Opinion: Outing oneself is not an act of privilege — it is an act of defiance

Below is an excerpt from a very thought provoking post by Ruadhan McElroy.  Please read the entire post here.

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.


15 Responses to “Opinion: Outing oneself is not an act of privilege — it is an act of defiance”
  1. Lianne says:

    I recommend that everyone reads the full original post before responding. When I just read the excerpt here, I was just angry. Then I read the full post, and while I still didn’t agree, I was at least given some context. But even having the context: being able to come out is absolutely a privilege and it’s privileged to think that it isn’t. It’s just wrong to think that all Pagans are equally safe coming out. For example, many people, by coming out, will essentially lose their families. For some people, that’s unfortunate but not a real practical problem. Not so for someone who is dependant on that safety net.

    • Ruadhán says:

      …being able to come out is absolutely a privilege and it’s privileged to think that it isn’t.

      I’m sure Matt Shephard’s family would beg to differ.

      It’s just wrong to think that all Pagans are equally safe coming out.

      I said that? Where? Cos see, as the author of this piece, I seem too think I said that coming out isn’t safe, it’s potentially de-privileging —that, by the nature of the act, it can be very “unsafe”, and the only ones who are relatively “safe” to do so are those who have nothing to lose.

      If you really want to think I’ve said something I did not, then you’re going to see that no matter what I’ve actually said.

      • Lianne says:

        You’re missing my point. It can be unsafe for anyone, but it’s especially unsafe for people who are already oppressed. Therefore, if you’re not already oppressed (ie. privileged) then coming out is safer for you. For example, I’m a woman, but I’m also white, straight, able-bodied, and not living in poverty. So losing my safety net is not something I need to be very afraid of. I’m able to be out as a Pagan without serious fear. This is a privilege I have. Basically it’s your idea that having nothing to lose means you’re safer coming out that I fundamentally disagree with.

        Make sense now? I wasn’t putting words in your mouth.

        “If you really want to think I’ve said something I did not, then you’re going to see that no matter what I’ve actually said.”

        You could stand to be a bit more polite with your responses.

      • Ruadhán says:

        No, I’m not missing the point. Like you yourself said: You’re relatively privileged here –in fact, since you didn’t even think to mention it, I’ll also assume that you have the privilege to be cisgender, relatively “acceptable” in gender presentation, in an assumed “average” range in size (height and weight), and relatively well-educated for your socio-economic class. (Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but in my experiences, it’s only the people who have the privilege to take such privilege for granted to fails to mention it in discussions on privilege). If you’re at all interested in Oppression Olympics here, I can guarantee you that I’ll be taking home a medal if pitted against yourself.

        …and yet, here I am: I’m living in poverty, *way* below the national poverty line, and yet I’m “out” as a pagan. I’m queer, and here I am, “out” as a pagan (in fact, the Queer community was one of the first visible communities to openly accept, nay embrace alternative religion, including contemporary pagan/polytheist revivals, and the original Rainbow Flag contained a stripe of Turquoise for Magic). I’m too blind to drive (and DO NOT get me started on how de-privileging it is to be a non-driving adult) and my spine “looks like an inverted question mark” (my doctor’s words), so clearly not of “able body” –AND YET HERE I AM, “OUT” AS A PAGAN….

        You yourself claim to speak from a privileged experience, and yet you patronise the disenfranchised classes like we’re these poor dears who just can’t take the risk of coming out. BULL.

        Granted, I don’t dare to presume the experiences of non-white pagans, just like I don’t dare presume the experiences of non-white GBLTs, cos yes, that’s one of those strata of potential privilege that’s honestly a bit more complex than many people realise. But that’s the thing: You’re presuming to speak to my socio-economic strata on the dangers of coming out, yet you plainly admit that you lack the experience to. I don’t even think you realise how patronising your latest comment makes you sound right now, but honestly? I have less respect for you now than I did before, cos now you just come off like SuperAlly™, who presumes to know and understand more than they do about whom they attempt to stick their necks out for.

  2. Ruadhán says:

    Thanks for the props, Cara, though it would have been nifty to know your intent on reblogging. I’ll assume this is just your take on rounding up blog posts from others and drumming up talk for the upcoming IPCOD2012 date.

    • caraschulz says:

      Yep. I’m looking for interesting articles that either speak directly to the issue or shed some light on an aspect of it. I’ll excerpt and link to the original, but in keeping with good blogging practices, I won’t post the entire piece unless I have permission from the author.

      I’ve read your article several times and have been pondering it. Anything that gets people to think and examine is good.

  3. Lianne says:

    I didn’t mean to suggest that I knew better than anyone. I sincerely apologize for coming across that way. And I’m definitely not interested in playing the Oppression Olympics. You are right about the oppressions that I didn’t mention; I am privileged in those areas. Except the car driving thing. I’m also an adult who can’t drive. Anyway, I really apologize for coming across as patronizing. That’s not how I meant it.

    I didn’t mean that less-privileged people couldn’t come out as Pagans. Obviously they can, and do. I just meant that there are different challenges involved, which you obviously know. That’s all I meant when I talked about it being easier for privileged people to come out. I’m not saying that oppressed people are in any way incapable of it.

    • Ruadhán says:

      How is it any more challenging for me to be “out” as pagan than it is for anything else? And really, when a gay guy is as effete as myself, he really has no choice but to be out, and if he’s hetero, everybody else is going to assume otherwise…. That’s not a privilege, and being out as pagan doesn’t really make it any better or worse.

      …but I can also see how one who has so much more privilege than myself, and therefore so much more to potentially lose, would be far more apprehensive about outing themselves. Maybe you see yourself in that and are getting defensive? Maybe you comfort yourself in the notion that coming out should be “easy” for you, since you have this, this, and this other thing that so many lack —and maybe it hurts to see some-one who lacks so much telling you that he’s just fine, thank you, and perhaps even pities you? I don’t know you, so I’m not making any presumptions, but I’m *very* experienced in dealing with people who’ve had that sort of reaction. The point is, to lack these privileges is to be “marked”by the society at large, and the more marks on you, the less it matters, cos the darker they’ve made you; so no, it’s NOT a privilege to be “out” as a pagan, especially not if you’re cisgender, heterosexual, bourgeoisie, well-educated, well-employed, White, able-bodied, and so on —no, if you’re that well-off, ANYTHING that makes you “different” from those around you is a big black mark on your face, indicating you’re “weird” and “different”. Sure, maybe those privileges can protect you, but only to a point —hell, Mitt Romney’s only a Mormon, but Washington insiders like the author of “game theory” predict that’ll still cos him the Republican nomination cos being Mormon is still so far outside the mainstream that it’s practically an alternative religion, socially. Now think of how easy Romney would’ve had it if he were pretty much the exact same guy, but Wiccan. Now a pretty picture, I imagine? Or maybe pretty enough, but his career in politics is just no-where near where it’s at today?

      Like I said, being “out” as a pagan (or any of our invisible oppressions) isn’t a privilege, nor is it something that the privileged can take part in. In fact, I’d wager that it’s the privileged who suffer more for being “out”, since they’re the ones who have further to fall.

      • Lianne says:

        I think I understand what you’re saying now, and was misunderstanding you before.

        And I think we’re getting some wires crossed here… “being “out” as a pagan (or any of our invisible oppressions) isn’t a privilege”. I definitely never said it was. I was talking about the different challenges of coming out when you do or don’t have other privileges.

        I’m not defensive, or apprehensive. As I’ve said, I’m already out as a Pagan, and while that certainly wasn’t an entirely smooth process, it went pretty well. I didn’t lose my job (not that it’s something I really talk about a lot at work), and my family didn’t disown me, so I’m happy with my decision.

        “maybe it hurts to see some-one who lacks so much telling you that he’s just fine, thank you, and perhaps even pities you?”

        It doesn’t hurt me to see you telling me you’re just fine; that’s great. And if you pity me, please don’t. I’m doing just fine too.

      • Ruadhán says:

        Lianne, I really don’t see what was so hard to understand about this:

        In my own life, I’ve always had this aura of “weird kid” that everybody could see. Even when I spent 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….

        Why is it so much easier to understand when I’ve done little more than simply repeat myself here than it was in the original article, assuming you actually did read it, as you seem to claim?

  4. JMH says:

    Text is dreadful for adding tones one didn’t mean.
    Thank you, both of you, for talking it out in public where we can all see and appreciate a misunderstanding being worked out, anger being kept in check, and not assuming the worst in each other. That meant more to me than the actual article.

    • Lianne says:

      “Text is dreadful for adding tones one didn’t mean.”

      Ain’t that the truth. The art of getting your meaning across effectively in print is one I’m still working on, and struggling with.

    • Ruadhán says:

      Text is dreadful for adding tones one didn’t mean.

      I disagree. Even if true, I don’t see how this misunderstanding was at all about tone; it was about assumptions, to be quite frank, and I really don’t see how I’ve said anything all that different since, to make myself any clearer. The whole crux of the disagreement seemed to be the assumption that I’m somehow judging people who aren’t “out” from a position of relative privilege I’ve been assumed to have over said people —when in the very article referenced I make it very clear that the majority of “out” pagans (to my experiences) are those lacking in privilege over many walks of life. The moment this “misunderstanding” finally seemed to lessen was after I again made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that I myself am one of the disenfranchised “out” pagans I speak of —something I even made very clear in the original article, if one had actually taken the time to read it thoroughly.

      That’s got nothing to do with tone, and everything to do with projecting assumptions onto the writer, and then faulting the writer because one failed to understand what one didn’t care enough about to read in the first place.

      I openly admit that I’m kind of a pedant about things, but I’ve never been inclined to make peace just for the sake of it when some-one else is clearly in the wrong. While I’m of the opinion that anybody who gets angered by my post and clearly without even reading it is ultimately saying more about themselves than about my article, BUT if a third party is going to assess that situation, then they should be objective enough to assess the actual situation rather than make generalised statements about “tone” and apparent behaviours.

      • Lianne says:

        I did read your article thoroughly before commenting, and did understand right away what you’ve reiterated several times. That is not where the confusion started.

        I have already attempted to explain what initially bothered me about the article, but that’s obviously not working. I really think we are just getting our wires crossed over ambiguous phrasing that we both have used. I had disagreements with your post from the start but it was not a huge deal, and this seems to have turned into a fight, which I have no interest in. I was not “angered” by your post to begin with, so I don’t see what this says about me.

        All I’m gonna say now is that I did read your article thoroughly, and it’s rude to continually imply that I didn’t just because I respond with criticism.

  5. Josie says:

    Just because one is from a “privalaged” class or raised in one does not make it any safer to be out about being Pagan or even Gay. People react differently to it…trust me. It takes a bit of courage and a lot of realization you just might loose everything and everyone you love. If you have children it makes it even harder. I’m Pagan, my kids are being raised by Christian grandparents, who mean well and love them, but since their father and me are Pagan, they are “battling” the temptations of evil according to them. An evil these kids had because who they were born to. That and add to the fact our kids lived with us till my oldest was almost 4, and even then the state tried to bring up Paganism (didn’t work considering my dad is Mormon and didn’t go for that and ironcially neither did their father’s parents.)

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