In the midst of the current “shitstorm” that has hit the Pagan Community in the wake of the recent arrest of well-known Pagan author, musician and High Priest Kenny Klein on multiple counts of possessing child pornography, I was compelled to remember a somewhat comparable situation, which I read a few years ago.
It’s a short entry in the book Eyes of Desire 2: A Deaf GLBT Reader (Raymond Luczak, editor; published by Handtype Press.) This anthology is a collection of stories, interviews, poems and more from deaf and hearing people all over the world sharing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the GLBT community.
In this entry Daniel J. Langholtz, a Deaf long-time resident of San Francisco recalls a situation he encountered years before:
A pair of hands caught our attention: “Hey everyone, look at me.”
I was meeting a group of Deaf gay people at a social gathering. I was new to town.
“I need your support. Please donate some money for ‘Unfamiliar-Name-Sign’ so he can buy some personal items while in jail.”
I asked the fellow next to me what ‘Unfamiliar-Name-Sign’ was arrested for.
“He molested deaf kids.”
He caught my aghast look and continued. “He is a part of our Deaf gay family. He made a mistake and he needs our support. You wouldn’t disown your own brother if he’d done the same thing?”
That was the moment I gained profound respect for a strong kinship among the Deaf gay community, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Eyes of Desire 2
Copyright 2007, page 344
I don’t think in any way was Dan condoning this man’s actions. Rather, with this entry he was sharing the memory of a moment when he learned an important lesson: that it is possible and perhaps even vital that even when one has engaged in acts we personally find morally repugnant (not to mention legally unacceptable), that we still acknowledge and support such individuals as members of our family.
We don’t have to like the person or approve of his behavior. It’s perfectly fine to expect and even demand that such person pay the price for his mistake. In the above case, the individual was arrested, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to jail for his criminal activities…activities that involved inappropriate sexual behavior towards children.
And yet in spite of such, the Deaf Gay Community still recognized him as a member of their family; still saw him worthy of soliciting donations so he could buy personal items. How many people chose to make a donation I don’t know…and I think such information is irrelevant.
What is relevant is that this community, rather than playing judge, jury, and executioner…chose instead to play the role of a support system, thus helping to heal not only this particular miscreant, but also all members of the family. And in doing so, earning the respect and admiration of a newcomer who thus desired to become part of such a community and engage in such kinship himself.
Perhaps this is the lesson that all of us can learn from.
Yes, what Kenny Klein did disturbs most of us, including myself. Yes, we can find it sickening. Yes, we can and should be outraged by these allegations, especially if they prove to be true and result in legal proceedings. Yes, we can and should demand punishment as determined appropriate from within a courtroom for engaging in such behaviors…and justice for the victims of said behaviors.
But we cannot and should not demand lynching, execution, or other forms of violence against this man. Such actions are counterproductive to the goal of healing our family, and will likely not earn us the respect and admiration of others, both within and outside of the community.
I haven’t been keeping up with all the discussion on this subject – partially because I’ve deactivated my Facebook account while dealing with some personal health issues. However, from what I have seen there seems to be a “Kenny Klein Wasn’t a Real Pagan” debate going on in the social network.
This makes me roll my eyes and heave a big sigh. It also makes me think of comparative issues within the Deaf Community. Believe it or not, we Deafies have been guilty of similar behavior… of dismissing those with whom we disagree or disapprove by pointing a finger and claiming that they are not “true members of the Deaf Community”…i.e. they are not deaf enough.
Let’s not turn this into an issue of identity politics. For better or for worse, Kenny Klein identified himself as a Pagan. And as bitter a pill as it might be to swallow, Pagans are capable of committing heinous crimes. There are plenty of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and the like who have done some pretty crappy things.
We can add a couple of Pagans to that shit pile.
Likewise, there are a number of Deaf individuals who have committed some heinous crimes, including murder.
Back in 2000 and 2001, the campus of Gallaudet University – the world’s only liberal arts college specifically designed for the education of deaf and hard of hearing students (and my alma mater) – was rocked by the murders of two freshman students. The first occurred in September of 2000 when a student was found his dorm room having been beaten to death. Then less than five months later a second body was discovered…in his room in the same dormitory, having been stabbed multiple times.
And that familial bond of deaf solidarity was forever shattered.
Certainly no human community is paradise. But up to then, the assumption that a deaf person would murder another deaf person was a foreign idea. Fight with, cheat on, steal from…certainly. But not kill.
But it was in fact a fellow deaf freshman who killed these two students. He confessed to both crimes, stood trial, was convicted, and is now serving life in prison without parole.
And members of the Deaf Community are now left to acknowledge that rather than being different from others…when it comes to murder, they are the same.
Perhaps this is what troubles the Pagan Community regarding the Kenny Klein incident – being forced to admit that rather than being above all this monstrosity, we are essentially the same. Being forced to admit that for all that familial bonding, that sense of solidarity that we feel with others who share our Path…
there will still be members of our community who will do unspeakable things. Things we don’t want to imagine any Pagan being capable of doing… and especially not to other members of our community:
The list goes on.
And when something like this happens, the shattering echoes through our community. We feel anger. We feel grief. We feel a sense of loss.
We feel the breaking of that solidarity.
We can no longer pretend. We can no longer deny the harsh reality of the truth – that for better or for worse, we are a part of the greater world… and in that greater world, people do bad things. Hurtful things. Illegal things. Things against the people they love. Things against fellow members of the community.
We are forced – on an individual basis and as a collective group – to revisit our definition of “family” and review our criteria for determining who can be considered a member of such. Does committing an illegal act constitute ousting from the clan… a banishment, a shunning?
In the case of the Deaf gay child molester, or even the Deaf student murderer… no, it does not. These individuals are still Deaf, and the Deaf Community still acknowledges them as such. They may not desire to associate with them as friends, but they can and still do support them as needed. Even when a Deaf person commits a crime, members of the community will still advocate for Equal Communication Access to assure that s/he has sign language interpreters and/or other modes of communication available as necessary during the arrest, trial, and prison sentence.
We will also reach out to our Deaf victims and survivors…assuring them that they are not alone, and are likewise still members of our family. We will support them as possible, and aid them in finding services that will meet their needs.
Perhaps it is time for the Pagan Community to take a page from the Deaf Culture workbook.
Don’t get me wrong…I am not recommending that we take up a collection to help Kenny buy personal items while in jail. I’m not even suggesting that we have to like the guy, or view him as being a “brother.” But we can still advocate for him to receive appropriate legal representation, and work to assure that the legal proceedings focus on his inappropriate activities and not his spiritual beliefs. We can join with the system, rather than trying to replace it.
We can offer our assistance to those who have been affected by Kenny’s actions. We can listen to them, support them, guide them in finding the help they need.
We can begin healing ourselves, each other, and our community. And in the process, rediscover our strength, our security, our solidarity.
We can be a family.