Forced Intimacy in the Community

We’re kind of gearing up (as in the general community) towards summer and a metric ton of pagan festivals, events, conferences, and the like. I know there have been ones previous in the year, but it seems to me from personal observation like summer is “festival season”–and most of the big events happen then. And of course, that’s always fun. I really should eventually get around to attending one of the actual, real-world events, just to at least know what they’re like.

But it kind of mirrors a habit and thing I’ve noticed an uptick in happening on the online community also. Because these things are inevitably cyclical and I rather expect this to hit its peak come say…July. Still, the online comments and behavior are really quite interesting to watch how they seem to mirror each other quite a lot.

Within the community there are 2 types of people that I’ve come to notice–at least as far as it comes in regard to behavior that I’m going to discuss. And it’s fascinating really to see what sorts of people fall into each group.

  1. Ones who respectfully call others exactly what they ask to be called.
  2. Ones who call others what they personally want to call them.

This leads to the general topic:

Forced intimacy within the community

Thankfully my parents were awesome about enforcing boundaries and also self-respect in being able to stand up for myself about what I am and am not comfortable with. I hated short forms of my name Emily, and so my parents were staunch in demanding that everyone call me exactly what I wanted to be called. So unlike lots of other Emily’s I knew who got called Emma, Emmy, Em, or other variations–no matter what they personally thought of those nicknames, I was always Emily. So I was fortunate to learn very young about boundaries and just how to say no.

Boundaries are something that I think people tend to either totally ignore, undervalue or just not understand. I learned young to set them hard and if it is a line for you personally, you don’t allow people to cross that line. If someone does, there are consequences. So I’ve always been careful in being clear on just what those boundaries are for me.

Even something so simple as a name (as simple as that can be). And actually, I’ve always thought that a name is a good indicator of how a person respects boundaries; how you can see them as a friend, partner, acquaintance or business colleague. Really anything. How a person handles your boundaries and want on your name, which can arguably one of the most important points of your identity and your interactions, that’s important for me to gauge just how a person will treat me in all different situations that we could come across.

So really, if I tell you to call me Emily, and you respond by calling me “Em” with no approval–we’ve got a problem. Basic respect is that you use the name I give. And it’s a boundary as well. It’s broken once you call me something I did not give permission to be called such. Misunderstandings can happen, so if someone corrects you, be polite and come back with the proper name address. That’s just common courtesy that everyone should follow. Also, no one likes being mis-named, so just be polite and do the right thing and correct yourself.

People have reasons for what they want to be called. It’s not any individual’s right to demand the reasons why; nor is it their right to ignore expressed wish and just do what they want. It’s insulting and rather rude for the assumption that you know better than the actual individual what they want to be called. This is just a proper, basic common courtesy that everyone really should follow to make life much easier. It also makes interactions easier.

Not that that happens in the community though, let’s be honest.

It’s a huge thing in the pagan community. I see it a lot online. Lots of people (usually among the “love and light” brigade, as I term them) who are constantly calling people any of these following, plus infinite more in variation:

  • Brother
  • Sister
  • Family
  • Hon/hunny
  • Sweet/sweetie/sweetheart
  • Darling

I’ll start on the background on why I think people do this, and then move onto why it seriously grates on me just the way it does.

Including very liberal use of the general “you” — not directed at anyone in particular.


Just why this happens

Like I said–I mostly see this from the L&L Brigade (Love & Light). I’m not bashing on anyone who wants to see the positive in life. If you’re natural optimist and like to think and focus on the light things, love and positivity that’s awesome. It’s not how my brain works, but that’s okay. But the reason I term it the L&L Brigade is due to a particular militarism in how this subset of people go about their beliefs.

They’re usually confrontational “positive”, pushing on others to believe exactly like they do. They insist that you cannot hex, you can only do work for free and no personal gain…just to list a few of the super popular points that come up. And it’s usually a lot of shouting and condemnation of people that are not light enough, who don’t just automatically decry the “dark” things. Not that those things are dark, but that’s another post.

This subset are super preachy, loud and proselytizing in their nature. Lots will call angrily against anyone that speaks against them or has differing opinions. It’s particularly interesting to watch, because I recognize their behavior so well that it’s damn near instantly obvious just where all this has come from. Not that they’ll admit it, and sometimes you get yelled at for even pointing out the similarity.

Please keep in mind, I’m talking from a mostly US-centric perspective here–since most of my experience with this subset comes from US pagans. So keeping that in mind:

This attitude and manner of going about talking to others in the community is totally like Evangelical Christianity.

I mean, exactly like. US Evangelical Christianity is particularly obvious in how it comes across. To use the stereotype of the most blatant and fire-breathing of evangelical Christians–they are constantly proselytizing and pushing for others to follow their god and their beliefs. It’s very…off-putting when you’re not part of the religion and can come across as rather ham-handed.

But that’s exactly what it is. And from personal experience, the majority of the L&L Brigade seem to have come from Christian traditions–most that I recognize coming from US evangelical traditions. This makes sense. Given the overwhelming percentage of Christians in the US, it is not surprising that a huge majority of pagans came from this faith. Rather expected given the population here, and just how people come into these things. And I would hazard that from other western countries there are a lot of “former Christians” among the pagan ranks.

So this is what happens (using the Christian raised framework):

  1. Person is born and raised in Christian household, in the church
  2. Person becomes discontent, disillusioned; or just wants to explore other religions
  3. Person researches, reads, or finds info online or elsewhere about other religions
  4. Person is interested in/enamored of “pagan” beliefs
  5. Person claims/becomes pagan
  6. Person continues to espouse values they were raised with

Or in a nutshell and shorter version of the above: person has become a pagan, Wiccan, witch, etc & et al — and yet still is spouting off Christian moral values.

This is not surprising in the slightest. How could it be? We are all a direct product of our family raising, cultural values, societal influences and the like. Now, people change their framework, and people can change who they are. But if you are raised in the moral milieu of Christianity for years, even possibly decades, well you’re going to have those values and morals so deeply ingrained you might not realize it yourself. So questioning and delving, learning and discussing your beliefs to learn and grow is what you expect from newbies (and even old-bies) in a religious, spiritual or craft tradition or belief system.

One thing that’s glorious and wonderful about Christianity is the sense of community and family that it engenders. There is no taking that away. If you’re part of a church, you’ve got a community that all believes as you do. You all speak the same spiritual language and understand each other’s basic beliefs and understandings. There’s tight community–and pretty common with this is the understanding that you’re all family under Christ. So in churches it is not uncommon to have “brothers” and “sisters”, even though you are not blood family, or even necessarily the family that you would personally choose. So in this background it is completely fine to call each other brother and sister; you don’t even need to really ask permission in some churches–that’s the way things just are.

So a person comes from this background. They’ve been part of a church or community where everyone is brother and sister–in some communities, there’s not even any thought behind it. You can just call anyone in the community that without asking permission. And they come to paganism or any other religion or belief system. They have this entrenched belief that it’s just normal to call everyone by these titles without thinking. So they call everyone that that they meet within the pagan community. There’s also far more leeway within close communities to get away with calling people things such as darling, sweetheart, sweetie, etc. The same thoughts come with this. It’s just normal and usual within the culture and group that they grew up within. There’s no reason for them to really think that it wouldn’t be normal in a different societal group.

Except there is.


Why this is not okay

Not everyone in the broader pagan community grew up Christian. There are a multitude of peoples who come to “pagan” religions and beliefs.

Just because your birth/raising religion calls everyone with familial terms does not mean that every other belief system out there does the same thing. Christians might be (to use the general, not saying they all are) quite fine with being called brother/sister/darling/hunny or whatever else. But not even all Christians are fine with that. Other beliefs absolutely do not hold water on that; they don’t agree with the familial terms without permission.

Shared belief does not always mean automatic family. There is no reason to force automatic familial relation onto others just because that’s how you were raised. You don’t just call your next door neighbor sister or brother just because you both mow the lawns at the same time every Saturday. – which is a pretty good analogy, because pagans don’t really have nearly as much in common with each other as Christians do. Shared framework of theology makes Christians in general far more cohesive than “pagans”.

So you have a person who comes into the pagan community with the intrinsic value that all people who share the same beliefs are “family”, and then they start applying that to people in the already existing community. Other religions don’t have this same belief. So you have an instant culture clash, as it were. Because people who did not grow up with this belief are not going to take well to having family forced on them. And people raised with the belief are likely to be offended at how “rude” people are for not accepting their closeness.

But that pales in comparison to the fact that not everyone is comfortable with family terms. Let’s be quite frank: not everyone has had a good family life. Abuse, neglect, and abandonment all exist. People have very valid reasons to not like family terms. And hell–even if you just flat don’t like people to call you family; that’s valid. Some people just do not take outsiders in as family. You choose your family and each individual has the right to choose and define who their personal “family” is. No one has the right to force another to open their family circle to people they don’t want.

Forced intimacy is a real problem.

You have people who come in all “brother” this and “sister” that–and calling everyone all these other pet names in online forums (and in person too). Which is great if them and their private group all want to call each other that. But one should never assume that the vast majority of others in the greater community are fine with that. So really, you shouldn’t be calling random strangers in online forums any kind of endearment, unless you’re trying to be an ass: darling, you’re an idiot. And if that’s the case, best be ready to be dished the same back, otherwise you shouldn’t be tossing condescending endearments at anyone else. If you and the person you’re talking to are cool with endearments, then awesome and get with it. That’s what they’re for, and no one should be complaining about consenting use of endearments between people who are all in total agreement. But as a matter of common courtesy you should not be calling strangers endearments. And family terms fall strictly into that category, especially when dealing with strangers.

But hey, stuff happens. Sometimes you think it’s okay, and so you call someone else in a discussion brother/sister/honey or something else. You think it’s okay, you don’t mean any disrespect; you’re just trying to connect and interact just like you usually do. But the person calls you on it and says “No, don’t call me that. Call me __”. That is absolutely not your cue to start screaming at them about how you were just trying to be nice and they shouldn’t take it so seriously.

And for the love of all the gods, spirits, entities or all that is holy–do not ever tell them that you’re both pagans or whatever, and so it’s just fine.

That is disrespect and insult on the highest level. It is crossing a boundary and forcing intimacy onto a person who has clearly said “no”. And we all know what sort of trouble consent has in basic culture and society. Consent should be paramount. It absolutely does not matter if everyone in the discussion is all “pagan” or whatever. That is not a carte blanche to just call them whatever you want. You respect the boundaries and rules of engagement that other individuals set up.

Somehow this is a particularly contentious assertion in the community though, especially among L&L Brigadiers who get called on it. Seriously–how hard is it to just take a step back, apologize and let the person know you did not realize they didn’t like it? And then follow through. But no; that’s nearly never what happens. Instead you get screamed at, shouted down, or told you’re being “over sensitive” because you don’t like being forced into a familial relationship dynamic with some stranger that you don’t know from a hole in the wall. Or better yet — they get offended and then continuously complain that they’re being infringed upon their freedoms for being told to be respectful enough to call others as they want to be called.

Straight up, don’t be an ass.

It doesn’t matter how you were raised. Or what your prior religion or belief system did in calling other members of the same faith. So your church called each other brother and sister, and you used “honey” on each other all the time. And everyone was understanding and agreeing of those names and addresses. Cool. If you’re talking with those people, proceed the same way. They have agreed to that name and address. But in the “pagan” community there are thousands of different beliefs. And there is not a cultural shared value of familial addresses that is a base line among the larger community. It is not implied that in this community everyone is going to be fine with the familial relationships that are forced in being called by brother, sister or the like.

But there’s an uptick I’ve noticed in the last few weeks. Not that it’s not a constant problem. I mean, throughout the year I constantly see small numbers of people coming into forums, discussions or groups throwing around the brother/sister/honey talk. And they get called on it. So there’s always small numbers of this group coming in and out. But the closer we get to summer, it seems to be ever more and growing numbers of people who use this language. I personally think that as we gear up for festivals and public meet ups (which lots of huge ones are in warmer weather months, for obvious reasons) there is more visibility and therefore more people come tumbling into research and newly joining the community. Just my personal idea.

All in all–we need to be is respectful. So regardless of how people were raised, they should be respectful and accept how others want to be called. Do not call people family terms if they do not specifically give you permission to do so. Forcing your idea of intimacy or of family onto others is just…wrong.



Posted by

I'm a bibliophile who loves collecting books. Definite cat person. Amateur historian and major geek, who loves all things Tolkien and Star Trek. I'm also fluent in German.

2 thoughts on “Forced Intimacy in the Community

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.