Out of the Broom Closet - part one
By: K. Peak
There comes a time in every Wiccan's life when they feel it is time to let the world know what he or she is. This is tough enough to do as an adult. When you are a child or teen, it can be even more difficult. Peer pressure, harassment and torment all seem to be amplified when you are a teen. Children are some of the world's cruelest people. They are all trying to find their own niche in life. Those that do not conform to some group are often outcast. Insecurity rules the life of even the most stable appearing teen. When a teen decides to tell his or her friends about their beliefs in Wicca or another religion not considered mainstream, it can be a very trying time. Many parents believe in letting children handle their own battles. This is wrong. We must give them the basis to handle adversity and be there to back them up when needed. If not, we can do far more harm than good. On the other hand, if we fight every battle for our children, are we creating beings that will someday be able to handle adversity?
When making the decision to "come out of the broom closet," several questions must be asked. Why do I want to tell people? If the answer has anything to do with "shock value," the reason is not pure. Could the reason you are trying to follow Wicca or another Pagan religion be for shock or to try and get attention? This is the worst reason to follow anything! Find a knowledgeable and reputable person to talk to. Do some soul searching. If why you want to tell people is because this is part of you and you must be accepted for all of you, you are on the right track. Now you must start to look at yourself and figure out how to tell people. Remember, not all your friends or their parents will be open and accepting of this part of your life. You may even lose friends not to mention be harassed and tormented. Teachers will also find out and can start putting pressure on you. Are you willing to add this stress to the already harsh world of teenage years?
How do you handle yourself? Are you following the stereotypes of Wiccans? You know the ones that state we all must wear black garb, flowing robes and have wild hair? You know, the stereotypes that state we must cast spells and bounce around acting way different than most? (Watch "the Craft" or any movie; you will see what I mean by stereotypes). Or are you a solid student, self confident, do not believe in stereotypes and do nothing to give a bad name to other followers of Wicca? Are you a respectable person? Are you a credit to your religion as well as to mankind? You must remember that if you follow stereotypes and what Hollywood and society state a Witch is, you are not doing the rest of us any good by perpetuating stereotypes. (Watch Monty Python's "Holy Grail" - the "What do you do with a Witch" scene - one big stereotype based on ignorance - and very humorous) Is this the right time to come out or should you do some more soul searching?
So you have decided it is the right time to "come out." Now, how should you do it? Once again, I am against the "shock" method. Which means I am against standing on your desk during homeroom and announcing it to the class. What I have found that works is being subtle. I worked for years in a very conservative corporation. The only thing differing me from my co-workers was the modest pentacle around my neck or the occasional ear cuff. Many times I had people make a double take and ask if I was wearing a Star of David. I would calmly say no, I was wearing a pentacle and leave it there. If the questions continued, I would state I was not Jewish. If the questions persisted, I would calmly say I followed Wicca as my religion. Keep answers short, non-threatening and offer no more than what the person wants. Some are not ready to know their longtime buddy and best friend, or in my case faithful assistant and the person who kept the department running while managers were away, is a Witch.
Have enough knowledge to explain without frightening. Have answers in the back of your mind that are easy for the layperson to comprehend. For example, when asked if you follow Satan, do not go into the whole theological discussion how Wicca is pre-Christian and the concept of Satan came about during the development of Christianity. A simple "A true Witch does not believe in Satan" should suffice. And be prepared for super-moronic questions as well. No, we do not fly on brooms and I cannot turn you into a toad even though I really would like to at this time. And be prepared for some potentially harsh treatment. This could be anything from having your locker vandalized to being physically assaulted.
Know your rights. It is illegal to harass a student based on religious beliefs. If the torment gets bad, you and your parents should go to the school. Should the school refuse to step in, go the next step - the school board. Remember, we are a minority and not always a welcome one at that. You could be in for a long battle. If you are concerned that your safety will be compromised, do not come out. Yes, you are not allowing people to know all of you. But is your safety worth it? Parents should help their children learn good judgment. It is not always wise to let people know you are a Witch if you could be in physical danger or even severe emotional danger. Is this hypocritical? Yes, we should all be able to be whom or what we are. However, this is not always possible. But do not pretend to be something you are not either.
Always respect the beliefs of others even though they may not be your own! Never tell someone of another faith he or she is wrong. No one knows what is right. It is hard to get someone who has been brought up believing their religion is the only true faith to accept others traditions. Acceptance does not mean approval. I accept many things but I do not necessarily approve of them. (Example: I accept the fact that there are people who feel a need to molest children, but I definitely do not approve of their behavior under any circumstances!)
I remember when I came out at work. I was requesting to take Samhain as my floating holiday. My division head said this was an odd request especially since I had no children at the time. I said it was to celebrate an important religious day. He asked what and I explained it simply. He turned pale and asked if I was a Witch. I replied that if he wished to call me that, yes. Then I asked him what he though of me before knowing this? He said I was one of the best members of his division. I asked him if he though I was a decent person before knowing I was Wiccan. He said yes. I said he should base his opinions of me on what he has observed so far, not on my religious beliefs. I was still the same person he knew ten minutes earlier. Granted, I did get teased a bit when other coworkers found out (thanks boss!). I admit, I did play up to them at times and once or twice came in on casual day a tad stereotypically garbed, but I was accepted mainly because of how I handled answering questions. However, people did not care because they knew me for who I was prior to finding out what I was. I guess I am trying to say, let people know the type of person you are first. It will soften the blow.
Parents, we need to give our children a firm foundation and the strength to handle adversity. We must bring them up to respect all traditions even ones that are not ours. We must teach them to handle torment and stress in a healthy manner. Physical activity such as the martial arts, running, swimming or biking can be a great stress relief. Volunteer work for the elderly, at an animal shelter or with the homeless can boost a child's feeling of self worth. Giving them an open forum which to express themselves without criticism helps children feel important and listened to. Knowing when to step in and help our children during a battle is very important. Help them find others with similar beliefs. This can be difficult if you are a solitary practitioner or live in certain regions - but we are out there and everywhere. No one likes to feel as if they are the only one. It is especially hard for children. Teaching them that there are people who will be cruel and refuse to acknowledged their beliefs is important. Teach them that a true friend will love them no matter what your race, religion, sexual orientation or heritage is. Those that suddenly become cold or indifferent were not friends to begin with. And if you do not feel comfortable coming out - do not do it. The time is not right.
I was in my mid-twenties when I came out of the broom closet. There are still people who do not know. Why? Because knowing what I practice would be too painful for them to know and could hurt me. There are also people who know but choose to ignore it. That is fine as well. I let snide remarks roll off my back. I am willing to educate those willing to listen and ignore those who are not.
Good luck. Be strong and true to yourself.