Being “Out” Is Not a Privilege

So, there was this interesting post on the Patheos Pagan Portal asking people to ponder some things, and generally pointing out that there are still relatively a lot of pagans and polytheists who aren’t “out” about their religion to friends and family. That post sparked another post by an on-line friend, and of course, people had to comment. And I commented too, and I’ll basically say a lot of the same stuff here, but in part so that I can have a handy reference point for later — cos I’m anal like that.

First off, I want to make it quite clear that I don’t ultimately fault people who aren’t “out” about their paganness (or queerness, but that’s not what I’m discussing here) because of situations where one may be at a very great risk of losing their job, their home, custody of their children, or a healthy relationship with family members they still want to maintain a healthy, active, and generally friendly relationship with, for whatever reason — no, I don’t blame the pagans/polytheists in those situations because it’s not the pagans who created the very real situations they face. Those situations were created by the society that ultimately favours Christianity, by zealous Christians who’ve made those people’s situations so precarious, and by a judicial system that has a history of only paying lip-service to “separation of church and state” while ultimately favouring Christianity by a very wide margin. I do not blame the many pagans and polytheists who face those situations and are thus reluctant to “come out” — I may not completely understand, and some of those reasons why I will explain in a mo’, but I don’t blame (BIG difference).

That said, there are still many pagans and polytheists who are “out” as such, and doing pretty OK in spite of that. Still, I’d say only maybe a handful of these “out” pagans and polytheists, at best, are rendered “safe” due to relative pre-existing socio-political privilege — most who are “out” about their religions are living below an annual household income of US$35K, many are in poverty, and many are queer. The least-represented out pagans and polytheists in pagan media are non-white, but this does not stop many such pagans from being active in the pagan community on-line and off. Furthermore, in a society that favours people with high-paying jobs, families (including children of one’s own), and lots of friends, ANY pagan or polytheist who “comes out”, just like any GBLT person who does so, even in 2011, is putting themself at risk of losing all of that in addition to facing other discriminations one is not necessarily protected from, in spite of the United $tates and other countries protecting “freedom of religion”.

Outing oneself is not an act of privilege — it is an act of defiance. The primary reason to remain closeted is to protect what relative amount of privilege one may have by doing so: One will save their job, retain custody of children, preserve ties to a family whose love is apparently only conditional, and one absolutely will not put themselves, their family, or their property at risk of death threats, violence, or destruction.

…and yet there are still at least a handful of pagans and polytheists who will kvetsch and whinge about us “privileged” people who have some great luxury by being “out” about our religion. They poo-poo the out and proud and in-your-face about how love for one’s family is about sacrifice and doing things outside of one’s ordinary routine — and apparently they’re the only members of their own family who believe this, because they’re the only ones hiding, sometimes even lying “for love”. In a society that clearly favours those with families, remaining closeted is clearly an act of maintaining the airs of privilege to protect status. If the love of one’s family is so conditional as to be withheld over a difference of religion, I have to admit that while I don’t fault some-one for caving in to the charade, I don’t see the appeal.

In my own life, I’ve always had this aura of “weird kid” that everybody could see. Even when I spend a year and some absolutely going out of my way to look “normal”, I was never treated that way, and eventually just gave up and went back to what I’d been doing before — it’s not only familiar, but it felt true (the fact that it gave everybody else a more obviously weird kid to point at was merely a side-effect). My family was dirt-poor working class, I’m effete and gay, of TS history, five feet tall in a society that favours tall men, fat in a society that favours thin people, an artist of my own design, completely cut off from my family (and not completely by choice, but ultimately for personal survival), I have both visible and invisible disabilities as defined for the purposes of collecting allowance, and (the least of my worries) am possessing of a fashion sense that has been variously described as “vintage”, “art rock”, “gothic”, “classic glam”, “vaguely punk”, and so on. At some point, it just made more sense to be “out” about having an “alternative religion”, as well, cos really now, when I’ve already got that much against me, what’s one more thing? It’s not like suddenly the crazy Jesus-freaks at the bus stop will be all “but at least you’re Christian, right?” Not likely; not likely at all. I’m already far enough down on most people’s ladders that maintaining airs of “possibly at least Christian, for whatever that’s worth” really won’t amount to a hill of beans. A literal hill of beans might actually have a higher socio-political status than I do.

“Privilege” is playing no part in my decision to be “out” as a polytheist — no, more my lack of privilege. I figure the only way I could have less privilege is to be a Native American trans woman and asexual lesbian (or at least be Black or Latino1).

In the grand scheme of things, there are very few pagans and polytheists who can actually make significant money off of writing, even popular pagan authors often struggle to make a regular income off of writing, and writing alone is seldom their only source of income. Most pagan bloggers I’ve come across are pretty open about struggling to make ends meet, and a disproportionately high number of pagan bloggers (when compared to general statistics) also are openly GBLT. Just looking at these facts alone, I’m already seeing a reduction in relative privilege, so how being out about being part of a disfavoured religion is somehow “a privilege” just boggles my mind.

In the GBLT communities, “coming out” has never been an act of privilege; it has always been an act of defiance. While many people have always maintained many reasons, but founded and unfounded, for remaining closeted, and those with integrity fault the society that makes closeting oneself favourable to living out, the act of coming out itself is not a privilege.

With living out, there are always risks. Those risks are kind of proof that this is not a privileged act, for if it was so, there WOULDN’T be any risk, and everybody would be out! While it’s argueably a “privilege” to live in a city with considerably lesser apparent risk than a tiny, closed-minded town, there is still a risk, still the potential that one’s safety will be endangered simply for living their life openly and honestly, and the fact that that risk exists at all should put to rest any assumptions that coming out is a “privilege”. Hell, simply by being out, certain doors become instantly closed, and will stay that way, without a struggle.

My heart goes out to those who’ve weighed their situations against coming out, and chose the security of a closet; hopefully, we’ll see a reduction in this in our lifetimes, and you wonderful people won’t have to live in fear forever. I put the blame for your situation on the bigots who created it — which is where it belongs.


1: As an aside, when I lived in Los Angeles, I used to get asked pretty often if I was Latino cos of my naturally dark hair for being as pale as I am and in spite of possessing the surname “McElroy”. This is where I came into familiarity with the reclaimed slur of “green bean”, which amuses me — in part cos I first heard it from one-one who’s father was second-generation Mexicano and mother was from Cork (and who she fluent in Mexican dialect Spanish, and with her Irish accent intact). Also, it just now occurred to me that I never had a good come-back then, but I do now. So, to the question of “Are you / is your family Latin?” which is usually how it was phrased, I now say “Not since Boudicca burned Londinium.”

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16 thoughts on “Being “Out” Is Not a Privilege

  1. Pingback: Miscellanea « The House of Vines

  2. I don’t know, but I think is more natural (not more easy, just more
    natural) with people with a background of activism or
    socialism/communism in the family or people that have this experience in
    an early stage, to come out about things. We come out about so many things as a manner to stand
    for others that cannot, in a way of another…

    I like this, truly. “an act of defiance”.

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    • …I think is more natural (not more easy, just more natural) with people with a background of activism or socialism/communism in the family or people that have this experience in an early stage, to come out about things.

      I can see that, and I can also see how it’s easier for people with family backgrounds rooted in the arts or fringe subculture, but this is clearly a cultural difference and the presence of “privilege” would be dubious and / or tenuous and, at best, completely dependent on the short-term situation.  The privilege people tend to talk about in social activist groups, on the other hand, is that which tends to be taken for granted by those who experience it; heterosexuals and cisgender folks, for example, tend to take the privilege of their sexualities and genders for granted, and so if they’re generally accepting of those different from oneself, may not see why coming out and/or disclosure can be such a big deal.

      That said, in the mainstream culture, Christians tend to take their religious convictions for granted, and so those more accepting might not see the big deal in pagans outing themselves — but similarly, in “inter-pagan” spaces, those practising Wicca or Wiccanate Paganism tend to take for granted the fact that their symbols, holidays, principles, and so on will be privileged within those spaces; cxlearly Wicca is not privileged in the overculture, but in certain spaces it is often given a temporary de-facto privileged status.  Regardless, no matter what religion one practises that may be included under the “pagan” umbrella is still pretty far from given a “privileged” status in the Western hemisphere, so any instance where one may wish to “come out” as such is an act of defiance.

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      • That’s an interesting point about Wiccans being privileged with Pagan spaces. I’m a non-Wiccan (and non-witch) Pagan, and within the Pagan community it is constantly assumed that I’m one or both of those things. Events, conversations, etc. focus almost exclusively on Wicca, which can be difficult for me when I’m specifically looking for a place to feel included.

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  3. Pingback: Opinion: Outing oneself is not an act of privilege — it is an act of defiance « International Pagan Coming Out Day – May 2nd

  4. Overall, I gotta say, I very much disagree. Some people are much safer coming out than others. If you are able to come out at the risk of potentially losing your job, your family ties, etc., then that is a privilege. And this is true of both coming out as LGBT* and coming out of the broom closet.

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    • Your comment shows simply that you really misunderstand the whole concept of privilege. Think about how contradictory what you’ve said even is: “It’s a privilege to put oneself at risk of losing one’s livelihood, family, life….” Really? Since when? The perceived relative safety to take that risk has nothing to do with it; nearly every trans woman who has been a victim of a hate crime murder has been “out”, every witch who has lost custody and visitation rights to his children has been “out”. Please, kiddo, tell me where the privilege is in that?

      …being able to come out is absolutely a privilege and it’s privileged to think that it isn’t.

      I’m sure Matt Shephard’s family would beg to differ.

      It’s just wrong to think that all Pagans are equally safe coming out.

      I said that? Where? Cos see, as the author of this piece, I seem to think I said that coming out isn’t “safe”, in fact it’s potentially de-privileging —that, by the nature of the act, it can be very unsafe, and the only ones who are relatively “safe” to do so are those who have nothing to lose from the process —those who are already very lacking in privilege.

      If you really want to think I’ve said something I did not, then you’re going to see that no matter what I’ve actually said.

      As for being a kid at home? Is that what you’re talking about? Yeah, sure, I guess being an adult living outside one’s parent/s’ home is “privileged” in comparison, but when you’re struggling to keep a job so that your ass isn’t on the streets, being some coddled kid at home might seem like a pretty swank deal.

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    •  Oh, and apparently, I’m not the only one who agrees that “coming out” as part of any maligned population is risky and defiant, not a “privileged” act.

      And my point still remains that having nothing to lose, at least in my own experiences, makes one even more likely to “out” oneself about anything, because when one has already lost that much semblance of “privilege” for their class tier, “coming out” as non-heterosexual, or TS/TG, or disabled, or even pagan won’t make things really any worse.  So yeah, maybe you’re right that having the risk of losing family, friends, and a comfortable job is a “privilege” —but when you don’t have any of that and you come out anyway, then what does that make of your own self-outing?  When you take the risk and lose any one or all of those things, where is the privilege?

      Look, kiddo, I know you mean well with your ignorant comment, but the fact that you dared to tell some-one who came out in the post you responded to as:

      In my own life, I’ve always had this aura of “weird kid” that everybody
      could see. Even when I spend a year and some absolutely going out of my
      way to look “normal”, I was never treated that way, and eventually just
      gave up and went back to what I’d been doing before — it’s not only
      familiar, but it felt true (the fact that it gave everybody else a more
      obviously weird kid to point at was merely a side-effect). My family was
      dirt-poor working class, I’m effete and gay, of TS history, five feet
      tall in a society that favours tall men, fat in a society that favours
      thin people, an artist of my own design, completely cut off from my
      family (and not completely by choice, but ultimately for
      personal survival), I have both visible and invisible disabilities as
      defined for the purposes of collecting allowance, and (the least of my
      worries) am possessing of a fashion sense that has been variously
      described as “vintage”, “art rock”, “gothic”, “classic glam”, “vaguely
      punk”, and so on.

      …that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, you betray your own ignorance —and indeed, you betray your own privilege.  Hopefully, you’re only this ignorant from lack of experience —with any luck, you’ll live long enough to gain some more experience and learn better for yourself, and not have to take my word for it.

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  8. It’s rather ironic considering one of the lines of the Bible Jesus warns his followers that following him means leaving behind their possessions, wealth & family (Gasp..sounds like…a cult!) But now being Christian means conforming to your family- until you move out of the house, then you don’t have to go to church anymore. This is what’s killing the mainline Protestant churches- complacency. (Why oh why won’t the Millennials go to church? *wrings hands*)
    I come from a family that is very liberal and open-minded- which is what made coming out (both as Pagan & bi) pretty easy, and I live in a large metro area. I don’t think either of those things are systemic privileges per se. I believe in the importance of family, and sometimes making sacrifices, but totally hiding who you are is not an acceptable sacrifice. If your family can’t at least say “we’ll agree to disagree and not talk about it” and swallow their pride and go to your Pagan wedding/funeral etc. then they are not worth it.

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    • Exactly! Which is why I find the notion that “coming out is a privilege” just kind of ridiculous, and not in the fun way that Colin Moulding of XTC wrote about. It’s a choice, a choice that is often an act of defiance against the status quo —which kind of illustrates that it’s not a privilege. For some, such as yourself, the choice is relatively easy to make; for others, it’s a choice that would come with great personal sacrifice, and for others, the choice to stay closeted and retain the trappings of privileged status –home and family, gainful employment, and so on– is more important than rocking the boat.

      As i said to someone at the TS/TG group I attended on Monday, when she was talking about how neither she nor her lover want to be pioneers regarding custody of children each have from previous relationships, “but somebody has to.” A friend of mine was the “infamous” trans woman who bought a ticket to MWMF after outing herself, what, six or seven years ago (maybe eight?); as best as I recall, it was just a spur-of-the-moment thing whilst at Camp Trans –she’s relatively attractive, and rather conventional-looking for a woman of her age, so maybe that made her choice easier to make, or maybe that made it harder, I don’t live in her head –but I do know that, in the years since the “dark ages” of MWMF doing “panty checks” at the gate, she also probably could’ve gone up to the ticket booth, not mentioned a thing about her TS/TG history, and probably had a relatively fun time with no incident, enjoying the comfort and convenience of “going stealth” (which you just *know* some trans women do every year and MWMF). Outing herself was not a privilege; she risked hostile language and actions, she risked possibly being arrested for tresspassing, she risked all kinds of baseless accusations against her character. She was lucky that (as per my memory of her recollection of the incident) most of the “drama” from that incident was online.

      True, being pagan in the States seldom carries that degree of risk, but a basic search on TWH or WitchVox on pagans in custody battles, or losing their jobs, is enough to show that anyone who thinks being “out” as pagan is a privilege really has no idea what they’re talking about.

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