Out of the Broom Closet?

As I browsed through Tumblr tonight (as is fairly usual), I decided to browse through the Pagan tags for once.  I only do this in a very great while, because more often than not, I find more ignorance and fluffy bunny content than I do posts with real thought to them.  And on occasion the Pagan Tumblr community gets someone who decides to attack Wicca and Paganism and starts spamming everyone with hate mail.  So I tend to stay out of there.  But tonight, I thought I’d give it another shot.

I found a post from one user that expressed her frustration with our use of the phrase “coming out of the broom closet”.  According to her, this expression is irksome because being a Pagan does not equate to being LGBT, and by our tweaking of the “coming out of the closet” expression, we have somehow equated the one with the other.  In her words: “Do not compare, being a witch, to being LGBT. Just don’t.”

To be forthcoming: I am a straight, white female.  I am not a lesbian.  I’m as straight as they come.  However, having many close friends and a family member who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual, I do have a very frequent look into and interaction with the LGBT community and LGBT issues.

I agree, in part, with what this person says.  She states that being a lesbian is not a choice, but being a Pagan is.  I agree that being LGBT is not a choice, that people are born that way.  But I do not believe that my being Pagan is a choice.  I fully believe that I was born a Pagan.  Just as this person knows she is a lesbian, I know I am a Pagan.

She states: “See…you can choose to stop being a witch. If your terrified your family will leave you, if your convinced being a witch will damn you to hell, you can stop.”  Yes, I could stop being a Pagan.  But only by lying to myself and everyone else and denying my very essence.  And I can’t do that.  Denying my being Pagan is denying a fundamental part of who I am.  I can no more change that aspect of my soul than I can change the weather.  I could never become a Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or anything else.  This is the way I am.  For some Pagans out there, this may not be true.  I don’t know, and that is for each to discover for him- or herself.  Now, some people hide their religious beliefs in order to keep themselves or their families safe from harassment and assault.  I may get be opening a can of worms for asking this, and please know I don’t mean any offense– but how is that scenario different from an LGBT person staying in the closet in order to avoid harassment and assault?  Both are hiding who they fundamentally are for protection.

I understand, to a point, the frustration this person expresses with the “broom closet” expression.  But I also think she is neglecting the fact that many Pagans are on this path for life.  Once we find the path, generally speaking, we stay on it.  Not because we choose to, but because something inside of us calls us to do so; something inside tells us that this is right, that this is who we are, that this aspect of ourselves can no longer be denied.  It’s more than just a religious or spiritual conviction; it’s a way of life, a fact of life, and one that can’t simply be undone because of fear or a desire to make grandma like us more.  Trust me, if I wanted to make my grandmothers like me more and be more proud of me, I’d be in that church in a heartbeat and singing gospel.  But I can’t, and I won’t, because it’s not who I am and is, in fact, fundamentally opposite of who I am.

I am not trying to say that an LGBT person’s hardship is any less than a Pagan person’s, or vice versa.  I’m not trying to say that one is better or worse than the other.  I am saying that LGBT people and Pagan people have gone through an awful lot of similar issues over the years, including harassment, assault, abuse, torture, bullying, and so forth for simply being who they are.  In my view, the use of an expression does not diminish one group’s suffering over another’s.  I believe that by using the “broom closet” statement, we say “Our experiences are similar to yours, and we understand how this feels,” rather than “Our experiences are exactly the same and we’re hiding in the same closet.”  Because they aren’t exactly the same–but they are similar if you take a closer look.

It’s possible that I can’t understand her frustration, and so this entire post may be very off-base.  After all, I am not LGBT.  I have not experienced negative attention because of my sexual orientation or choice in partners, etc.  I have only my own experiences and thoughts to guide me on this.  But I have experienced negative attention, even among my own family, for being anything other than Christian.


4 responses to “Out of the Broom Closet?

  1. I liked reading this . . . not so much for the obvious comparison of the LGBT and Pagan experiences, but for the underlying observation that one’s spiritual path is not fully a matter of choice. I’ve held for a long time that the spiritual direction we take in life is in part based on choice, but it also is based in part upon discovery of what lies within us, of what we are – and our nature is something we cannot change. Having striven to avoid the pagan road often enough, I can attest that what Falconrider said is true – we can be non-practicing pagans, but if paganism is in your heart you cannot shake it off.

    It is nice to see that others feel the same way; thanks to all for the posts here.

  2. Pingback: Nominated For The Witchy Blog Award!! « The Enchanted Solitaire

  3. I’m with Faye AND you on this one. I’ve been pagan for well over half of my life and the thought of changing religions is abhorrent to me. Similarly, I would add to your argument that people might not be able to stop being gay, but they could, say, be celibate; much as we could become non-practicing under fear of reprisal. As a Wiccan Scientist, I would argue that my professional community is far more accepting of the gay community than it is of Wicca/Witchcraft/Paganism, and I am anonymous in my blog because of fear of reprisal in that professional community in the future. Being fired for believing in God/dess is a pretty big consequence to fear if you’re outed as Pagan.

  4. I agree with you, while many might feel that they can “choose” not to be pagan, there are also many of us out there who have had our own battles because it isn’t a choice. I would never try cheapen the experience of the LGBT community by saying it’s the same, but to react so strongly to the idea of coming out of the broom closet, is just that, a reaction. Given the idea of coming out of any closet is derived from exposing the skeletons that are hidden in your closet, I don’t that any one community should be able to appropriate the term. Getting caught in a debate about rhetoric when language is fluid, particularly in this sense, strikes me as looking for a problem where there isn’t necessarily one.

    Moreover, and I realize what I’m about to say is culture and location specific, but my colleagues who are gay have an easier time claiming and being respected for their “gayness” than I would for my “paganess”. I think the idea that it is a choice (faith) vs being born that way, is in fact part of the reason why the larger community can be less than welcoming or respectful of my spiritual practice.

    Does that make sense? I would never use coming out of the broom closet with any intent to imply that it is the same thing. However, getting upset about people using the term to express their own version of the struggle they may have strikes me as not potentially seeing the other side’s experience as valid or challenging because of ignorance of the other.

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