Months ago, there was a conversation on a listserv for the Pagan Newswire Collective (PNC), if I remember correctly, during which we realized that providing support for those of us who remain in the “broom closet” and organizing a day on which that support would be made manifest as a series of events and gatherings to promote exiting it seemed like a fine thing to organize. Cara Schultz, an author at the Minnesota bureau of the PNC, took it upon herself to do so and invited me to help out after I expressed interest in doing so. This year’s International Pagan Coming Out Day (IPCOD) is today, May 2nd, and Cara asked myself and others to share the story of our original coming out day.
For me, it was 1998, and I was a rising-senior in High School. I had been searching for a new faith practice for about five years until a friend of mine introduced me to Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Upon reading it, I knew I needed to know more and on August 2nd I decided to dedicate myself to the gods. I did so privately in the public park a few blocks from where I grew up. Since it was a public park, there wasn’t a lot of pageantry. I spoke some words that I’ve since forgotten and felt a certain sense of purpose as I moved into my final year High School.
I hadn’t really come-out yet, though; that came later. Considering my mother had to give me the money I needed to buy my first few books on Wicca and Paganism, there was nothing really to tell my folks. But I hadn’t really said anything to friends and acquaintances. But, I had purchased a pentacle necklace and was wearing it under my shirt at school. It was a woman named Nicole who first asked me about it; I hadn’t worn jewelry before so perhaps she noticed the change or perhaps she was just curious. Regardless, I tried to shake it off as “simply religious” but she pressed further. “What religion?” she queried. When I drew it from my shirt and began to explain about modern Paganism, she was supportive, smiled, and then we went to class. I think it was calculus.
And that was pretty much it. I realized that, where I grew up, most people probably just didn’t care. I began to wear my pentacle over my shirt and talked to people about it when they asked but didn’t otherwise really wear my spiritual heart on my sleeve. Some understood, some were confused, and one — a music teacher — went so far as to ask if i was “into Satan” but most just weren’t really interested. Perhaps they assumed it was merely teenage rebellion or a phase I’d grow out of, but for what ever reason, my coming out was fairly painless.
But, I realize that this may not be the way it works for everyone. And, it is for that reason that I continue to live my life without hiding my religion. Even if my necklace isn’t visible, I always wear a ring with a pentacle on it, too. I’m active in my local Pagan community and in the growing national community of the PNC — I’m their technical coordinator — and I sit on the executive committee for IPCOD. Hopefully, I’ll be starting an Illinois bureau for the PNC and I’ve begun to plan and soon will help to execute public rituals locally, too.
But, usually only other Pagans might see these activities. What others see is my professional work and my recreational activities. They see that I try to live my life virtuously, and that I’m willing to help others when they need it. Hopefully, they see me as a loving husband and as a good friend. These actions speak to everyone around me, Pagan and not. And, for those who are not Pagan, perhaps my efforts to simply be a good person will help them to realize that Pagans are simply another group that answers spiritual questions differently than perhaps they do and not some evil menace to be avoided or, at worst, obliterated.
My coming out experience was fairly benign. Hopefully, as more and more of us do so, it will enable even more of us to live our lives publicly as Pagans. It is with that hope that I try to share myself as a Pagan with those around me and that is why I intend to support IPCOD in whatever way I can moving forward.