Ah, coming out–I’ve done so much of it over the past decade! These days I don’t have to do much coming out because I’m a fairly open book. Granted, my transparency is partially involuntary: I’ve never understood how people can create and maintain a deliberate persona. Clearly (haha, see what I did there?) I will never be an international woman of mystery. Or even a local woman of mystery.
As y’all know from the story of my moment of self realization, once I figure something out about myself, it’s not long before everyone around me knows it too. AlTHOUGH, coming out to my parents when I fell for a woman was not quite as amusing as the first blurted confession of bisexuality. Being gay is just about an unforgivable sin to my birth family. Telling my mother I was involved with a woman began a decade long conflict that ended, last May, in her refusing to speak to me. (This isn’t actually such a bad thing. But that’s another blog post.) And yes, coming out to her as pagan was part of that ending. The situation was far more complicated than that–isn’t it always?–but the risk of losing people when you come out is very real. It’s no wonder some pagans stay in the broom closet pretty much forever.
When I first joined Facebook and realized that family and friends who knew me back in my fundamentalist days were going to be able to find me there, I debated about whether or not I should be open about my spirituality. I decided to go with letting my freak flag fly, for a few reasons. (You didn’t think you’d get through the PBP without at least one of my lists, did you?)
1. I wanted to give paganism a more realistic public face. (Not that I’m a public figure, but . . . y’all know what I mean). It’s true that a good number of us pagans are wired a little differently than the average practitioner of mainstream religion. But most of us couldn’t be as ridiculous as that British guy in the red bathrobe if we tried. And most of us aren’t interested in trying. (Also most of us don’t even own red velour bathrobes, much less wear them in public.) I’m just a regular person who also happens to be pagan. I figure the more people who know that, the better for public perception of pagans.
2. Isolation is unhealthy. I am a fan of small ritual circles and even solitary practice, but I think that the craft suffers when it is tucked away in dark corners and curtained living rooms. You see the same kind of problems with the nuclear family–the self-contained unit is set up to rot from the inside out. Similarly, insular religion makes for poor mental health. Whether you practice with others or not, whether you open your coven to a larger number of people or not isn’t the point. The point is that the human mind needs an influx of fresh ideas on a regular basis to keep from stagnating and growing unhealthy things in its depths. It’s much easier to keep the currents moving when you are open about your path with a variety of people.
3. Secrets arouse suspicion. I’m not saying we all need to turn our paganism into a sideshow and perform for the cameras. But I think being hush hush about our spirituality makes it seem like we have something to hide, something to be ashamed of–whether we actually do or not. I’m sure it makes some people fear us, and I think fear is food for hatred and violence. Which leads me to my next reason–
4. I’d like to make the world safer for us, and for future pagans. Creating a safe world for pagans is obviously a complicated task, but I think we can look to several other civil rights struggles for inspiration. I can’t think of an instance where the government took it upon itself to uphold the rights of a minority–I’m no historian, but I’m pretty confidant that legal protections come after struggle, and under the weight of public demand. If we are an invisible minority, then our struggles are easy for the general public to ignore. One person standing up for themselves is easy to brand as a rebel or a freak. But if there are a lot of us–well. They can’t ignore us all, right?
Now, after saying all that, I have to make the disclaimer that you should take my list of reasons with a grain of salt. The decision to come out–or not–is personal and important and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you what to do. I know coming out of the broom closet wouldn’t be a wise choice for everyone. For some people it is quite literally unsafe, and I hope those people have the sense to ignore my little list. There’s courage, and then there’s foolhardiness. And I hope y’all wouldn’t let anyone talk you into being a fool–not even me.