Coming out of the Broom Closet

It is completely clear that Paganism (and Wicca with it) isn't one of the main world religions and that a lot of people are quite uninformed with regard to it. This unawareness often leads to fallacy. Of course, I do not blame people for being uninformed, or if they have developed a wrongful belief due to receiving misinformation because not everyone has to be interested in everything. Still, for those of us that practice this faith, this can be a problem.

Some of you have possibly found yourself in the situation that you want to tell your loved ones, or maybe even a wider community about your beliefs and attitudes for various reasons - simply so they can know about them, so you can practice your beliefs in peace and not keep things a secret anymore, so you can make your life a bit easier, make people more familiar with your faith (and therefore break certain prejudices) and so on. But in the process, one problem often arises, and that is the fear of other peoples' reactions.

In the English language, the phrase "come out of the closet" signifies announcing delicate information to someone and it is most commonly used to refer to revealing one's sexual orientation. Although, as of late, it has been modified and adapted to the witchy/Pagan context and developed into the phrase "come out of the broom closet". Therefore, I dedicate this post (and even the whole blog since it got its name from this precise phrase) to all of you who have ever come out of the broom closet or plan/wish to do so.

How I Came out of the Broom Closet

I would like to start this post with a story from my own life simply so you can have a real example before you. My coming out of the "broom closet" was completely unplanned, but everything turned out ok in the end.

I began researching Wicca at the young age of 12 through discussions on a few forums where I had the honor of talking with a lot of quite experienced people and receiving many good book recommendations from them. I printed out some of these books secretly and gathered basic ritual tools in time. Among them, I got my Book of Shadows, an athame, figures of the God and Goddess and so on. I kept all this in a drawer in my room but was (and still am) lucky enough to have family members who value privacy and therefore never had the habit of snooping around my room.

One day, at the age of 14, my mother was looking for something in my room, opened the drawer and was surprised to find strange books and a dagger. How does one react to this? She called me into my room and asked me with watery eyes why I have a dagger in my room. As you can see, the whole situation was very awkward and I did not know how to explain this one thing without explaining everything. And that's how we started a several-hour-long talk concerning my beliefs and practices.

My parents are Catholics so I thought the best way to explain my beliefs to them was by bringing them closer to their own. So I started drawing parallels... any and all that I could think of: comparisons of the Christian mass and prayer with Pagan rituals, prayers with magic, Christenings with Wiccanings, initiation with holy communions, handfasting with weddings and so on. I explained to her the fundamental doctrines of Wicca and answered all her questions. Of course, she asked me if I used the dagger (my athame) for anything bad so I calmed her and explained that Wiccan practices do not involve bloodshed or any kind. She had numerous other concerns which could have very easily been anticipated given the stereotypes and prejudices regarding Wiccans and Pagans. But I patiently answered all of her questions and broke my prejudices she had. 

I repeated this conversation with my father the next day. He is somewhat more conservative than my mother, but I managed to relate the topic to him through a calm discussion. His reaction in the end was simply that he had nothing against my beliefs or practices as long as they "did not harm me".

Useful Tips

Coming out of the broom closet is a big deal and shouldn't be taken lightly. It can actually have resounding consequences, both positive and negative, on one's life. The basic dilemma is that one cannot get back in the closet once they come out. I have already mentioned that coming out of the closet can have very wonderful results, but I feel the need to warm you of the possible bad ones as well. This is why I suggest that you ask yourselves the following questions before coming out:
  • Am I ready? 
    A certain level of maturity is needed for a person to come out of the broom closet. By "maturity", I don't mean simply physical or mental readiness (the ability to handle stressful situations well, the ability of resolving conflicts in a peaceful manner and so on) but I also imply spiritual maturity and ample practical experience. To elaborate, it is difficult to explain the basics of your own faith and your fundamental worldviews to someone if you yourself haven't yet defined them and haven't yet researched things enough to extract the most important pieces of information, or precisely that which will bring the topic closer to your interlocutor.
  • Are my loved ones ready?
    If you explain everything to your loved ones, but they aren't ready to take it all in, or are not yet ready to accept this for various reasons (it is contradictory to their own beliefs, they are more conservative and simply perceive it all as something bad due to the influence of media, former upbringing, stereotypes, prejudiced etc.), then the exact opposite of what you want might happen. Instead of this information bringing you closer together and bringing you the freedom you so desire, it can cause numerous restrictions and increase the gap between you and them (e.g. a friendly/romantic relationship may weaken, parents can forbid certain things and so on).
  • Is there really a need to come out of the broom closet?Sometimes, it just isn't the right time yet, or there isn't a real need for it because, under the circumstances, nothing would change if you gave voice to your opinions. Besides, Paganism, Wicca, witchcraft and similar practices are mainly private in nature and are not typically intended for large groups of people. Therefore, there is no need to go walking around with a sign around your neck that says: "I am a Pagan/Wiccan/witch".
  • Will I be imposing anything if I make the first move?I urge you to ask yourself if you would be imposing yourself or your beliefs on your interlocutor if you decided to talk to them about your beliefs. This is not one of those topics that you can just throw into the conversation, or casually bring up during a coffee; it may even cause misunderstandings and heated debates. This is why we usually leave it up to the other person to make the first move. Other peoples' faiths don't have to interest everyone. In fact, this isn't of the least interest or import to a large number of people when it comes to both friendly, romantic or any other type of relationship really. In addition to this, there is an unwritten rule in Paganism that forbids proselytizing and by bringing up this topic first and defending your faith and beliefs (which some people can take to be a form of promotion), some people can get the idea that you are trying to convert them, or are just trying to force your beliefs on them.
  • How do I want to come out of the broom closet?
    It is always a good idea to have a worked-out system and approach, to know what you want to say and how you want to say it as well as to know what is best avoided (depending on the interlocutor of course). This is all closely related to the first question because if your whole plan is based on your yelling at the other person when they start criticizing your beliefs or perhaps try to prove that what you are doing is "bad for you", then it's best if you just don't take this step at all. Aggressive reactions such as waving your hands about, raising your tone of voice, insulting the other person's beliefs as a method of defending your own and similar tactics are doomed to fail from the very beginning. If you are not able to calmly discuss this topic with another person and answer their questions, then now may not be the right time to take this step.

The Good Sides

After I explained everything to my parents, I felt as though a large weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I didn't have to hide my books anymore or wait for them to get out of the house to perform a ritual. I could simply be myself. I think that it is much easier for everyone who comes out of the broom closet because they don't have to live a double life and longer and can freely practice their faith (although I cannot emphasize enough that freedom of practice and imposition of practices/beliefs is not the same things).

Another good side to this is that many new doors start opening. If you are uninhibited during conversations about your beliefs, there is a chance that you will meet people that share these beliefs. This happened to me, and I believe to most others that took this step. Things just seem to fall into place. It all starts by meeting (through conversation and acquaintances) that one person who introduces you to another two-three people and from then on, things take their natural course. So now, I am blessed with a considerable circle of people (friends) with whom I celebrate the Sabbats and practice Paganism in other ways as well.

However, some manage to find a circle of people with whom they can practice even without "coming out" publicly (either to a narrower group or a wider public). But the problem with this is that these people are left hiding not only their own practices, but also the practices of their co-practitioners, which is much more difficult.

The Bad Sides

I have to admit that I personally did not have any negative experiences post coming out of the closet because I decided to tell only the people I am closest to - my family, closest friends and partner. I am lucky and grateful that they are all tolerant and that were willing to listen to my story until the end. I avoided the topic of faith/religion with people from my academic/work circles and those that I wasn't that close with for several reasons which I will mention in this heading.

If the person you are talking to loves you, there's a greater chance they will still love you no matter your religion/faith, or they will at the very least learn to tolerate/respect/live with it. This is why I didn't tell people I am not close to.

For example, if you declare this to the whole world on a social network, or start talking about it at work/college/school, people start to gossip. This can lead to many unpleasant situations, comments and often enough disapproval. In extreme situations, people lose their jobs, get a "bad reputation" because of made-up silliness, lose friends, miss out on academic/business opportunities and contacts and are either intentionally or unintentionally punished by their community because they are different.

Due to all this, some people decide to stay in the broom closet because this is (a) the line of least resistance or (b) because the negative consequences outweigh the positive.

Then there are always those that prefer to practice their faith secretly because this enables a quality practice for them (they don't waste any time knowing that they have to use the little time they have the best they can, they concentrate on what is most important, don't have to deal with external problems which would otherwise interfere with their practice and don't have some obstacles which they might otherwise have). Others just value their security and privacy and are at peace when they decide on this option because, after all, how can someone attack a person or invade their privacy if they don't even know where to begin (this person hasn't revealed anything about themselves with regard to this so people don't have any basis for offensive actions).

It is true that coming out of the broom closet can have negative repercussions, but this is why it's necessary to estimate the situation and one's own preparedness, the tolerance of one's surroundings and the possible outcomes. The final decision and the responsibility are on you.

It's my opinion that it is always better to come out of the broom closet if possible, although I understand that many aren't in the position to take this course of action. To these I can only suggest that they make the best out of their situation. I believe that coming out is always a better option because it generally frees a person, brings people closer together, widens horizons and creates many new possibilities.

I am only sorry that I cannot give any more concrete suggestions on this topic because I know how important and current it is for many people today (I have received several e-mails with questions on coming out of the closet). Every person's situation is specific, so general instructions cannot exist. But I would like to single out a few good guidelines which I believe can be useful for anyone in any situation of this type:
  • Evaluate the situation as best you can before taking any action
  • Let your interlocutor introduce this topic (be it through discussion, or in an appropriate situation as was my case)
  • Do not lie unless you absolutely have to in order to save something (people often lie to their employers, colleagues or people they are not that familiar with to avoid conflicts or negative consequences which would have a large impact on their lives such as losing their job), although lying is arguable even then (e.g. is it justified to lie to your partner about this in order to save your relationship/marriage because, in the process, you lost your integrity, your partner's trust and also hide a large part of your persona)
  • Do not react aggressively or rashly i.e. try to always stay calm
I wish that you have a lot of luck and wisdom on the journey that follows! And I hope that my advice and personal experience will be of some use to you. :)

Until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

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