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.”