A Different Kind of Closet: Coming Out as Pagan
One of the most daunting personal issues facing
modern Pagans is whether or not to "come out of the broom closet" - that is to say, whether or not to let people know that
you are Pagan.
There are many factors to consider in this decision - the nature of your family, friends and co-workers;
whether or not your community is Pagan-friendly; and your own level of comfort. If you feel at all frightened, endangered,
or "not right," then my advice is to stay in the closet. However, there are factors that make this more complex than a simple
"in or out" decision. Here are a few simple signposts for along the way.
#1: Have your life "together" before you come out as
It's difficult enough to respond to the bombardment of questions you are likely to receive upon revealing yourself
as a Witch or Pagan. If, in addition, you are constantly in debt, have trouble keeping a job, or your life is simply out of
control, you should consider working out your personal problems before going public. It is easy for people to blame any problems
you may (or may not!) have on the "evils" of Paganism. That's an additional headache you do not need. So, harsh as it sounds,
get your life together before proclaiming your witch-hood. Doing so will help protect the image of Pagans in general and will
help you in allying any fears that may surface from your announcement.
#2: Sometimes, the closet might be your best choice.
One prime example is if you are involved in any sort of legal battle, especially involving custody of a minor child. During
my counseling career, I worked with a firm that represented a Wiccan mother in a custody case. Even though she was
a good parent, her ex-husband sought to discredit her by portraying her as a danger to the children based on her religion.
These arguments can be very convincing to the uninformed judge, particularly in less liberal communities. Fortunately, the
attorney handling this case sought my help and I was able to help strengthen his client's case.
Being an open Pagan at work is another case when discretion
may be the better part of valor. Even if your friends and family are aware of your beliefs, you may find it is best to keep
them to yourself in the workplace. Consider whether or not your co-workers are ready to know this much about you! (It's really
none of their business.) As long as you do your job to the best of your ability, are competent, and do not goof off, there
is no reason for anyone to complain about your religion except for their own prejudices.
The tolerance factor of the community in which you live
is another important factor. If you reside in an area with a well-known Klu Klux Klan chapter, slapping a "My Other Car is
a Broom" bumper sticker on your car might not be the most intelligent move. You are begging for trouble - consider if you
really want it.
#3: Be honest in love.
Regardless of whether you
are closeted in your community, workspace, or family, there is one instance in which you should always make your beliefs known:
when you are engaged in a serious relationship. I have known people to go as far as marriage without disclosing their religion
to their beloved or, even worse, to allow their loved one to believe they have "changed their ways" at his/her request. One
piece of advice here: don't do it! If you cannot be honest with your mate, you will regret it later.
There's no need to panic: dating outside of the Pagan
community does not necessarily mean your relationship will fail. Being honest from the start protects you from greater heartache
later. The worst case scenerio is for you to never say a thing, and then have your mate find "evidence" of the occult in your
home - books, ritual tools, etc. Such a path will lead to distrust and suspicion - the last thing you need.
As you think about telling your girlfriend/boyfriend
about your religion, consider what attracted you to each other in the first place. Your love is probably not going to condemn
you, but you may be challenged to explain your beliefs. Who knows, s/he may even be interested in joining your path as well.
#4: There's safety in numbers. You can be an advocate
for Pagan rights even if you are still closeted yourself.
If you are new to an area, anonymous internet contact is a great
way to get in touch with local Pagans and get an idea of the number in your area, their overall attitude and what they think
about the Pagan-friendliness factor. Another way to help is to support businesses, services and groups that fight for Pagan
rights or give Pagans safe places to gather. If a petition is being circulated, sign it. If you need to, use your magickal
name to protect your identity; if you are an "out" Pagan, proudly sign your legal name! Contribute to organizations that works
on behalf of Pagans and shop in local Pagan-owned businesses. Put your talents to use by selling your work in Pagan shops.
While the proprietors will need your name, address, and telephone number, you can, if you prefer, market your work under your
magickal name. The same goes for writing for magazines, newsletters, or letters to the editor.
Write to Congress and ask your Representative and/or
Senators to support freedom of religion. (You need not specify your personal beliefs.) Write letters of protest when Pagans
are denied their rights. Subscribe to Pagan publications, especially local ones. Many offer the option of receiving their
magazine in an envelope to protect your privacy.
If a Pagan-related story is run in your local media,
respond to it. Remember to praise factual and/or supportive stories, and protest inaccurate or derogatory ones. Many newspapers
offer an anonymous forum for readers to call and voice their opinions. When it comes to being "in" or "out," consider your
choices carefully. Analyze all the factors that might be affected by your coming-out. If it feels right - go for it! Coming
out of the closet can be a life-altering decision. Be certain you and the people around you are ready for it!