Before I begin, it should be stated: It is 100% OK not to disclose aspects of your identity if you are not comfortable doing so. Often, peoples’ safety depends on secrecy. If you need to remain silent for whatever reason, I fully support you and love you. This post is about my journey, and attempting to live a more open life for myself.
This post isn’t about me coming out: it’s about me coming clean about my fears. I’m a queer witch. These two identities have become central to my life and my path. Like the Cancer sun sign that I am, I cover my insecurities in my identity in a hard shell – terrified of the pain of revealing my true self. I’m soft – I know that I’m soft, and I try to hide myself to avoid the pain.
I’m in the coffeeshop, working on a writing project. The table next to me has two men, talking about a recent hire made by an affiliate firm. It turns out, they do work on environmental protection – which happens to be in my field. I think about introducing myself. Then one of them comments on a hiring decision. “Why would anyone hire a crystal worshipper?” I put my headphones back in.
I’m sitting in a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training. I am surrounded by the middle-aged or retired white men and women that are ubiquitous within this particular organization, wondering why there isn’t any “diversity” at the table. For three hours, I remain silent. I know they don’t see me. I get increasingly frustrated, and finally work up the courage to tell a room full of people that this table is more diverse than we think. That, as a matter of fact, I’m queer – and that I’m feeling invisible. One of the white women on the executive committee tells me that I’ve missed the point. That it’s only visible diversity that matters.
I get up. Leave the room crying. When I come back, she attempts to apologize to me, but then tells me that it’s more strategic to think about environmental justice only in terms of race. Instead of allowing me to respond, the facilitator congratulates her on her vulnerability, her admission that she made a mistake. I leave the room – for good this time.
We all have our shit. We all have that thing that we hide to be more “professional.”
I’m a Midwestern woman. All of my life, I have been taught that it’s my job to make other people comfortable. That sometimes, to get the job done, I have to put aside my feelings – I have to put aside parts of myself that don’t serve the current purpose. In activist circles we talk about finding “the right messenger” – that to have the greatest impact on our targets, we have to find the messenger they will listen to. And a lot of the time, I feel like I need to edit myself into the perfect messenger.
I repress aspects of myself to be taken seriously.
It should be said: this is internalized pressure. Sometimes, I don’t even know where it comes from.
Technically, I’ve been out as bisexual since middle school (I now identify as queer). I’ve been a practicing witch for almost as long – I joined my first coven my junior year of high school. I never had a formal conversation with extended family members about my sexuality. My policy was just to be out, to live my life. Well meaning loved ones have told me not to tell my extended family about my spirituality if I want to continue having a relationship with them. And so I slipped into keeping my secrets casual. I slipped into silence at Christmas dinner with my aunts and uncles, I stopped paying attention to conversations. I tuned out. I let myself slide into a quiet invisibility.
But gradually, that invisibility has led to fear. Fear of being seen for what and who I really am, by people who are supposed to love me. Fear that if I am 100% myself, I will not only be rejected – but I will be forced out of my career. I fear that my worth will be questioned.
When the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America started to ordain gay and lesbian ministers, my aunt stopped going to church. She said that it was against God to ordain gay people. My mom argued with her until she was blue in the face, trying to make her sister understand bigotry. They didn’t talk for months.
I should have said something then, but I didn’t. I’m ashamed of myself and my silence.
When I first entered a coven, I was told to keep my faith a secret. The high priestess who initiated me had experienced some intense prejudice – including job discrimination, family loss, and even hate crimes. There is a long tradition of secrecy that each witch inherits. There’s something exciting about being able to design your own faith. There’s something exciting about having a secret.
Recently I had a conversation with my very supportive mother about some of these things. She asked why even take the name “witch.” The question floored me for a moment. I didn’t know how to answer her.
But then it made sense.
A witch is someone who lives a life outside the norm. A witch lives an alternative lifestyle, building something new, to hell with what others around them think. Witches build traditions that have meaning to them, in the context of their lives. They don’t need the white capitalist patriarchy to back their power: witches have a long tradition of living on the Outside. That is where they’re most powerful.
A witch breaks the patriarchy by finding power within themselves. A queer witch further breaks this by breaking down heteronormative assumptions.
This is a title I need to bear proudly. It’s time for me to step out of the shadows. It’s time for me to allow these parts of me their space. I need to honor myself.
Now is the time to be me. Fully me. Unapologetically me.