Goddess Temple Kerfuffle Part III

You may recall my post last year about the Goddess Temple of Orange County’s discrimination against trans women. This week, I received news that the Temple is changing their name.

According to a recent post by Medusa Coils (also known as Judith Laura), the Goddess Temple of Orange County will soon become The Goddess Center of California. Along with a new name, a room-by-room refurbishment of the Temple itself and a website reboot, the Temple plans to re-examine its policy regarding the inclusion of trans women in the Temple.

This inclusion currently means the Temple offers a once-a-month service “for all,” but “women-only” spaces continue to be closed to trans women. Central to last year’s controversy was Temple founder Ava Parks’ insistence on the right define “women,” and to exclude trans women on the grounds that they are not true women, not “women-born-women.” This stance denies trans women the right to define their own personhood in relation to the Temple, and frankly, the unsatisfactory solution of services “for all” continues to feel like an empty gesture when both cis and trans women were calling for dialogue.

The new information posted by Medusa Coils comes from a subscriber-only e-newsletter  (that I signed up for before the Kerfuffle but strangely have never received), and it includes the following call to reconciliation:

“Over the years we have had a bit of controversy over our definition of ‘woman’ and our ‘women only’ policy for many events… Beginning this year, it is our intention to identify, name, formally recognize and honor these as-yet unacknowledged genders, creating a sacred place for each in our community.Those (of any gender) who are interested in being part of this unfolding and groundbreaking work, please contact us. You will be invited to join a committee, the intent of which will be to guide The Goddess Center’s gender policies for the greatest good for all.”

It should be noted that this is hardly the first time the Temple has experienced gender trouble. Will something change for the better this time, or is this just a facelift? Will this call go out to the general public, and will the Temple reach out to those who have disagreed with their policies in the past?

I’m a bit skeptical.

What Became of the Kerfuffle

the Goddess Cybele

In late March, I posted an open letter to the Goddess Temple of Orange County concerning a Sunday service which focused on the Goddess Cybele and the delivery of a controversial message: the Temple services for women are not for transgendered women. When the post was picked up by The Wild Hunt nearly a month later, directing attention to my post, a volatile and intense conversation began, which included input from women both trans and cis, as well as some prominent voices from the pagan community and a few feminist bloggers. The conversation went even further into the issue when Ava Park, the presiding priestess of the Temple, joined in.

I appreciate every person who spoke up on this issue.

Two very important things happened: Ava defended her actions and the policy of the Temple in a way that made her stance very clear, for better or worse, and participants in the discussion pointed out the main problem with her stance, that while the Temple has every right to set women-only policies, it does not have the right to define “women” for others.

Second, after a great deal of back and forth, a call for reconciliation went out (twice) from commenter Karen St. John:

“Will you join us in letting us share ourselves and our stories? Lessen the fear and making peace?”

“Has anyone considered the opportunity for dialogue in a trans woman and cis woman only service, bringing together the two groups of women in learning and understanding?”

There’s been no response from the Temple, at least in this forum. I, for one, would like to see a dialogue of this kind. I also invite those invested in the issue to continue the conversation on this post. I’ve closed comments to the previous in the interest of clarity.

I invite those same people, including Ava, to participate in discussion of the issue in another forum. SageWoman magazine is THE journal of Goddess culture, and editor Anne Newkirk Niven contributed this invitation to the post:


I am looking for letters from women for the “Women & Men” issue (SageWoman 84, winter 2012) on the topic of transwomen in female-only ritual space, (aka Z Budapest PCon ritual controversy) 500 words or less, NO HATE SPEECH on ANY side of the issue, please. If you identify as a trans- or CIS-woman and wish to be identified as such, please note that in your letter.

If you’d care to add your voice to this conversation, email SageWoman (editor2 AT bbimedia DOT com) before August 1. Niven has indicated that only the first names and last initials of contributors will be published in the magazine unless you explicitly request otherwise.

Open Letter to the Goddess Temple of Orange County

Some of you have followed my tweets about my spiritual journey and the Goddess Temple of Orange County. After an incident that occurred there this morning, I felt moved to send the following letter via email to the Goddess Temple. I hope you’ll join me in urging them to reconsider their position.

High Priestess Ava and Sisters of the Temple,

I left the Temple this morning in the middle of service in a heartbroken state after hearing Ava’s words concerning the exclusion of transwomen from the Temple. In the safety of my car, I sobbed and screamed in grief and frustration. I thought I’d found my spiritual home at last, but I was wrong. I was devastated.

Today was not my first visit to the Temple, and on my other visits I experienced profound relief and joy. That such a place exists! I felt welcomed and valued and lifted up as a woman, as a person. The Queen teachings of the Temple brought me peace and strength, and enhanced my personal practice.

The message today, that transwomen are less than women, that they’ve been violated and mutilated and deny the truth of who they are, is hurtful. It was like a blow to my face. In the Temple space, I felt safe and honored, and this was a violation of trust. It was a vulnerable time for participants, and you used that time to insert a painful topic when a group dialogue outside the safe space of Temple would have been more appropriate.

I’m not a transwoman, but what if I were? What if I’d come to the Temple this morning seeking solace and comfort and acceptance after living in the bigoted, unfriendly world that makes me feel like a freak for trying to reconcile who I am on the inside to what the world says I am on the outside? Your words caused me great sadness; I can’t imagine the deep hurt and betrayal a transwoman would have felt.

I appreciated your acknowledgment of the multi-gender system that some cultures have. But the other comments you made were reprehensible. I am a magickal person, and I shape my reality and defend it in accord with my will. Transgendered people, men AND women, CHOOSE to shape their bodies in accordance with their will. They’re on a life journey. The doctors you mentioned work for them, and many work as compassionate facilitators of the new lives their patients desire. No one forces them to change. In fact, they often have to fight for the right to surgically alter themselves. Equating their choices with the travesty of infant intersex reassignment and comparing them to “a white child adopted into an African village where they don’t belong” is abhorrent.

Did you know that 41% of transgender people have attempted suicide? The reasons are probably complex, but my guess is prejudice drives them to despair.

I urge the Temple to stand on the side of love and acceptance, not bigotry. I can’t feel safe at the Temple or be part of it otherwise.

We shape our own reality. We hold the world in our hands. We can make it better.

In faith and peace,

Tracie Welser

update: 4/29/2012 Comments for this post are now closed.