I’ve talked before about making the decision to come out of the broom closet and what that means, and why a person would or would not make the choice to do so. But what if you’re forced out of the broom closet? What if you’re accidentally outed? What would you do then? How could that kind of situation be handled?
It’s not an easy decision to come out to friends and family and explain spiritual beliefs. It’s certainly much more difficult when the decision is taken from you, whether intentionally or not. In some cases, it was purely accidental–a slip of the tongue, a discussion not intended for certain ears, etc. In others, it’s intentional–someone is spreading rumors, or telling others what they know, etc.
Step One: Breathe
Regardless of the situation, remember to breathe. This will help to keep you calmer. Deep breathing is a natural cue to the body to relax and slow down, which will help your mind to regroup and think clearer as well. This will help with the initial shock of being outed and will help you to bounce back faster. If the outing was accidental, breathing will help with your shock; if the outing was intentional, then the person who did the outing is likely looking for a reaction of some kind. I can’t think of many reasons to out a person except to get a reaction or to malign a person’s character. Either way, remaining calm will give you the edge in the situation, as it will likely make the others person look like an inflammatory busy-body looking to cause trouble.
Step Two: Try to Find Out the Accuracy of Their Information
This is an optional step. You can either do this step and then move on to step three, or skip it and go directly into the answering questions phase. But it may be helpful to try to figure out where the person got their information, how much they know, and how much is accurate. Let’s say your friend comes to you and says, “I heard a rumor that you’re Pagan.” After the initial shock, the first question on most peoples’ minds is “Where did you hear that?” You can deny it, sure, if that’s what you want and if it fits the situation. But if you decide to have a conversation about it, then it would probably be helpful to find out what the other person knows so you can clarify any misconceptions, mistakes, or outright lies. The key to this step is to do so in a way that is not accusatory. If you take on a defensive stance and an accusatory tone, the other person will get defensive as well, a situation that is not conducive to meaningful conversation and clarity. Repeat step one as often as necessary, but do your best not to accuse the other person.
Step Three: Decide Whether to Answer Questions
The choice is always up to you whether you want to answer other peoples’ questions or not. If you’re not ready to answer their questions, or to get into a length discussion of your beliefs (or an interrogation), then simply tell the other person that you prefer not to discuss the subject at this time, but you would answer questions later on. Then leave it at that. If you don’t answer questions, the other person will eventually lose interest and change the subject. A one-sided conversation can go for only so long when the other person wants information and you’re not giving it to them.
On the other hand, if you do begin to answer questions, and you feel ready to do so after the initial shock of finding out that people know you’re Pagan/Wiccan/Asatru/Other Affiliation, then great. Answer as you see fit, and remember to keep your cool. Depending on the situation and people involved, answering questions can bring up controversial topics, but the longer you stay calm, the likelier it is that the other person will stay calm as well.
Step Four: If Necessary, Walk Away
No one should have to stay in a situation in which they are being attacked, belittled, or degraded. Therefore, if you have managed to stay calm, but the other person is off on a tirade and won’t listen to a word you say, then calmly remove yourself from the situation. Summon help if you need to, call in friends or other family members, but walk away. There is no point in remaining in an inflammatory situation–it only makes things worse for all involved.
The key thing to remember, in my opinion, is to stay as calm and collected as possible. It’s going to be a shock, yes. It’s going to be difficult. But if you can remember to stay calm, then you will handle this kind of situation far better than if you don’t. And remember, if someone is intentionally outing you, then chances are they’re looking for a reaction or looking to cause trouble–and the best way to pull the rug from under their feet is to not give them what they’re looking for.