IPCOD’s Guide To Coming Out
Coming out helps you to develop as a whole individual, allows for greater empowerment, and makes it easier for you to develop a positive self-image. By coming out, you will be able to share with others who you are and what is important to you, rather than having to hide or lie about your identity. Coming out can free you of the fear of being “found out” and helps you avoid living a double life, which can be extremely stressful and demoralizing. Pagans being “out” about who we are to those who love us, to those we interact with on a daily basis, changes peoples’ opinions and changes the world. It encourages a greater atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance.
Outlining some of the benefits and risks of coming out is not meant to convince anyone to choose to come out or not come out in any given situation. Rather, thinking about some of the possible outcomes of such a choice can clarify your decision by helping you determine the appropriate time for coming out and preparing you for possible reactions.
Benefits of Coming Out
• Eliminating the worry of what will happen if your ‘secret’ is discovered.
• Ability to live your life honestly.
• Developing closer, more genuine relationships with friends and family.
• Being part of a community with others with whom you have something in common.
• Helping to dispel myths and stereotypes by speaking about your own experience and educating others.
• Being a role model for others.
Risks of Coming Out
• Not everyone will be understanding or accepting.
• Some relationships may be permanently changed.
• In extreme cases, coming out may cause economic hardship or could have a negative impact on child custody cases.
Some things to consider as you contemplate coming out as a Pagan:
Is now the best time? The choice you are considering can be very difficult. Consider carefully which course of action is most consistent with living your life authentically. Also, consider the timing and potential impact on your livelihood, as well as that of family members.
Who should I tell first? Give careful consideration to the people to whom you make your initial disclosure. You may wish to consider telling one close friend or family-member first–someone whose high regard for you is not likely to be impaired by a choice that they may not immediately understand. You gain important experience and confidence in this conversation, and you may better understand what works well and what does not in the discussion. As you become increasingly confident and take greater satisfaction in your public identity as a Pagan, casual disclosures to friends and others become much easier and more spontaneous.
Where and when should I tell them? You may feel that a casual mention during a convenient opening in a conversation may be the best approach, or alternatively you may wish to inform those whom you wish to tell that you have something very important that you need to discuss with them. In that case, you should choose a place and time that will be a pleasant and relaxed context for all involved–perhaps a place that is associated with good memories for you and them. This consideration is particularly important for talking to friends and family, and perhaps less so when coming out to colleagues or coworkers. In such instances, an attitude of nonchalant openness is recommended. This point is addressed in greater detail in the following sections.
Do not apologize! Everyone deserves to be who they are and to be respected as such. The choice to come out takes courage and a willingness to face the unknown despite considerable anxiety. This is an admirable action that warrants no apology. Speak confidently, clearly, and assertively. Allow your excitement about this choice and about who you are as a Pagan to enter into your voice and nonverbal behaviors.
“Coming out” to family and friends:
Perhaps the most effective thing you can do when initiating conversations with family and friends about being Pagan is to imagine that you are in their place, anticipating and empathizing with their possible reactions to the news that you are bringing them. Imagine how you would feel if someone you loved deeply came to you and said they were leaving you and you would never see them again. Imagine how shocked, sad, and fearful you might be in response.
Such an assertion might at first seem like a gross overstatement and not comparable to your situation. Nevertheless, telling someone that you no longer share deep core beliefs and values they have long associated with the foundation of the bonds and family and/or friendship can be experienced as a deep betrayal and loss of connection–comparable to your leaving them forever.
Be mindful that close family and friends may be fearful that your not sharing their faith means that you will be separated from them in the afterlife. They may be afraid that you are being “brainwashed” into a “cult”, and that you will become someone that they no longer know or can have a relationship with. Your situation may also represent to them a manifestation of their personal fears of loss of faith. If they nurture doubts, they may resent the fact that your choice has strengthened those doubts. Finally, they may feel that they have failed you or let you down in some way, that you have made this dramatic and significant change “on their watch”.
The best response to any of these reactions is patience, warmth, gentleness, understanding, and empathy. Tell them that you understand their fears and concerns and that in their situation you might feel similarly. Reassure them that you are happy with your choice, and that you derive as much spiritual fulfillment, satisfaction, and greater self-awareness from you new found faith as they continue to do from theirs. Reassure them you understand that your life is still not perfect, but that you are connected to greater sense of personal meaning and purpose. Let them know you are grateful for their love and support during such a challenging time. Above all share humor about the situation, at times and in situations, where it might be useful.
“Coming out” to colleagues or coworkers:
In this situation, the best approach may be nonchalance. Be candid with employers about your reasons for requesting time off for spiritual holidays, without going into overwhelming or unnecessary details. Be truthful with coworkers in response to questions about your religion or spiritual beliefs, without behaving as if you believe them to be unusual or strange. Let them come to you with their curiosity rather than volunteering information that has not been requested or sought after. You may wish to consider allowing the level of self disclosure in which you indulge with coworkers and colleagues to increase gradually over time, letting them get to know you as a reliable, solid, and stable person who is someone they can trust to help them accomplish the shared mission.
Remember the laws against religious discrimination in the workplace insure that you enjoy the same rights as your coworkers, but do not be over-ready to cry discrimination at minor slights based on small misunderstandings. Here again, gentle humor may help resolve many difficult situations where aggressive or hostile defensiveness would not.