self reflection, research, deconstruction, and reconstruction to comfortably call myself a transgender Wiccan. While others may disagree, I have come to see, effectively from two principles (The Rede and Duality), that Wicca is not nearly as heteronormative as I concluded initially.