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The Pros and Cons of Coming Out of the Broom Closet

Updated on May 12, 2007

The biggest decision you will ever have to make as a Pagan is whether or not to tell your family and friends about your religion.

And no one but you can make it. No one else has your particular work situation, family dynamic, and/or friends.

There are advantages and disadvantages to being out and there are advantages and disadvantages to staying closeted.

Clearly, the best reason to be out is: you never have to lie. If everyone knows you're a Pagan, there's nothing to lie about. No one will be surprised that you have an altar in your living room or that you always want October 31st off from work.

On the other hand, as I have personally discovered, being out at work, unless you happen to work in a Pagan shop, can have some serious consequences. When I worked for a small-town university, the student newspaper, on my invitation, did the requisite "let's interview a witch for Halloween" article. The article was very well done, and I was pleased that the young reporter did such a fair and accurate job. However, from that day on, my immediate supervisor's attitude toward me changed completely. Two of us were hired at the same time to do the same job. Suddenly we were no longer treated the same. My errors and shortcomings as an employee suddenly had harsher and more public ramifications than my co-workers. After about nine months of this, I tried to bring these issues up to my supervisor's boss. I was told my complaints about religious discrimination was "all in your head" and that I should "just get over it." My supervisor's different treatment of me and my co-worker was so subtle, I couldn't prove it and no one else could see it. Think twice, maybe three times, before coming out at work.

On the positive side, there are the same advantages to you and to your community that many gays consider when deciding to come out themselves. Assuming you don't paint your entire face brick red every day, or wear a butt-ugly pentacle the size of a hubcap and claim it's all "part of my religion", you have the opportunity to be a sane, normal spokesperson for the Pagan community. And, Gods know, we need more of those!

Also, like our gay brothers and sisters, if non-Pagans are given the chance to know someone who is Pagan, a lot of the fear of and discrimination toward us will dissipate.

Why do you want to come out of the broom closet? This is something you should consider very carefully. Is it to shock? To frighten? Or do you want to promote understanding and help Pagans and non-Pagans alike find common ground? If it's to shock or frighten people, do us all a favor - stay in the broom closet. Better yet, find another religion, please. We don't need a moron like you messing things up for the rest of us.

How you come out can also be as important as why. Telling my born-again now-ex-husband that I'd discovered I was Pagan as an indirect result of the tarot cards my gay best friend (who he was already jealous of) was teaching me how to read was probably not the best way to come out to him. I look back at that now and simply say, "doh!"

So what's a good way to tell your family and friends you're Pagan? Again, it's your family, they're your friends. I don't know them, and I can't help you - no one can. My spouse, for instance, told his mother he was Pagan, and once she was reassured that he'd still come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, she could have cared less. In her philosophy, God is love, food is love, therefore God is food. There are no other religious tenets for my mother-in-law!

However, if you're still living under your parents' roof and/or still rely on them for financial support, I strongly suggest you wait until you're physically and financially independent before you tell them, lest you find yourself on your own sooner than planned.

One final thought. If I had to do it again, I'd have waited to tell my parents (I'm an only child), or maybe not told them at all. As it was, I knew my first marriage was about to break apart, primarily due to my Paganism, and I felt they deserved an honest explanation. My religion was already a large part of my life, and I knew it would continue to do so. At the time, I couldn't imagine shutting my parents out of that much of me. So I told them. They weren't particularly happy, but twenty years have passed since that day, and it's not a big deal any more.

Actually, yes, it is. As recently as three years ago I needed to see a counselor for (surprise!) help on how to deal with my parents. My father found out about this and angrily demanded to know who it was to make sure "it wasn't one of those crazy Pagan people." I am in my mid-forties. My mother still treats me like I'm sixteen - since I can't make an adult decision about my religion (in her mind), clearly I can't make an adult decision about anything.

It's twenty years too late, but if I had to do it again - I wouldn't.


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    • Running wolf profile image

      Running wolf 9 years ago from Minnesota

      good article. I sure wish i would have kept my faith a secret from my family. all it did was make things worse.

    • CJensen profile image

      Paul Christensen 9 years ago from Kirkland, Wa

      It's refreshing to see an article like this from this point of view. There is alot of talk about when and how, but very little talk that is honest enough to come clean and say that just maybe it's best that you don't announce your religious leanings to the planet at large. It can make it extremely difficult to strike up relationships with local groups when you prefer to remain anonymous until you've gotten to know a little bit about people, after all, there are nutcakes in every group, and as far as I'm concerned I'd rather not jump in with both feet until I've had a chance to look where I'm going first. Aside from that, you've hit it on the head. For some the benefits of "coming out" so to speak are buried by the possible or actual negative reprocussions.