The Femmelesia Manifesto
The Femmelesia Manifesto
January 2018, version 1.0
by Willow Artemis
1. Rethinking “Women’s Spirituality”
Since 2003, I have engaged in several different forms of feminist organizing, some of which were either partially or entirely informed by the so-called Women’s Spirituality movement. In 2010, after my departure from Christianity, I decide to embark on the path of studying feminist theology as an academic subject, with hope that my learning would lead to me being better equipped to work in the said Women’s Spirituality movement.
In recent years, yet, both my lived experiences and studies have led to rethink my objectives and my continued engagement in the so-called Women’s Spirituality movement.
Much of this decision came as a result of five-year-long soulsearching as I first began questioning the ideological premises of the progressive political movements and associated identity politics, including a series of very unfortunate incidents involving a few transgender individuals, and more recently, the emergence of alt-right ideology and the Donald Trump regime in the United States.
2. Perils of assimilationism
As I have stated, I was disillusioned with the chronic dysfunctions of progressive organizing in the name of anti-oppressive speech and identity politics. It seemed at the time, the big issues such as economic inequality, housing crisis, healthcare, and student debts were often thrown on the wayside in the quest for being “non-oppressive” and “inclusive” – which often allowed a very small number of fringe individuals to derail otherwise successful community organizing. As such, I severed all ties with the queer organizations for over five years and attempted to assimilate into the white, middle-class, heterosexist liberals, in a naive and ridiculous hope that such an action would help build bridges, address the common grounds, and be taken seriously.
After five years of this, I have had enough of it. In 2018, white supremacism, institutionalized systemic violence, heterosexism, cissexism, and classism are now the law of the land. (Perhaps this might not have been that different had the outcomes of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections went the other way, however. I’m not fooling myself.) One day, I woke up utterly disgusted to find myself doing the work for the Female Lifestyle Empowerment Business (FLEB), a capitalistic offshoot of the so-called Women’s Spirituality movement. I felt dirty, and it was painful that it simply did not occur to me for the last five years happily and blindly promoting the hedonistic and self-centric aspirations of what I now call the “white lady woo-woo sisterhood.” For the last five years I drank the second wave feminist kool-aid, quietly stood by while self-proclaimed “feminists” and “progressives” spewing out (most likely they were clueless) hate speech (e.g., anti-houseless, anti-non-binary, anti-working-class, racist, xenophobic, transphobic, homophobic, and polyphobic) with a straight face. To the FLEBers and other white lady woo-woo sisters, whether or not they marched in the Women’s March this or last year, life simply went on as usual despite Donald Trump’s systematic destruction of the human rights of marginalized minorities. They were more interested in self-realization than a collective liberation. Privilege means they have little to lose and little to fear when Donald Trump and his Republican Party are in control of all aspects of the federal government. As a great litmus test, if one thinks the police is there to “protect and serve” them, then they are part of the privileged class (or, as someone else has elegantly put it, “One might say that the level of freedom in a society is inversely proportionate to the social level at which people cease to see policemen as servants.”). Secretly, I have heard them for many times complaining when Black/Indigenous/People of Color (BIPOC) and queer folks speak out as if these pesky “snowflakes” were undermining (the white middle-class) feminism. They never ceased their ignorance and micro-aggressions. I regret that I sacrificed my ethical integrity for five long years in a naive hope that doing so would magically get me somewhere.
Assimilationism never benefits minorities; in the end, it is the white bourgeois class (example: the well-moneyed Democratic Party machine) that profits from the uncompensated labor and mobilization of the marginalized class. Civil and intellectual political discourse is important and has its own time and place, but respectability politics at the expense of the minority voices will never liberate the people on the margins in the long run. Beyond secular politics, this phenomenon holds true in faith communities and spiritual circles as well.
3. Queer femme separatism in spiritual spaces
The old approach was to make spiritual spaces inclusive: first, they tried to make them “open and welcoming” to lesbians and gays; then a few decades later, they tried to make them trans-inclusive. (I am yet to hear of religious congregations that are explicitly open and affirming of non-binary folks or polyamory.)
However, the underlying system is never challenged by such inclusion. Christian churches still practice a patriarchal, heterosexist religion using patriarchal scriptures and liturgies. Even progressive communities such as Unitarian Universalists remain majority white and heterosexual in membership and therefore decision-making powers. The Metropolitan Community Church, the predominantly LGBTQ Christian denomination, fares no better as it naively attempts to project itself as yet another “just a normal” liberal Protestant denomination “with special outreach to the LGBT community”; by emulating heterocentric institutions (such as gay marriages) it fails to challenge the underlying problems of heterosexism. MCC has little or no interest in being more than an outlet for mostly white gay men and older middle-class lesbians who want to keep up with the fantasy of being “good Christians” but are unwelcome elsewhere. Despite its LGBTQ-dominant demographics, MCC thus remains assimilationist – quite a contrast from the early gay liberation movement whose politicals aspiration was to abolish marriage.
Within the contemporary Pagan and alternative Women’s Spirituality communities, this problem manifests in a similar but uniquely problematic way. For example, many Pagans and Wiccans – including Dianic and other feminist ones – center overgeneralized “Women’s Spirituality” on female reproduction and highly sexist notions that women’s worth is rooted in their procreative capacities and/or their utility as men’s sexual objects within the context of monogamous heterosexuality. The outdated and misogynistic “maiden-mother-crone” triple goddess archetype comes to mind as one of the prime examples of this (note: the “maiden-mother-crone” was invented by a British man named Robert Graves, an author of fantasy novels).
Then there is this silent yet obvious undertones that pervade the Women’s Spirituality movement: the unquestioned cultural assumptions that women are supposed to be emotional, women are supposed to be intuitive, women are supposed to be empathetic, and so on. Far from actively challenging sexist stereotypes, Women’s Spirituality movement continues to reify such stereotypes and enforces acceptable behaviors for women.
_As queer femmes, our lived experiences differ significantly from those of (non-queer) women as well as from those of masculine-of-center AFAB folks, including butch lesbians and trans men._ The queer femmes are often invisible and wrongly conflated with heterosexual women, often subjected to unwelcome assumptions, aggression, and gender-policing. Even though there are some overlaps between the lived femme experiences and the lived women’s experiences, they are distinct and it would do a great injustice when these two demographics are conflated under the banner of “women.” This point is quite important because not all femmes consider themselves to be “women” or “females.” Many non-binary femmes exist (though they are invisible to outsiders), and they are highly misunderstood even within the queer community. Furthermore, a higher-than-average percentage of non-binary queer femmes are neurodiverse and occupy the autistic spectrum; others are survivors of various psychological traumas. Quite frankly, I have felt quite out-of-place and alienated in a non-queer, heterocentric “women-only space” or “women’s spirituality” circle. Lest I may be the only freak who feels that way, I began asking other queer femmes around, and also ran web searches to see similar sentiments are expressed in queer femme blogosphere. I found out that this is rather a common sentiment. To me, queer femme spaces (and queer “WTF” or “women-trans-femme” spaces) feel very different from spaces occupied predominantly by cisgender, heterosexual, white women (even such spaces purport to be “queer-inclusive” or “trans-inclusive”).
After years of being part of such “women-only” spirituality groups, I decided that I will never feel at home there nor will I ever be able to relate to this overgeneralized heterocentric and white-centric “women’s experience.” It is time for separatism, just as earlier liberation movements that came before us have done. (As an unintended side benefit, this separatism would also peacefully resolve the question of certain feminist groups that object to the inclusion of non-binary, trans, and queer folks. Personally, I find that it is a futile attempt to reform the “old wineskin,” if I use a biblical metaphor. Let those women have their own club.)
4. What will a queer femme separatist spirituality group be like?
In the obscure history of lesbian culture, I find the legendary lesbian separatist community called Aristasia. It is thought to have existed in the United Kingdom between the 1980s and into the late 2000s. While the British tabloid press characterized Aristasia as a lesbian separatist BDSM role-play club, it began as a sort of student sorority at the University of Oxford as a philosophical experiment in creating a world that is feminine-centered. Over the decades, Aristasia constructed its own religion and subculture, including holiday observances.
In the past, I was following Aristasia’s online presence and was highly influenced by its philosophy and religious teachings, called Deanism (from the word Dea, or Goddess). At one point, I thought I found exactly what I was looking for. However, I have eventually come to reject it because of several critical flaws in its theory and practice. First, instead of creating a uniquely queer femme culture, it has glorified the heterosexist and misogynistic ideal of “femininity” of the 1950s and earlier. This has led to an odd situation in which Aristasian communities were replicating the hierarchical and kyriarchal social model within their own world, as well as their obsessions with “traditionalism” and a bizarre belief that everything modern (after 1965) is somehow corrupt, evil, and must be rejected. Considering that in 1965 homosexuality was a crime and deviations from a strict binary gender model were punished with jail and mental institutions, this was plainly absurd. Second, related to the first, its religious observances were centered around intricate and over-complex bodies of liturgies and thealogy – while I love the reasoned and rigorously intellectual approach, they have gone past it and became highly esoteric, making it very difficult for newcomers to understand what Aristasian religion is about. Toward the end of Aristasia’s existence, this has led to formations of various schismatic independent sects, which further complicated the faith with new additions and frequent changes to its doctrines, practices, and organizations. Third, even though its founders were presumably femme lesbian separatists (or, political lesbians) who were seeking a femme alternative to the butch-centered lesbian communes of their time, they have fetishized the notion of “innocence” and “purity” too much to the point where, by the turn of the 21st century, talking about sexuality or even romance became an absolute taboo. Thus Aristasia was no longer queer.
5. A new Aristasia?
Aristasia, however, has left us with some useful and valuable legacies that could be immediately put to use with little adaptation. For example, its liturgical calendar is well-organized, rationally designed, and is quite elegant. It has a body of sacred writings that contains very few patriarchal languages (it only references the monotheistic Goddess). The original vision of Aristasia as a separatist queer femme spiritual and cultural space is something we can adapt and upgrade for 2018.
If Aristasia postulated itself as a “feminine empire,” it’s quite a fit metaphor to create a new queer femme separatist community after its legend as a point of departure, perhaps as a sort of decolonized, independent nation that still partially draws from its heritage but is revolutionized. Maybe we are to Aristasia what Latin America is to Spain. While what may or may not remain of Aristasia firmly looks backward to the fantasy past of “Golden Age,” a new queer femme separatist community squarely looks forward to the future where queer femmes have a unique space, unique voice, and a distinctively queer and femme path to spiritual life and cultivation.
6. Unveiling the Femmelesia
This leads me to the creation of the Femmelesia – a portmanteau of femme and ecclesia (church, assembly, or community in Koine Greek) – that is a distinctively and uniquely of, and by, and for queer femmes, including non-binary femmes. It will be grounded in the embodied experiences of queer femmes, the latest in femme theory, sound scholarship, reason, and commitment to creating liberation and justice. It is feminist in both thealogy and critique, but it is not a “women’s group” or “women’s spirituality circle.”
In particular, the Femmelesia seeks to propose a non-sexist and non-binary idea of what it is to be femme apart from the predominant cultural narratives around the “femininity” rooted in misogyny, white supremacy, heterosexism, and binarism. It also is decidedly and unequivocally sex-positive, body-positive, pro-polyamory, and celebrates neurodiversity. In addition, it will make the best efforts at combating cultural appropriation, classism, and racism within the contemporary pagan communities. This point will be incorporated into and reflected in our rituals as well.
Instead of the sexist, ageist, and heteronormative idea of “maiden-mother-crone” triple goddess, the Femmelesia draws from a model proposed by Lasara Firefox Allen in her book, Jailbreaking the Goddess. As queer femmes, I find it a beautiful idea to think of us as a group of “eternal maidens” (or, in Lasara Firefox Allen’s fivefold goddess model, eternal Potens) – as I believe that queer femmes best embody the Artemis archetype.
The Femmelesia will be and remains a closed community. While this seems like a step backward in this era of inclusion, in reality, we have tried “everything for everybody” organizing models and they ultimately have failed us. Therefore, the Femmelesia will be open only to queer femmes, and non-binary femmes are definitely welcome not as an afterthought but as an integral part of this organizing. Rituals, celebrations, parties, study groups, and other events will also be private, save for those that are for public outreach.
The Femmelesia will utilize the Aristasian liturgical calendar and its sacred scriptures called The Clear Recital, however, the interpretations will be quite different from the toxic doctrines espoused by the late Aristasia.
In general, our observances and rituals will be fairly light on rituals (they will be simple, creative, and yet meaningful) and eschew emotionalism and New Age-psychobabble-woo-woo garbage (the stuff of the white lady woo-woo sisterhood, often created from stolen cultures and Jungian psychotherapy elements, specifically designed to appeal to the white middle-class professional women). Prospective members will undergo a period of formation and discernment (in other words, introductory education and trying out to see if the Femmelesia is a good fit) and then admitted in a private ceremony in which they dedicate themselves to Artemis and take a vow of an eternal Potenshood.
P.S.: It is worth mentioning that the day this manifesto was complete and uploaded was the first day of Brighe, or the feast day of Rosa Mundi, according to the Aristasian liturgical calendar.