What follows is the text and slides from my Queer Satanism lecture. In the future I hope to grow and expand upon it (and do a better job of presenting it in person 😉
Think of a time that you felt empowered for being yourself unapologetically. Particularly in an authoritarian setting like a classroom. Now think of how that affected your behavior and presentation afterwards.
Satanism was first an accusation similar to witch that was meant to other and demonise people or cultures. Satanism began appearing as a topic in fictional literature such as La Bas or The Revolt of the Angels (which mentions “satanic priests”)
Romantic literature portraying Lucifer/Satan as a heroic figure of rebellion against tyranny combined with the fictional mentions of groups of “Satanists” inspired the imaginations of occultists and social justice advocates particularly in the wake of the French revolution against the ruling classes. They began to see the archetype of Satan sympathetically through its representations in fiction often as a metaphor for resistance to an overreaching government and church and theocratic political and social climate.
In 1966 Anton Lavey founded the Church of Satan. Religious scholars agree that this was the first time that the self identity and religious organization expressly called Satanism appeared though the concepts had been well established before and Anton was not working from a “blank slate”. Since then other organizations such as The Satanic Temple have evolved their own Satanic philosophy and Satanism that is deliberately independant from the Church of Satan.
Queer, originally simply meaning strange or peculiar, started being used as a pejorative towards anyone not cisgendered or heterosexual in the late 19th century incidentally around the same time that occultists and social justice advocates began reclaiming Satan from its previous pejorative use.
The French Revolution inspired people to empower themselves against the tyranny of their government and Church by reclaiming Satan. The AIDS crisis in the 1980s similarly inspired some LGBT people to to reclaim Queer in response to the conformity and complacency they perceived in the LGBT movement and our government which was doing as little as possible to address the deaths of gay men they considered beneath consideration and worthy of ridicule even as they died.
Groups like Queer Nation and ACT-UP rallied around radical resistance and what they saw as a milquetoast approach by the gay community concerning the crisis. The reclamation of Queer began as a rejection of the respectability politics emerging in the LGBT community and a call to arms that being “strange or peculiar” is not an acceptable reason to be denied safety, equality, or life itself.
A little glimpse of my own backstory and queer satanic history; I grew up in Marietta OH and went to Marietta High School. I was out at school during the later years of high school. This would have been 94 or 95.
I was fairly well known for being an iconoclast and it seemed to come as second nature to me.. I’ll spare you tons of nostalgic adventure stories but I do want to share one.
We had a rock at the entrance of our highschool which we were allowed to paint. The idea being that if there was one space where students were allowed to graffiti then the rest of the school building may be spared.
Most of the time it had some kind of team spirit shit on it but once it was painted black with a silver swastika and the words “No Yibs”(whatever kind of slur that was supposed to be) painted on it.
This juvenile idiocy stayed on the rock for several weeks…
Until my friends and I had the idea to fix it. We bought some black and hot pink spray paint and covered the swastika with a pink triangle and the words “Gay Pride” one evening.
The next day the first period art class was sent out to paint over it after it had greeted everyone on their morning arrival to school. I was the target of heated discussion which derailed every class that I was in that day. No one had paid attention to the swastika on that rock for weeks, but everyone was highly concerned about our school being represented by a Gay Pride rock.
The next night we returned to paint it again with the additional message “1 in 10 people are gay”.
(that was the statistic bouncing around back then)
Again, the art class painted over it during first period. Time was taken out of an entire class period to censor a message that our community was uncomfortable with or hated, and it wasn’t the Nazi message.
I think it is difficult for many younger people to understand the context of how things have changed since 94. We were essentially pre-internet. I spent my time in libraries and bookstores learning about other gay people, Satanists, and their cultures I felt a part of. I had to special order books that were never stocked at local bookstores. Kids did not regularly come out in highschool in small towns in the 90s. There were few LGBTQ alliances or resources available to youth due to the demonization of Gay people as pedophiles or the notion that youth could be “turned” Gay. I had to sneak into the gay bar a few towns away on nights during the middle of the week to meet other gay people. I say this to help you understand the gravity of what happened next…
So, on the third night when we returned…
(what did you think I was just gonna give up?)
So on the third night we returned. We painted the rock with Gay Pride again and on this night we didn’t stop there. We painted the exterior walls of the school as well. For these messages I used lyrics from Marilyn Manson, who had just released Portrait of an American Family. The walls of our school now had two foot tall scrawled graffiti declaring that It was now time for white trash to prepare for cake and sodomy among other expletives.
The volume on the disruptive classroom discussions was now at 11 on the following day. For most of the school I was at best an annoying attention seeker, at worst an evil deviant villain that deserves violence. After extensive arguing and debating in every one of my classes I was called to the office. Everyone knew I had done it though I hadn’t expressly admitted to it.
There in the office Mr. Smicklass asked me if i had had anything to do with the graffiti on the school. I don’t think he expected me to admit to it.
I was more than happy to however. I railed at him about the prioritization of censoring Gay Pride but not a swastika and I implied that I would be seeking to let my friends at the local newspaper know that swastika stayed on the rock for weeks but that the school used class time on several consecutive days to cover up an innocuous message of inclusion.
Mr Smicklass paused for a bit… and then took great care to explain to me the monetary value of the damage I had done to the school before offering some possibly half-hearted words of encouragement about how difficult high-school is for unique people. He then dismissed me to go back to class. No suspension, didn’t even call my parents. Understand that I was no stranger to suspension for doing far less than thousands of dollars of damage to public property. To this day I am uncertain whether my principal was just a decent human being or if he was scared of the repercussions of public opinion. In any case it was one of many moments I’d had of empowerment through unapologetic expression where I embraced tactics and phrases that shocked the narrative and exposed it’s hypocrisy. These moments and their interplay on my inherent nature shaped me.
Criticism of Satanism by atheists often mirrors criticism of queer by LGBT people.
This victim-blaming approach is predicated on the inability of people with a more milquetoast set of interests and expressions to advocate for equality on the behalf of and alongside people that express themselves in ways outside of their own comfort zone for fear of losing the approval of other bland people.
Atheists who often feel maligned as Satanic by theists object to having strange clad people with an affinity for things they find distasteful standing with them on the same goals.
LGBT people who object to the identification of Queer often also resent Pride and specifically members of our community that trigger their internalised sex shame and homophobia. The reasoning being that Queer is a hurtful or distasteful word (to them) so nobody should be using it. They find integral members of our community, like the gender non-conforming or Leathermen and Drag Queens or promiscuous people “embarrassing” to be seen publicly. Rather than examine the approval they still seem to require of the homophobes around them they blame those who don’t exhibit such a strong desire or need for that approval.
Both of these can be summed up as respectability politics which is how things like gay marriage and military service got prioritized over better legal and systemic protections for queer youth. In most cases of respectability politics the biggest proponents of respectability can be expected to drop out of the discussion once they achieve the goals that affect them personally.
I am sure some measure of effectiveness can be achieved by a certain amount of respectability politics at the right time and in the right circumstances, but it is never a Queer or Satanists first tool and the effectiveness of it has a glass ceiling through which radical social progress and evolution which benefits all communities is never reached.
Reclamation is a tool that people who value individual unapologetic expression often harness. A huge factor of this is the relationship between the personal empowerment of accepting a feared or pejorative accusation as an identity and how becoming that label disrupts the popular narrative. When the herd imagines and names a clawed fang mawed villain capable of influencing or destroying society with ease in the absence of exhausting and conspiratorial vigilance they create an archetype and imbue it with a power that is prefabricated for any superstition deficient defiant group of people who have an axe to grind with a particular superstition or “traditional value”
A current passion point of The Satanic Temple regarding our fights in the public forum regarding separation of Church and State is that we are no longer interested in explaining what we are and stand for to those outside of our community who can’t be bothered to internalise our message or read our websites and articles. Ultimately even if we were Devil worshipping fools or all of the worst things that fevered conspiracists or theists imagine our equality under the law is not subject to restriction based on how distasteful obtuse troglodytes find us to be. We don’t hide anything about who we are and we acknowledge that who we are is by our own design but there is no legal justification in a country founded on secular values with freedom of speech and expression to exclude us from public forums where other religions and their beliefs are represented. We are simply tired of the tone of apologizing and repeatedly explaining ourselves to the intransigent in futile efforts to make them comfortable.
We simply don’t care to labor to achieve your comfort if it interferes with our equality under the law.
These are similar to the feelings that lead up to the Stonewall rebellion and later the reclamation of Queer as an identity during the AIDS epidemic when we watched our president and his cabinet laugh and make jokes about faggots dying while they ignored and enabled more death.
As I mentioned in my recent blog I belong to both the Satanic and Queer communities because of the makeup of my personality and individuality. I wrote recently about how Satanists are the Leathermen, Drag Queens, nerds, and gender non-binary people of the atheist and religious communities. And it is that way because that is the makeup of our inherent personality. We have an aversion to banality and celebrate the unusual and truly free.
Being LGBTQ (and especially the Q) is not just a non-issue in The Satanic Temple, and it’s not something we merely “tolerate”. Coming out and celebrating your own individuality in spite of traditional popular narratives is fundamentally always something that requires no thought to support as Satanists. To that end when we are asked why we are such a haven for Queers and other LGBT people we are often caught off guard by our own neglect to even consider that we wouldn’t enthusiastically encourage the involvement of brave people who champion individual expression and equality in spite of the danger of violence that it puts them in.
In short, being Queer in TST is such a natural fit to us that until recently none of us really thought very deeply about it.