Book Review: Out of the Broom Closet

Cover of "Out of the Broom Closet"

Cover of “Out of the Broom Closet”

I happened upon this book at my local library, a place not known for their expansive pagan collection, so I automatically picked it up.  And then I looked at the title and did a double-take.

As a pagan, I definitely understand the concept of coming out of the broom closet, and as a Queer Ally, I understand the trope upon which it plays.  Both forms of narrative are expected to follow the same path:  an individual’s life is divided into two halves, the time before publically acknowledging their self and the time after.  As the story goes, the first half is fraught with indecision, self-loathing, and shame and the second half full of love and acceptance.  Of course, in reality, we all know that is something of a fantasy.  LGBT youth are still rejected from their families, they risk being physically and mentally harmed, sexually abused, and are definitely at risk for continued trauma post-closet.  It’s gotten to a point where queer culture has started asking straight culture to stop asking it to share coming out stories–these narratives are often just too personal.

This anthology is the first time I’ve seen so many Broom Closet stories together, I was hungry to go through them and to see what their narratives revealed about our own Pagan version of the story and what that might say about the larger culture.

On one level, I was surprised at the diversity of stories.  There were Americans and Canadians; Brits and Aussies.  There were people newly set forth on their path and those who had walked it for years.  There were twenty somethings and octogenerians.  There were people who had been Satanists and those who had been Muslim.  Men and women, straight and gay…seeing all these stories together warmed my heart.  We’re certainly no religion of self-entitled, middle class, white Americans!  I was so interested in this plethora, I almost forgot to pay attention to the coming out parts of their tales.

That, I have to admit, was slightly disappointing.  I think most of the contributors confused “coming out” with “realizing I was the Goddess’s.”  There’s shockingly little about how these practitioners geared up to tell their loved ones, why they thought that candidness was necessary, and what the outcomes were.  Those that did seemed to follow the traditional coming out narrative–everything turned up sunshine and daisies.  I highly respected the few, such as Shoshana E. Berman, who were brave enough to share painful part of their choices.  In Ms. Berman’s case, her decision to have a pagan tattoo visible as she helped her son and daughter-in-law prepare for a baby shower led to complete and wretched estrangement from them.

I was also surprised at how many people put positive spins on their stories and said things like how everyone accepted them except for their parents who still believe their paganism is a phase they’ll grow out of.  I get it, I do.  The hitch in the happy ending isn’t something to dwell upon in an individual’s story.  It’s their story, and they can present it how they please and accept it if they like.  But collectively, I think it points to a greater problem with Pagan acceptance.  Most parents love their children with something approaching unconditional love, and yet they refuse to try to understand their child’s spirituality.  It’s a vestige of lingering animosity, and not one our community has entirely equipped its practitioner’s to handle.  How does an adult child help their parent accept a conversion?

I think that this collection missed this opportunity, as well as similar others.  That being said, it’s a lovely representation of our community’s breadth and it is a wonderful group of how many found their paths.

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