Trans Issues Are Pagan Issues Because Trans People Are Pagan

Sophia Burns
2 min readJul 28, 2020

A couple of weeks ago, the leader of the Temple of Sekhmet in Nevada announced that its policy of women-only leadership excludes trans women. While trans women can still join the Temple, as can men, they’re not allowed to take on leadership roles.

Paganism has been fighting about trans inclusion for decades. This isn’t because it’s a uniquely transphobic religion. Rather, LGBT people in general, including trans women, are vastly overrepresented within Paganism as compared to the population at large. Anti-trans Pagans tend to be more blunt about it than their mainstream-religion counterparts not because their beliefs are more extreme, but because trans people are already common in Pagan circles. If a Pagan group doesn’t make trans exclusion explicit, trans women will actually show up.

Trans inclusion is a live issue for Pagan groups in a way that it simply isn’t for, say, Eastern Orthodox churches or Salafi mosques, even though they’re every bit as likely to disapprove of trans people as your average Dianic coven. Ethics aside, trans issues are Pagan issues purely by dint of demographics. When a Pagan group takes an anti-trans position, it isn’t abstract culture-war symbolism like it might be for a Southern Baptist church. It’s a proactive decision to shut out a significant segment of the religion.

Conversely, for the same reason, officially pro-trans Pagans tend to be genuinely welcoming in a way that groups like liberal Protestants might not be. Even when the latter supports trans people on paper, they don’t necessarily expect to actually see them at church. If they do, they often feel more discomfort than they’re willing to admit. The social exclusion that results is subtle but unmistakable. Their words tell you to stay but their actions say the opposite.

In her statement, the Temple of Sekhmet’s leader, Genevieve Vaughn, claimed that trans women “may still often want to engage in one-up one-down power games” and that “[s]ome have also appropriated the power-over of definition, often not even allowing women to claim their own category.” (I’m not entirely sure what that last part means. I have never met a trans woman who believed that the definition of “women” should exclude cis women. I wish the reverse was also true.)

Vaughn is the head of her own religious organization. She has exercised her authority to unilaterally restrict the institutional role available to members of a small and stigmatized minority. To justify doing so, she has accused them of engaging in “power-over” and “one-up one-down power games.”

I wonder if she’s noticed the irony.

Sophia Burns

Paganism, Buddhism, Classics, philosophy, LGBTQ culture, and the art of living well. Former activist; I don’t trust culture war.