The phenomenon of the persecuted hegemon serves notice to people like me that the temerity of my existence is simply too much to tolerate.
Sometimes I wonder whether I’m “playing the victim” when I am upset about the amount of discrimination and defamation that Pagans face. I let the “tone arguments” get to me and I wonder if it’s all my imagination, or if I’m just trying to score points in the Oppression Olympics. I live in a fairly cosmopolitan area with a thriving Pagan community, so I have the luxury to wonder about these things.
And then I spend time in a more homogenous area where the persecuted hegemons don’t even realize how much power they wield or how much harm they do on a daily basis. I realize that, as P. Sufenas Virius Lupus put it, “By being exactly who and what I am, I qualify in the minds of at least some people as their very worst nightmare.”
(TW: animal abuse, anti-QUILTBAG slurs, potential spiritual abuse)
A friend hears that I’m busy doing ritual this weekend and casually jokes that maybe my pets should be afraid. (As a deeply devoted pet parent, it’s hard to convey exactly how horrendously offensive that is. It’s also the contemporary Pagan equivalent of the blood libel, and as the most enduring legacy of the Satanic Panic of the 90s it continues to be a major point of harassment and defamation today.)
People casually toss off remarks about how the world’s going to hell and it’s all because of those dirty-hippie-liberal-lesbian-queers who don’t even have the common decency to go to church. They allege that everything wrong in the world would be fixed if we could just have (Christian, naturally) prayer in schools and go back to the “good old days” of a mythical past. (As someone with socialist leanings, the idea of a return to the 1950s where persecution focused on political positions is not exactly reassuring.)
People assume that my co-religionists are Christian not just in how they express their good wishes (“I’ll pray for you, and God bless you”) but in ways that actively intrude on others’ spiritual life – they start praying over people without asking, or discuss how so-and-so’s faith in Jesus will get her through her difficult situation. They don’t even think to consider the possibility that someone else is not Christian, let alone ask what that person prefers.
In other words, people casually other me and defame me to my face, engaging in near-hate-speech and outright hate speech as if it were popularly accepted opinion and perfectly acceptable. (Within their circle, they may be right about the first part.) That’s when I stop wondering whether it’s my imagination.
In these kinds of situations, I am faced with the very temerity of my existence: how dare I be non-Christian, non-straight, non-conservative, how dare I insist that I have the same fundamental rights that they do when I am definitively Other.
When confronted by the temerity of my existence, it becomes all the more important to me to be who and what I am. I don’t always “out” myself, and I don’t always respond with arguments. I don’t always call people on their privilege or their claims to hegemonic control over society. Sometimes I do. Sometimes it’s hard enough just to be myself and keep functioning to accomplish some other goal.
But I have to hope that simply by being myself I contribute to confronting them with the temerity of my existence: I will not stop being who and what I am simply because they disapprove, or because they don’t realize it. I hope that sometimes it matters that I show that I have rights to be myself. Sometimes I hope I contribute to the kind of transformation that happens when someone realizes that they know a member of a stereotyped group, and that person completely blows the stereotype out of the water, or that their “worst nightmare” isn’t so bad after all. Sometimes it’s a little bit of both. Sometimes I have to hope that it’s just laying the groundwork for those kinds of developments in the future.
Through all of it I try to hang on to the fact that when I am confronted with the temerity of my existence, I am in return contributing in a small way to afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. I have to hope so, because it’s hard enough just to be me.