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Out of the Shadows

by Rich Wandel

"We have been a separate people, drifting together in parallel experience, not always conscious of each other, yet recognizing one another by the eye-lock when we did meet, down the hundred thousand years of our hag and faerie history. Here and there as outcasts, here and there as spirit people who mysteriously survived close contact with violent nature forces, in service to the Great Mother - acting as messengers and interceders, shamans of both genders, priestesses and priests, image makers and prophets, mimes and rhapsodes, poets and playwrights, healers and nurturers, teachers and preachers, tinkers and tinkerers, searchers and researchers..."1

When Harry Hay, late in 1950, first gathered together homosexuals in California to found the Mattachine Society, he posed three questions: "Who are we?" "Where have we been throughout the ages?", and "What might we be for?" A great deal of research into the second question has given us a good start on the first. It is time we began to more seriously answer the third: "What are we for?"

If we are a separate people, with our own way of looking at reality, we have something to give the wider society, which only Gay people can give. Our experience is different than that of heterosexuals; it has taught us lessons, which must now be shared. It is time we gave back to the community in a distinctly Gay way, teaching truths, which we see through what Harry Hay calls our "Gay window." One of the issues spoken of in the Pagan community is the question of how far out of the "broom closet" it is wise or even appropriate to be. Gay men and women have a great deal of experience with closets.

Coming out is an ever-popular topic in the Gay community; the phrase admits of endless degrees and interpretations. In the sunnier of 1969, after leaving the Catholic Monastery where I had studied and prayed for six nearly celibate years (I have always had a strong right wrist), I moved into a New York apartment fully equipped with one room and one roommate. One night I awoke to the feel of a hand gently caressing my leg. I moved out within a week. In spring of 1970, 1 brought a friend to another studio apartment. First we talked of how horny we were, and how you could never find a prostitute when you needed one. Then he had sex while I tried for more. His interest was purely genital - he wanted to. So did I, but I also wanted to hug, kiss, look, explore. I knew I was different. I was confused, frightened and, worst of all, alone. A few months later, I found myself at a Gay demonstration in Greenwich Village. I shouted and chanted as the crowd circled at the Women's House of Detention like Joshua at Jericho. I laughed and danced a snake dance in the street. Then the police attacked and I saw blood on the pavement. I was confused, frightened, angry, but no longer alone. In November, I sat in front of my parents’ TV set, as we all watched, three members of the Gay Activists Alliance on the Dick Cavett Show was over, I went to call one of the three to offer my congratulations. I heard my mother whisper "My God he's going to call a queer!"

Ask someone when s/he "came out" and you may hear of a first conscious attraction to someone of the same gender, or perhaps the story will be of a first experience of romance. Press further and the tales will be of first telling friends or parents, then uncles, aunts or employers. An activist might tell of the first radio or TV show- Ask me and I will tell how carefully I used to act so as not to be either too butch or too fern. I am less careful now, more nearly free. Wrists can be held in many ways and used for many things. Coming out is continuing to discover who I am and acting on what I find. Coming out is continuing to discover who I am and acting on what I find coming out is process rather than event. It is a spiritual process, a learning who we are and daring to be that person. Wicca places a great deal of emphasis on the immanence of the divine; we find Deity, Goddess and God, within ourselves and within all that is around us. We look within to discover who we are and become what we find. This process is not all rosy; it is bordered and delayed by fear. Gay women and men fear loss of family, friends, jobs and apartments. We often hear homophobic violence. Wiccans and Pagans have reasons to fear these same things. Why then would anyone in his or her right mind "come out" either as Gay or Witch?

When I talk of being out in public, some Gay men and Lesbians reply that it is easy for me because 'fly employer and landlord are not homophobic. I respond that I have a non-homophobic employer and landlord because I am out. Some years ago I moved from New York City to Bradford, a small city of 12,000 in western Pennsylvania. I was accustomed to being open about 'fly sexuality. I had appeared on radio and TV as a representative of the Gay Activists Alliance; I was determined never to live in a closet. Fearing trouble, I decided to be low-key, but not to deny who I was. I found a Job working with mentally retarded adults. At a meeting called to discuss our clients, the case of a sexual relationship was brought up. Jack lived in one group home and Margie in another. Neither home allowed visitors of the opposite gender in rooms. Neither person had the financial resources for a motes, so they would meet for sex in alleys and other semi-public places. Their activity was seen as indicative of their depravity and the discussion centered on how to prevent this "sick" behavior. It all sounded so familiar to me. Gay men, denied "normal" channels of interaction, would meet in parks and restrooms. Society first creates a situation, and then blames the victims. I gulped hard and said what was on 'fly mind. My colleagues acted as if I hadn't said anything. They did not hear what I had to say, but neither did they punish me for having the audacity to publicly say who I am. Till all of my Gay friends in Bradford played the open secret game. Their gayness was known, but was never stated by them. The official lie was maintained. These people had more problems with homophobia than I did. In five years in this city, I was only once called faggot by a group of teens on a street corner. Others in town, those with the open secret, were often attacked verbally, and sometimes physically. Why the difference? I am not large or muscular; I am not a physically powerful person- People react to our own sense of pride and worth. Closeted people are more likely to be attacked than those who openly take pride in who they are.

Words, thoughts, actions are all magick. We create reality by thought, word and deed - We teach ourselves by how we act and react. If we deny who we are, either by silence or by active denial, we imply that there is something to hide. When a Gay person carefully changes or adroitly avoids pronouns, when lovers become simply friends and "Gay acting" friends are kept hidden from family, work or straight friends, a negative force is built up in the reality of the Gay person her/himself. Instead of acting the way we feel or believe, we begin to feel and believe the way we act. The same is true for the Witch or Pagan who is fearful, and who keeps hidden what is a very important part of his/her life. All words, thoughts and deeds are magick because all of life is magick. We had best be careful of what magick we are working.

Real possibilities of discrimination and violence are not all that we fear. In Native American society, when each child was offered the choice between the role of man or woman, s/he knew that, whatever the choice, it would be accepted by the tribe. The position of "not man - not woman" was an honored position. Still the choice was difficult. Although being special is much more appealing than being an outcast, normalcy is still the easier path. It seems so much less difficult to follow the "tried and true," the expected, to be like everyone else. It would be easier to be straight and Christian, especially if one also happened to be white, middle-class, and male. We are otherwise because we know we must be. The norm might appear easier, but for us, it is not.

The American educational system has burdened us with the myth of the melting pot. Public education itself was largely fostered in the nineteenth century by people who saw a need to eliminate the differences between the new immigrants and the older "native" Americans (the real Native Americans were already eliminated). This melting pot image pretends to respect our various origins while it effectively teaches that it is the melting, the becoming the same, that is important. In actuality, our ability to contribute to the wider society results from our difference. We, Gays and Witches, do not claim to hold ultimate truth; we do not wish everyone to be as we are. If everyone were, we would have little to give. Because we are Gay or Wiccan or both, we bring a different view to society. We become a "sign of contradiction," to use a Christian phrase. The concept of an American melting pot is a false one, one which has never been true and which, if it we re true would impoverish us al 1. If we hide who we are, what we believe, our window on reality, we fail to contribute to our society even as vie fall short of our own potential Gay leaders recently proclaimed a coming out day on which all Gay people were encouraged to take the next step in their own coming out process. That next step can be as varied as the number of Gays in the world. Wiccans should be encouraged to do the same. While recognizing the cardinal rule of Wicca (and of the Gay community) that one never reveals another, each of us will be helped in our own growth, and in paying our debt to the wider society, each time we take the next step in the spiritual process of coming out.

Harry Hay, in trying to determine the difference between Gay and straight, concludes that the straight person's role is to be conservative, to keep things as they are. After all, he says, Species survival most often depends on following the tried and true way. There are times, however, when because conditions have changed, it is only a new way that will insure survival. This is the role of the Gay man or woman - to think and try things that are out of the ordinary, to look at what many say is an either-or situation and find a third way, to test possibilities and to take risks which, when survived, enrich all of society. Hay would distinguish here between the words Gay and homosexual - Wiccans in the modern world are certainly people who are trying a different way of looking at the world, indeed are rejecting the basic premises of a patriarchal society. As Wiccans, though, we sometimes see only the either-or of patriarchy vs. matriarchy. There is indeed a third way, and it is up to Gay people of whichever gender, and no matter whom they sleep with, to find what that is. We can do this by looking into ourselves and acting on what we find there.

1 Harry Hay, "A Separate People who’s Time Has Come", in Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning. Mark Thompson, ed., St. Martin's press. 1987.

Reprinted from Fireheart; Spring/Summer 1989.


Illustration "Ran", Copyright © 1991 by Don Murray. Copyright © 1991, 1999 by Dawnblaze. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04 Jan 2002 06:13:26 -0500

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