One thing that the Witching community has in common with the Gay community is the concept of coming out. In the witching world the process is often referred to as “coming out of the broom closet”. In both cases the phrase means going public about a chosen lifestyle, telling family and friends and claiming a particular label as part of your identity and the way you want to be perceived. The concept is not exclusive to Homosexuals or Witches, I am sure it can be applied to some degree whenever anyone decides to make a public declaration of their allegiance to a particular religion, cause or lifestyle.
Coming Out for any reason or in any situation can be difficult and might involve confronting the beliefs, standards and prejudices of the people closest to you. I am sure we have all heard sad stories of gays and lesbians who have been alienated from their family and closest friends as a result of coming out. The same has certainly happened to a lot of witches when they first came out of the broom closet. So is coming out really worth all the trauma and conflict it can sometimes involve? Wouldn’t it sometimes be better to stay in the closet?
The reason I have been thinking about this is that recently a close friend of mine came out to me as gay. It wasn’t exactly a big surprise to me and I’m sure he knew I wouldn’t be shocked; but I realised as he was speaking and visibly squirming in front of me that for him the very act of telling me was a huge step. Of course I was positive and supportive and to be honest slightly amused because in my eyes his homosexuality had probably been obvious to everyone but him for quite some time. But I chose my words carefully and my feelings were mixed because the step he was taking brought back some personal memories. In a way I have come out twice and one of those times was a big mistake.
Coming out of the broom closet as a witch was for me a gradual and totally positive experience. I confess I had it easy. I had never been particualry secretive about my interest in the occult, the supernatural, paganism and witchcraft. Nobody seemed to be particularly surprised when (at about sixteen years of age) I started calling myself a witch. My parents at first took the typical attitude of “Oh well, it’s just Cassie being Cassie. I guess I was a bit cross that they didn’t take my decision more seriously but with hindsight I am grateful for their attitude. It gave both them and me time to see if it was real and adjust. It was of course part of my whole growing up process and if I think back on it too much I cringe at just how arrogantly immature I probably sounded. In a sense my coming out as a witch wasn’t really consummated until many months later when my Mum asked me for some advice in my guise as witch. From that moment it was confirmed in my soul (and I think in my parents souls to) that being a witch was a fundamental aspect of Cassie’s character and being. Most of my friends accepted me as a witch from the start. In fact because of their acceptance I never really felt the need to make an issue of it. I have always been honest with those that wanted to know but (except for the actual time of my coming out) I have kept my silence and was never really in anyone’s face with my witchcraft. So my coming out of the broom closet (if you can even really call it that) was trouble free and didn’t involve any of the difficulties that a lot of witches face when they take that step.
My second coming out was a much less comfortable experience. I have never had a big coming out experience as a bisexual. It was so much a part of me that I never really questioned it and I used to move in such bohemian circles that it was never an issue worth coming out about. During my early twenties I think at least two thirds of my friends were either gay or bisexual and whether I happened to be dating a man or a woman was just not an issue for me or the people I spent most of my time with. I kind of hinted to my parents that I had had girlfriends as well as boyfriends, but never went into much detail about it. Perhaps I knew that while they would accept my choices they would have a much harder time really getting their heads round their daughter’s sexual preferences and experiences.
Then in my mid twenties and in a generally calmer and more mature phase of my life I met a girl and fell in love with her. Everything seemed perfect except that she, and more so her friends, seemed uncomfortable with my bisexuality. I got strong vibes from her friends that I couldn’t be trusted because sooner or later I would meet a man and leave her. And as time went by she also seemed to get more insecure about our relationship for the same reason. This was the first time I had come into contact with some of the prejudice which exists in the lesbian community towards bisexual women. But I was in love and I wanted to convince her that she had no reason to worry. So, to cut a long story short, I made a show of coming out as a lesbian. I did it for reasons of the heart and even though I knew I was in reality still bisexual I thought I would be quite happy to give up the prospect of ever sleeping with men again if it meant staying with this woman who meant so much to me. And i was quite sure I would be happy and able to confine the majority of my social life to the lesbian scene if it meant being with her. In order that she could see that it wasn’t all talk and that I really meant business; I came out as lesbian to my parents and one of my closest friends. I still shudder when I think back on those conversations. My parents were as accepting and supportive as they could be but it was as if we were all saying words we didn’t really mean. It was almost the most uncomfortable and embarrassed I have ever been. I was asking them to accept some thing profound which I knew (and they knew) was not really clear at all. Just writing about it makes me feel ashamed of the emotional turmoil I put us all through.
I think you can guess how the story ended… A few months after my coming out, “she” dumped me. I have seldom felt so emotionally gutted. And then several months later I was introducing my new boyfriend to my parents. So that was the most embarrassing moment, although it was mitigated by the start of a much easier and straightforward relationship. Even now the whole episode leaves a lot of confusion and sadness in my mind, not all of which has been fully resolved… I am still just as sexually attracted to women as to men, but since that time I haven’t really allowed myself to get emotionally close to any woman who has caught my eye.. And my biological clock is running and if I ever have a child I want to do so in the old fashioned way… Anyway, I digress…
The point is, what have I learned about coming out from all of the experiences described above?
Obviously on the negative side of things it is clear that if you are going to “Come Out” about anything you first need to be really sure that what you are saying is true and not just some phase you are going through and secondly you have to be sure that your reasons for coming out are the right ones. This is not always easy to judge in the heat of emotions you are likely to be feeling at any time you are considering coming out. From my own experiences I would suggest waiting a bit longer than you might initially want to before taking such a big step. And listen to both your heart and your head.
Think carefully about the question of why you want to come out and if it is really necessary. Now if someone is thinking about coming out in terms of their sexuality I think in most cases it is really necessary. It is difficult to be actively homosexual and enjoy an active and fulfilling sex and social life if you have to keep everything about such a fundamental aspect of yourself secret and hidden. In terms of witches coming out of the broom closet it isn’t always neccessary. There are many active witches whose craft and spiritual direction are known only to a small number of people; or nobody else at all. Indeed secrecy is an important aspect of many forms of witchcraft, so it is perfectly possible to be a real witch without anyone else knowing about it. On the other hand it is certainly not always essential for a witch to remain private and secretive and there are positive things to be gained by claiming your path or your vocation.
Overall, even with all the misgivings and mistakes I have spoken of, I think the advantages of coming out in nearly all situations far outweigh the disadvantages.
Laying claim to a label, whether it be Gay, Lesbian, Witch, Pagan, Christian, Muslim or anything else helps us to assert our individuality and take responsibility for our own lives and how others see us. (I know that using the words “label” and “individuality” in the same sentence may seem like a contradiction in terms to some people but I think that is the subject for another debate). It gives us confidence and helps us to become the authors of our own lives. I sometimes think that those of us who have to go through some form of coming out process have an advantage over those who don’t. It gives us a more secure sense of who we are, what we want and need and what our direction in life is. It must be difficult for those who never need to rub up against the boundaries to be totally self secure. Testing our boundaries and naming them seems to me to be a fundamental element of human nature. In general I’m all for people taking little coming out steps towards asserting their individuality. Admitting to being a Trekkie, for example, may seem trivial, but it is still saying something!
The friend of mine who recently came out seems to be doing well. His parents are still in a period of shock and adjustment, but they still show him love and support. A few of his old friends have apparently left the scene, but others are coming to terms with his decision and are standing by him. Of course he has made a lot of new friends on the gay scene. He has changed in subtle ways. Parts of himself that were probably repressed before are becoming more apparent. The most obvious thing to me however is that he seems mush happier and more self confident. The step he took has opened a new world of possibilities to him and you can see by the sparkle in his eyes that he is relishing every minute of it. I am sure there will also be troubles and difficulties ahead, but he will be facing them as the person he wants to be.