Lately, many of the Pagan blogs have been talking about the whole “coming out” thing. Blame it on The Wild Hunt and its Pagan+Politics offshoot, where one of the regular contributors suggested an international “Pagan Coming Out Day”, which was of course followed by lots of other bloggers ranting about what a terrible terrible idea it was and how dare she try to pressure them into coming out and so on and so on. I’ll know that our movement has truly come of age when most of our members don’t assume that any suggestion that anyone makes for us is a command from on high, and I blame that on our status as a silent minority religion in our culture – which, ironically, might not be a problem if a few more of us were out. But before I move on, I’d best establish some ground rules, so my six readers don’t jump to the same erroneous conclusions that the Pagan+Politics readers seem to have done.
I don’t want anyone to risk their physical safety by coming out.
No, really, I’m not commanding you all to sacrifice your lives or health for the movement. We don’t have much of a martyrdom tradition in Neo-Paganism, and even if we did, that’s not a decision I get to make for anyone else. Granted, most Americans will never be in the same situation as the Lebanese P+P commenter who said that he could literally face a death sentence from his government if he publicly stated he was a Pagan, but if you really think you’re at risk, don’t do it. It ain’t worth it.
I don’t want anyone to risk their spiritual well-being by coming out.
This one’s a little more nebulous, of course, but I know that many Pagans out there are just plain uncomfortable being public. That’s not something that I personally get – and this is coming from someone who’s spent most of his life as a nerd desperately trying to avoid attention – but again, it’s not my place to tell anyone else how to deal with that. I suspect that most of the “closeted” Pagans would feel a lot better by not feeling like they had to hide things from the rest of the world. But I suspect that a lot of Pagans really enjoy the secrecy aspects of it. Personally, any allure of keeping my beliefs a secret from everyone else in the world died in me nearly twenty years ago, but that’s a choice everyone has to make for themselves.
I don’t want anyone to risk their job by coming out.
Sure, I’d like to think that people don’t get into trouble with their bosses because of such things, but I’m too much the realist to think it always works out that way. And even in that case, there’s always a chance of legal recourse, as opposed to the folks who don’t get hired in the first place because of their religion. If our local economy ever gets back to what things were like in the 1990’s, maybe I can make a comment about finding another job with a better employer instead, but for now, once again, that’s a decision you’ll have to make yourself.
“Coming out” just means being honest about your beliefs, not proselytizing or wearing pentagram necklaces to work or covering your car with Pagan bumper stickers or &c.
As often happens in any discussion among Pagans from vastly different traditions and backgrounds, a lot of the argument about whether to come out arises from differing definitions of the concept. I don’t have any bumper stickers nor do I wear my Grove necklace unless I’m going to an official Grove function, but I consider myself out. I think of being out as being honest with friends and family about who you are and what you do. That’s it. Wear the necklace to work if you really want to, but that’s not what “out” means to me. (If my knowledge of gay lingo is accurate, this is the difference between being “out” and being “out loud”, and I don’t think we need anyone to be “loud” in this sense.
So there we go, I’ve spent lots of text space convincing you that you don’t need to be out, or out loud. And yet I do think that everyone should be as out as they can be. (Well, maybe people with cars that look like this should be a little less out, if only for aesthetic reasons!) Why would I ask you all to do something that I admit is genuinely difficult? For the simple reason that it will make our community a better one. Maybe not right away, but years down the road. The Stonewall Riots happened less than a year after I was born, so I certainly don’t remember what life was like before then, but I do remember the 70’s pretty well, and the 80’s even better than that. I remember what a stigma it was to be gay in most parts of this country, and I’ve seen it slowly get better for them since that time. When I was in high school, most people didn’t think they knew anyone who was GLBT, except maybe their hairdresser. Now, most people do. When I was in college, anti-sodomy laws were still considered constitutional. Now, same-sex marriage is legal in several states and countries. And that didn’t happen because the GLBT folks stayed in their living rooms and did energy work. Nor did it happen just because of activist work, although that certainly helped. It happened because a few people were open about it, and that made a few more people feel comfortable enough to be open as well, and so on. Once they were visible, and in large numbers, it became that much harder for people to demonize them, or pretend that they didn’t really exist.
The same could happen for us if we’re up to the challenge. I know all too well that being a Pagan in the Ann Arbor area is like playing a computer game in “Easy” mode (if not “Trainer” mode), but that only inspires me to be even more out to make up for all of the Pagans who can’t. My family and friends have known about my religion for decades now, and I’m more than willing to do media interviews and other public appearances to talk about us. It would be easier (and maybe a little less stressful to me) if more Pagans out there would do the same. I know I won’t live long enough to see the “promised land” of full acceptance and tolerance by the mainstream culture, but it would be nice to see things change quickly enough that I can tell that it’s happening.
(And seriously, it’s about being open, not being in-your-face. Tone it down with the bumper stickers, folks. You’re scaring the horses.)
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF