By izzyplante

I believe it’s important for people to be honest about who they are and not to hide behind social convention. I’m not saying we should wear buttons that read, “I’m pagan. Ask me all about it!”* or be obnoxiously in people’s face about it, but people of other faiths aren’t afraid to wear their symbols in public. I shouldn’t fear to wear Yggdrasil.**

I think this is true for anything that’s not “socially acceptable” from coming out of the closet to being a member of an “unpopular” ethnicity (I think I’ve mentioned my college friend that found creative ways of not admitting she was Iranian; in this political climate, I can’t imagine how hard it must be to be a soldier of Yemeni descent or a doctor whose parents are from Iraq). This is not because these things are anybody else’s business – they aren’t – and these “identity” issues shouldn’t make a difference in our public lives.

But they do. And that’s why living openly is important.

A couple of years after I converted, I was conversing with a co-worker, and the conversation took a turn to “house clearing” of a spiritual nature. She’d heard pagans did house cleanings and thought that might be interesting, but she’d never met any “witches.”*** I gave her a real steady look and said, “I’m pretty sure you have.” But it struck me that even this woman, who was so open-minded she was interested in a pagan house clearing, didn’t expect the teacher two doors down who grinned all the time and had an unreal affection for Charles Dickens to be one of us. No, she assumed we would be strange enough to be obvious. That she’d know if she’d met one.

This common assumption needs to change, because it can be very detrimental.

Maybe ten years ago I had a conversation with somebody else regarding gay rights. While typically very logical and intelligent, she was convinced there was something mentally wrong with people who were gay, and so a “gay lifestyle” should be legally discouraged. When I asked why, she said, “Well, look at all of them. They go marching in parades in leather thongs and makeup. That’s not normal public behavior.” It surprised me because her argument had nothing to do with loving a member of the same sex; there was no mention of religion at all. No, it was entirely based on loud people who were so far outside the social norm they frightened her. And because that was the only example of “gay” she’d been exposed to, she assumed that was what gay looks like all the time. Now, I’m not trying to condemn self-expression, but if our goal is to change minds (and not just to aggravate people) we need to replace the mental image of “gay=walks around in a leather thong” with “gay = that really sweet couple who lives next door and helped me build my garden.” Because gay is that, too.

And that change of attitude will only happen if people who more closely adhere to social norms – the people least likely to be out – are out.

It’s the same for us. When a lot of people hear the word “witch” they think of this:

Probably Not a Witch

But that’s not what your average witch (or pagan) looks like. Unlike Christine O’Donnel’s ridiculous implication, we are, in fact, you, and we look just like you. We are a part of the collective “you” of the USA, and we’re so damn normal you don’t notice us.

Until we point out that we’re pagan. And then people with preconceived notions of what pagan “looks” like have to reconsider their prejudices.

And that’s why, no matter how difficult it is sometimes, I am “out.” I want people to see what a normal, healthy pagan looks like. I want prejudices against pagans challenged. And most importantly, I want to be a part of getting to that place in our history when we can quit worrying about being out – because nobody cares. That will be a wonderful day.

*Although, as GG pointed out, a button that says,  “I’m a pagan princess. Ask me all about it!” would be awesome.

**Actually, I don’t. Nobody knows what that is and thinks I’m just wearing a pretty tree. But the point is,  if they did, I would be more hesitant. In the eight years I was a more Wiccan-leaning pagan I never owned a piece of pentacle jewelry; I knew I wouldn’t wear anything that labeled me that openly in public.

***I believe she was using the word “witch” in the common misconception that all pagans are witches.