Welcome vs. Go Away
I started this blog a few years ago because I grew frustrated with a well-known Pagan festival. I was considering going, but was put off by multiple descriptions on their Web site of workshops and intensives with phrases like “Not recommended for persons with mobility challenges.”
I had a respectful conversation with a leader of that event, and moved on with my life. I’ve become a great deal more disabled (because my hereditary condition, lipedema, is progressive and incurable, yay). For various physical and personal reasons, I’ve become less connected to my fellow Pagans of late. Part of the reason is this same issue of inclusion (which, I’ll note, is still an issue with this same event, although I think things are improving and some individuals involved with it are specifically kind and welcoming).
Words have power. Pagans know this. A well-written ritual has a different effect from a clumsy one. Many of us think carefully about what words we want to use to describe ourselves, often to the point of extremely minute differentiation. That’s why we do rituals with a “chalice,” not a “beaker” or a “mug.”
When you say “People with health or mobility issues should not apply for this event. It is physically demanding, and we will get dirty and wet at times,” I wonder what it is about my disability that precludes me getting dirty and wet, sharing in the experience as my body permits. When you say “Not recommended for persons with mobility challenges,” I wonder how you could do the same work in a way that would give me a chance to contribute.
As I’ve written elsewhere, being physically limited does not prevent me from connecting to the archetypes of warrior and leader, aspiring to courage and hope, offering my energy and intelligence and imagination to help sustain the people around me. Put a dragon in front of me and I’ll slay it. So who are you (a metaphorical “you,” not you personally) to tell me I can’t pick up the axe?
Likewise, when you tell me not to apply for your shamanic workshop because you’ll be spending the night outside in the leaves, I say “What makes you think I can’t do that?” Only I won’t, really. I’ll just figure I’m not welcome.
A wise friend once gave me the phrase, “If you don’t want me, you can’t have me.” If you don’t welcome people of varying levels of ability, you’ll never know what we might have contributed, what we might have gained, what we might have shown you.
Some people in the Pagan community get it. They design gatherings with flexibility built in. They communicate clearly but inclusively — “We will be doing X” rather than “X kind of people should not apply.” They are more interested in providing a positive experience and encouraging their fellow Pagans than in excluding people whose bodies don’t meet their preconceived notions. They welcome questions and find ways to work around limits.
It’s not a specificaily Pagan event, but I will once again point respectfully to the folks at Burning Man, who neither encourage nor discourage people with disabilities from attending their physically demanding event. They just lay out there what the environment is and what you need to do to have a positive experience in it. By letting prospective participants make their own decisions, they convey respect for people with disabilities as people first, disabilities second.
I know that when I was more able-bodied, I wanted to be inclusive of people with disabilities, but I understand those issues in a very different way now that I am one of them. And so to my fellow Pagans I once again offer an invitation to include. Here’s a guide that might offer some concrete ways to use the power of our words to welcome.
Comments are closed.