Last week I wrote about coming out of the broom closet and why I did it. And I said that maybe I’ve just been lucky, but, despite living in a small town in Pennsylvania, so far nothing drastic has happened.
In fact, most of the things that have happened have been funny.
I started venturing out of the broom closet by wearing my pentacle. Granted, I tended to keep it tucked in when I was home in Kittanning and only wore it openly in Pittsburgh where I worked at a variety of temp jobs.
Well, for one thing, I have dark hair and dark eyes, and if I had a dime for everyone who asked me if I was Jewish I could take everyone who is reading this out for a nice dinner somewhere.
And this includes one of the “Pamphlet Pushers” in downtown Pittsburgh. (I’m sorry, but if you’re going to stand on a street corner impeding the flow of pedestrian traffic during lunch hour when people are trying to get something to eat and get back to work on time, I’m not going to say nice things about you.)
Anyhow, I saw her looking at me as I made my way past her to Wendy’s. On my way back, sadly, the light was red and I had to wait to cross the street. I was careful not to make eye contact, but she came up to me anyhow and tried to give me a piece of religious literature, which annoyed me to begin with – I hate people shoving their beliefs on others. I never thought it was right when I was Christian and I’m even less tolerant of it now.
But I politely said, “No thank you.”
She replied, “But this one is written for Jewish people.”
“Ma’am, I’m not Jewish.”
“But you’re wearing a Star of David.”
“No, ma’am. A Star of David has six points, this has five.”
Fortunately the light changed and I managed to get away before I had to explain any further and probably give the poor dear a heart attack.
(Seriously folks, if you’re going to try to convert someone, please know what you are trying to convert them from. Trying to turn people away from their religion is bad enough, but to be utterly clueless about what that religion is… All I can do is shake my head.)
Not all my (mis)adventures happened in Pittsburgh though.
The one that sticks out the most from Kittanning was a trip to the ER at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital. I don’t remember why I was there, but the person doing the intake was going through the standard questions and came to:
Taking a deep breath I replied “Wicca.”
*frowning at the screen* “How do you spell that?”
The frown deepened and her fingers tapped some keys, and to this day I am probably listed as “other.”
But my favorite out of the broom closet stories came from one of my least favorite temp jobs in Pittsburgh.
It was a miserable working environment, but it was there that I met Robyn. I’d noticed her looking at my pentacle and I knew it was only a matter of time before she asked me about it, so when she approached my desk one day I knew it was time. I didn’t really know Robyn yet so I braced myself for the usual conversation. (If you’ve never had it, the usual conversation starts with “Nice (or interesting) necklace.”) Robyn, however, was a little more forthright than that. She marched up to my desk, looked me in the eye, and said, “Are you a witch?” Well, there went my prepared speech, right out the window that we didn’t have. (We worked in a vault in a basement.)
Robyn — and her mother — both ended up finding their paths as well, and Robyn and I had a great time at work. (Well, as great a time as was possible there.)
One of our other co-workers, Valerie, was very involved in her church. She kept saying that she “didn’t believe in VooDoo.” (Um, okay, but one: we’re not asking you to, and two: that’s a whole different religion.)
Anyhow, at Samhain I put a plastic cauldron on my desk — the kind that kids use to go trick or treating — and I kept it filled with candy which was available to anyone who wanted some. Another co-worker related the following:
Valerie had helped herself to some candy and the other (more tolerant) co-worker commented to her that “For all you’re afraid of them you sure don’t seem to mind eating their candy.”
Valerie’s reply? “It’s wrapped in plastic. They can’t do anything to it.”
(Plastic stops magic. Who knew?)
Anyhow, Robyn and I had a great time imagining Valerie coming to work wrapped in Saran wrap so we couldn’t do anything to her.
So, yes, most of my experience have been funny, but I do realize such is not the case for everyone and that many still feel uncomfortable with the thought of coming out – or unable to for a variety of reasons.
But for those who are out, I’d love to hear your stories about what happened when people found out.
First of all, non-Pagans reading this may be asking themselves about the title of the post. After all, it is fairly safe to assume that I am not an inanimate object. (At least, most of the time that’s a safe assumption.) The title refers to Pagans who are not (or cannot be) open about their beliefs – they are said to be in the broom closet.
Why can’t you be open about your beliefs?
Lots of reasons, but the main one is fear. Fear of harassment, job loss, eviction, loss of friends and family, persecution… When I first started on my path, many, many years ago, Wicca was not nearly as well-known as it is now, and a lot of people (maybe even most) were afraid of serious repercussions if anyone found out that they practiced “witchcraft” or followed a Pagan path. People lost jobs, homes, even custody of their children in divorce cases simply because of their religion.
Things have changed (are changing) but those fears were (and still are) valid – in some places more than others. Coming out is still a risk, and I don’t fault those who stay in the closet – it’s a scary world out here at times, and the laws don’t necessarily always protect your rights.
So, why come out of the broom closet at all?
For me, it began to feel false to hide my beliefs, to hide who and what I was. I felt as if I was denying my religion, denying the legitimacy of it. Or that I was ashamed of what I was. Staying in the broom closet sends a message – to our own subconscious as well as to other people – that we are doing something wrong, or shameful, something that has to be hidden away.
Those things did not sit well with me, so I began sneaking out of the broom closet on occasion, starting with wearing a pentacle. And despite living in a small town in Pennsylvania nothing drastic happened.
Yes, there is a risk in being open. But there is also a risk in staying in the broom closet: inside the broom closet nothing ever changes. Those changes I mentioned above? They didn’t come from people in closets. Change only happens if people make it happen.
People who choose to stay in the broom closet can still make a difference. They can still work semi-anonymously, behind the scenes: writing letters, donating money, spreading the word of injustices…
But people are afraid of what they don’t understand, and by hiding in the broom closet others don’t get to know that Pagans are people just like them. They think that they don’t know anyone like that, and that Pagans are strange and different and evil and spooky and… you know the stereotype.
Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but so far, the worst I’ve had to deal with is some mockery. I welcome sincere questions but I do have a co-worker who crossed the line a few times. I finally said “I don’t mock your religion. Please extend the same courtesy to mine.” He looked surprised – maybe even shocked – but I haven’t had any problems with him since then.
So, I’m out of the broom closet, but I don’t make a big deal of it: being out of the broom closet doesn’t mean being obnoxious and in –your-face. I wear my pentacle openly and I’m always willing to answer questions, but I don’t go around saying, “Hi! I’m a Pagan!” After all, it’s just who and what I am. Besides, other people don’t go around saying, “Hi! I’m a Christian!” (Or Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.)
For the most part I’ve had a “don’t ask don’t tell” kind of attitude. (If you don’t ask I won’t tell.) Some of that has probably been pretty much blown by my posting this blog to my FaceBook feed, not to mention all the posts from Pagan groups that I’ve liked or shared. People who didn’t ask and who I didn’t tell are now probably aware that I follow a different religion.
And you know what? I’m okay with that. If other people can post openly about their beliefs, so can I. And if they are offended by what I post, then they need to look within themselves and ask why they feel threatened by my beliefs.
And if they want to block me or unfriend me because of my religion, that’s fine too. I don’t need their approval and I am not going back into the broom closet.
I am a person.
I am a Pagan.
I am a Witch.
But I am not a broom.