Why Come Out? (for Tempest Smith)

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“For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people, coming out is a process of understanding, accepting, and valuing one’s sexual orientation/identity. Coming out includes both exploring one’s identity and sharing that identity with others. It also involves coping with societal responses and attitudes toward LGBT people. LGBT individuals are forced to come to terms with what it means to be different in a society that tends to assume everyone to be heterosexual and that tends to judge differences from the norm in negative ways. The coming out process is very personal…” from the University of Illinois Student Counseling Center

May 2nd has been decreed as “International Pagan Coming Out Day.”

I use the quote above because “coming out” is something borrowed from the Queer Liberation movement. Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs pioneered this idea in the 19th century, realizing that coming out to various hidden parts of our being was an aid to human emancipation. He also was the first to speak out against anti-homosexuality laws in Germany in 1867.

What has this to do with Pagans? We live in a time where Pagans are still actively discriminated against in some places, where misinformation flows freely, and where rights are taken away by simple virtue of someone practicing his or her religion. The more of us that can come out to our families, co-workers, and friends, the more help becomes available to those who feel they still cannot.

There will be some of us that don’t come out because of very real fears of losing children or jobs. Those of us who can come out, support these others by doing so. I know some of us will say, “We just don’t talk about religion at work,” and yet, some of you know that this co-worker is Christian, and that one, Hindu. How do you know? No big deal, just a small comment here or there, or signs that point to it. That “no big deal” is what we are looking for. Just another religious flavor in a pluralistic society. The more of us there are that people can point to as high-functioning members of the workplace, the school system, the local environmental group, the union, the fewer of us will run the risk of having our children taken from us for virtue of being Heathen or Wiccan parents. The more of us there are that give people some understanding of Paganism, the fewer Tempest Smiths there will be, committing suicide as a result of anti-Pagan bullying, and the more teens like Angel Cat there will be, who wrote a helpful piece on coming out to your parents.

I’ve chosen to be out with most things. That started young, for me, in standing up for Gay rights with my parents when I was 13, before I had even acknowledged to myself that I was queer. It was an issue of social justice for me. I came out as Pagan not too much later. On one hand, people might look at my life and say “It is easy for Thorn to be out.” Yes, it is easy now, because back when it was hard, I didn’t let that stop me. So now, yes, it feels easy to tell the businessman next to me on the airplane about my “business trip” teaching spirituality and Paganism. I’ve had some pretty interesting conversations this way.

May 2nd is a perfect day for Pagan Coming Out. When someone at work, or school, or the supermarket is talking about their weekend, we can say, “I danced around a Maypole. No, it’s not just a quaint old custom. My friends and I are Pagan.” Or “My family had a feast and bonfire yesterday to shake off the last of Winter and honor our Spring plantings.” Sure, it might feel strange at first, but hopefully, we will all get over it.

By getting over it, the next time a child wants to wear a Mjollnir pendant or pentagram to school, he won’t be asked to remove it, or get sent home, or bullied. By getting over it, a woman won’t lose her job… By getting over it, we get a chance to educate each other a little better, building a pluralistic society. By getting over it, we can walk around a bit taller. By getting over it, our children’s children won’t have to go through such a wrenching coming out. We will have paved the way.

I speak only to those who do not feel their lives, jobs, or children are in imminent danger. I speak to those who haven’t come out simply because it feels a bit easier, less complicated, less awkward. Can those in the latter camp at least consider it? If not this Monday, perhaps some other time.

For inspiration, I leave you with the words of an ancestor hero, Harvey Milk. Perhaps we can think of Tempest Smith while we listen.

Please pass this post on:

17 Responses to “Why Come Out? (for Tempest Smith)”

  1. MikeyUK

    Hi Thorn,

    I very much agree with your dissection of the practical reasons why those who can come out as Pagan probably should come out, but I believe it also speaks to our theology(ies). Consider, we experience the Divine as immanent (yesterday’s post!!) therefore we hold ourselves as having just as much inherent worth as our Christian, Hindu and Muslim brothers and sisters.

    The question is: do we give an outward manifestation of our theology by demonstrating publicly our most deeply felt experiences? I think the problem is that a lot of Pagans lack an adequately sophisticated theological vocabulary, and we seriously need to address this. How can we expect to hold our own in a religious conversation if we cannot explain our religion to others beyond “we don’t worship the Devil” ?

    I happen to work in a Catholic High School were all the staff (including the Franciscan Monk!) know that I am a gay man, but I would experience a huge backlash if they knew I was a Witch. It’s funny how one can be out in some respects, but not others.

    Mikey

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Mikey,

      that is a good point, and one that some Pagan writers have been tossing about lately. I know Hecate Demetersdatter has been enjoining us to get our ‘talking points’ together vis a vis the media, but it would be good to do simply for ourselves and for everyday encounters.

      Reply
  2. MikeyUK

    I know we have a Pagan Values month coming up, but I’ve been thinking it would be a good idea to have a website where community leaders (and other members of the Pagani) can contribute essays regarding Pagan theologies; a free resource for emerging Pagans, where we can develop our own vocabularies in community. Hmm…maybe I’ll develop this someday soon!

    Reply
  3. Laura

    I have come out to my Mom and sister about my being a witch, a pagan, and bisexual quite recently. It was met with love and acceptance. It was wonderful!

    Reply
  4. Erika_Aaradyn

    Mikey – I think that’s a great idea.

    Thorn – As always, I love your posts and am so happy that I found your blog. I remember coming out (both as a pagan as as a bi woman) a few years ago – my mom was the toughest but even though she’s Catholic and I’m Druid we still get along and our relationship is stronger than ever. It’s my hope that more people will have this sort of luck.

    Reply
  5. Ocean

    “We live in a time where Pagans are still actively discriminated against in some places, where misinformation flows freely, and where rights are taken away by simple virtue of someone practicing his or her religion.”

    Try being a DEAF Pagan – not only do I have to worry about being discriminated against due to my religious beliefs, but every day I deal with discrimination on the basis of my disability. Every day I’m dealing with someone telling me “sorry, we don’t provide access to deaf persons.”

    This doesn’t just happen with employers or with public accommodations – both of which are required by federal law (Americans with Disabilities Act) to provide sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids to assure effective communication.

    It also happens within the Pagan Community. At this very moment, I am being denied access to attend one of the nation’s largest Pagan events because they refuse to provide interpreters.

    So if we are going to support Coming Out Day, then we need to walk our talk. We need to support ALL Pagans, regardless of your sexual preferences, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your particular Path…or your disability.

    Otherwise people like myself are going to head right back into that broom closet…because we don’t feel welcomed and accepted by members of our very own community.

    Reply
  6. carl

    The only real bonus to this kind of coming out, is eventually it will desensitise the whole issue and we can get on with more important things in life. And all those badge and label grabbers can go join someone elses’ club/bandwagon.

    Reply
  7. Ocean

    Hi Thorn ~

    Thanks for your reply.

    Yes, I am familiar with Tara and the Staff of Asclepius. She’s been a great support, and the blog has been a great resource in getting info out. We just need to keep encouraging people to read it, and similar blogs…such as my own, Deaf Pagan Crossroads. (I know – shameless plug!)

    Yes, discrimination happens…and we have every right to get angry when it does. But we must also remember that a common belief within our community is that our Path often serves as a mirror for ourselves. I’m reminded of something a fellow Deaf Pagan once commented at the Crossroads:

    “To me, that is the deepest kind of spirituality: the kind where the lessons you seek in the Universe are found in human connection; the kind where a friend holds a mirror up to your face and helps you find the divinity within.”

    Sometimes finding that divinity requires us to take a good hard look at ourselves and our behaviors. How do such behaviors support our Community, our Path, and others who strive to walk it? How do our behaviors do harm to such?

    We need to remember that in general, most of us subscribe to a belief system that supports both immanent and internalized Deity and, to use a theologically technical term, is pantheistic; we and the Deity are mutually dependent on one another. That is, what we do has a direct effect upon the Deity. If our actions are honorable and ethical the Deity is enhanced by us, and likewise, if our actions are dishonorable and unethical the Deity is correspondingly impoverished.

    Let us remember such a system as we celebrate our own coming-outs and those of others on this day…and let us all do what we can to enhance Deity to its utmost.

    Reply
  8. Oberon

    Hi Thorn,

    Thanks for remembering Tempest Smith! In addition to being the First Officer of the Midwest Region Local Council of Covenant of the Goddess, I am also one of several Trustees who sit on the board of the Tempest Smith Foundation, in the Detroit area. Our current projects will be finding a way to work with the Michigan school system to give more information and tools for people concerned with the bullying that intolerance of all sorts can lead to.

    Thank you for all the good work you do!

    Reply
  9. Are you out of the broom closet?

    [...] of the Pagan coming out issue, I can point you to two very different blog posts. In the first, T. Thorn Coyle reminds us of Tempest Smith’s needless death by her own hand; she was just 12 when she hung [...]

    Reply
  10. Alexira

    Great post thorn, I am a pagan, and am proud. Being pagan has ultimately liberated me from my old christian religion. I am a minor, and I wear my pentacle at school. And I won’t let anyone tell me to remove it. Blessings.

    Reply

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