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Those who are in the LGBTQIA community talk about “coming out of the closet”. For those who are pagans–and especially those who are Wiccan or witches–we talk about “coming out of the broom closet”.
Obviously we prefer coming out of the closet on our own. Nobody likes to be outed without their consent. In the age of online social media, doxxing, and the internet in general, getting outed can happen and without warning.
We can have many closets, and it’s okay to stay in them
Coming out of the broom closet as a pagan or a polytheist is a privilege few have. Even with religious discrimination laws, a lot of people still don’t understand paganism, Wicca, etc and have their own hangups and prejudices about it. You’re likely to be treated differently or harassed at work. Being a part of a religious minority can suck pretty hard.
I’ve frequently referred to coming out as a Hellenic polytheist as “coming out of the amphora closet”. On rare occasions, I discovered that I worked with a few Hellenic polytheists and we bonded on the job. One in particular was a fellow devotee of Hermes, and we had a good chuckle over it. It’s a lot easier to come out of any closet when you’re in good company.
Obviously when you’re both queer and pagan, it doubles the amount of closets you have. And while they may have some pretty sweet looking shoes, it’s a lot more that tend to fall out of them when you open those doors. I think it’s frankly easier these days to come out of the LGTBQIA closet vs the broom closet, as discussing my asexuality with coworkers was not a big deal (thank the gods). I even joined my company’s LGBTQIA committee.
But I am well aware of the fact that my ability to come out of that particular closet is mostly because of where I live. There are definitely places in the United States and elsewhere where coming out of either is dangerous. And if you add other closets to that (gender identity, for instance) it gets tougher.
How do you handle coming out of the broom closet without going off the handle?
When you work at a place that pulls you aside and asks you in hushed tones if you said “gods” and “Did you just refer to deity in the plural?” as if you were caught at work using profanity, it’s even tougher. And yes, that’s a real thing that happened to me at one of my first jobs out of college. I was told “not to talk like that” and that it “might make people think differently about me.”
We have laws, but people are people and prejudices are a thing.
At another job, I worked in an IT department for a religious organization that was a non-profit, and therefore could legally fire me for my religion. I wore a pretty floral rose cross pendant and said nothing. My family is Jewish, is all I would ever say if asked. I was spiritual, but not religious. When your rent is around 65-70% of your paycheck, you don’t rock that boat.
I’ve been outed without my consent, what do I do?
If it’s family, obviously you have to bite the bullet and have that conversation. My own father bought me Scott Cunningham books when I was in my early teens, so it’s (mostly) a non-issue. But for others, it could be devastating. Seek out the support of your extended family-not-by-blood, and make sure that you have people around you who will accept you and back you up.
At work, it’s a whole other story. Familiarize yourself with the laws surrounding religious discrimination in the United States and seek advice and legal council if you feel that your job is being threatened. Obviously if you live in another country, look up those laws as well. The UK has their own laws against such discrimination, for instance.
Some workplaces possess a strong diversity policy and will enforce it. I am VERY fortunate to be employed by such a company. Obviously not everyone is. If that is the case, you likely will be fine. Thankfully, I am.
How do I handle it if I can’t sweep it under the rug?
As honestly and as straightforward as you can. After all, we are EVERYWHERE! I belong to traditions which have lawyers, doctors, teachers, soccer moms, therapists, retail workers, real estate agents, scientists, military, as well as software engineers like myself. People often just need to meet others of different backgrounds and realize that it’s not a big deal. Normalize differences and embrace them.
Refer them to books and websites if they’re curious, or otherwise just keep it down to a quick sound bite. “It’s like church but with many gods” or “Think of the Masons, but with a god and goddess”. Keep it simple, relevant to their own worldview, and draw analogies. Similarities help people to get over the differences.
Some people might make jokes about it but not necessarily intend to be mean. Conversation about religion can make people nervous, and when people get nervous they sometimes react in a way that might seem inappropriate. Feel free to break the ice and make your own jokes for them. Find things to talk about which would be familiar. Our own cakes and wine is pretty much just like the Eucharist, after all. Cookies! Alcohol! People tend to like these things.
There are two topics that typically are avoided at work for obvious reasons: politics and religion. If you don’t want to come out of the broom closet at work, you don’t have to. But if you do, you can at least be as casual about it as any Jew taking off work for Rosh Hashanah or a Christian for Good Friday. Maybe mention that you’re celebrating Yule. The holidays are generally a good time to bring it up, as it’s relatively non-threatening.
How do you handle stereotypes, bad actors, and bad community members when brought up?
Someone messaged me on Twitter after they found out that I am pagan. They felt nervous around pagans and polytheists because of the folkish and neo-Nazis. Naturally there was the concern that that was just how we were. Unfortunately ALL religions (and even those with no religion) have people in them who are bigots because unfortunately, humans have bigots among them. Sadly this is human nature and isn’t tied to any particular faith or lack thereof.
Thanks to movements such as the Xenia Declaration and Declaration 127, people are stepping forward and speaking out against racism, misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism, etc within their relative communities. But for people who first learn about paganism from hate groups, it can be hard to talk to other people due to the association.
This is why in a lot of respects it is VERY helpful for us to come out of the broom, amphora, or whatever closet–if we can. We can serve as a good example against the bad. This is also why I post what I do to this blog, especially in today’s climate. We have to stand up and support each other, particularly those among the marginalized.
As for stereotypes, it can be very hard to overcome those when you’re in a minority faith. Especially when there are a fair amount of smears, misinformation, and disinformation that often keep us in that broom closet. All you can do is be open and honest about who you are and what you are about as a person. It helps, of course, if they’ve already known you for a significant period of time.
Talk to me about coming out of the broom closet!
Feel free to offer up your suggestions, questions, and stories in the comments on coming out of the broom closet! If you were forced to come out due to being doxxed or people stumbling into your personal life by accident, I’d love to hear from you. If you continue to struggle to stay in the broom closet (or any related pagan closet), please feel free to offer up your words so we can support you.