by Steve Kenson
“What is the strength of the plant splitting the seed, pushing up through the soil? The chick breaking out of the egg, the child emerging from the womb, the Goddess rising up from the Underworld…?”
This is what High Priestess Alix Wright asked us to contemplate during our Ostara ritual meditation. It was something immediately familiar to me, a Mystery that spoke to my own experiences: it was the strength to Come Out, the courage necessary to overcome fear, shame, and doubt and proudly declare who you are. A new dawning, to be sure! It was, to me, clearly a part of what we in the Temple have taken to calling “the Queer Mysteries”—part of my own Gemini ministry and part of a larger cycle of Mysteries, related to the journey around the Wheel of the Year.
What are the Queer Mysteries? All people have Mysteries, experiences that change you in ineffable ways, that leave their mark. They are rites of passage that can be described and explained, but only truly understood through experience. The experience of shared Mysteries is a powerful foundation for spiritual community. Some Mysteries we share by virtue of being human—birth, adulthood, love, loss—others are unique to particular people, like the Mystery of childbirth. Likewise, some Mysteries are particular to Queer People, although I feel they have wisdom and resonance for many, if not all.
And what about “Queer”? Well, in this case, “queer” is a great many things. In particular, it is both broader and simpler than “bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgendered, intersexed, questioning…etc.” (and the equally common “alphabet soup” of “GLBTIQ…”). It is a reclaiming of a word used to attack people, transforming it into one of pride (not unlike “Witch,” in fact) and it is a word that carries resonance of rebellion and defiance, such as used by activists like Queer Nation.
Come Out, Come Out…
What does “coming out” mean? It is a declaration of one’s own truth, and a profound moment of sharing, vulnerability, and courage. For queer people, it’s more than just the adoption of a label, or providing information (“Oh, by the way, did you know…?”); it’s also a willingness to live your life openly and honestly, to not give in to shame or fear, to refuse to hide, even if that might be the safest thing to do.
It’s also an ongoing process: one of the qualities of many queer people is our ability to “pass,” to hide who we are, if we choose to. Many of us know well the game of skirting around the truth we carry within us, but are not yet ready to share. Because of this, we have to come out many times, in many ways, and it’s never really over and done with. People make assumptions: “You’re wearing a wedding band, are you married?” A choice is offered: Do I just say “yes” or do I continue with a specific pronoun or name? Do I mention that I have two partners, both of them men (coming out as both gay and polyamorous)? When and how (and how much) to come out is an ongoing choice, as our esteemed editor Tina reminded me in going over an earlier draft of this very paragraph, noting that I had safely distanced myself from the examples herein by using the more generic second person.
Defying those assumptions, those expectations, takes courage, because you never know what you’re going to get in response. Those assumptions must be challenged, however; otherwise no one knows anything different. The power of coming out is the power of the seedling: breaking free from the seed and slowly, steadily, pushing up through the soil, out of the dark and reaching towards the light. Just one blade of grass from a single seed may not change the terrain much, but a thousand thousand shoots sprouting from countless seeds of diverse plants can transform a landscape. So it is with those who live their truth openly and honestly. It is a force that cracks ossified tradition and expectation, changing it for the better into rich soil so that new growth can flourish. It is a force that has transformed queer rights in little more than a generation.
Out of the Broom Closet
Coming out is a Mystery many Neopagans experience as well. After all, it’s called “coming out of the broom closet” with good reason: personal practices like Witchcraft and other Neopagan traditions can likewise be invisible, if we choose to keep them hidden, and we can “pass” in mainstream society until the question arises, the door opens, and the opportunity to come out arrives. “Are you religious?” “What does that star mean?” “What ‘Temple’ is this?” How do you answer, and how much? Is it the time and place for a conversation, or are you just planting a seed, an idea or experience outside someone’s norm, that can grow in its own time?
In some measure, coming out is a Mystery everyone who is challenged to live their truth experiences at one time or another. We all wear many masks in life, and trading or removing them, going against who we might be perceived to be in order to be who we feel we truly are, is a challenge, and takes courage.
Coming out is also about compassion, and not just confrontation. It is a willingness to educate, both by conversation and by example, to patiently answer questions and to forgive ignorance that seeks to correct itself. “I hope you don’t mind that I’m asking so many questions” people told me at our recent Temple Open House. “Of course not,” I said, “that’s how you find answers.” We want those questions, and we want to answer them well. We also want to challenge misconception, misunderstanding, and the roots of fear. Sometimes we have to do so forcefully, but it should be the determination of a wise healer treating sickness, a wise warrior confronting a threat — not answering fear or anger with the same, but pushing slowly, surely, up through the darkness and reaching towards the light, towards growth and change, for that is the strength of Emergence. With the passing of the equinox and the coming of Spring, let us honor this Mystery.
Steve Kenson is a Temple founder and Gemini lead minister, making the Queer Mysteries a part of his ministry work. See his Ministerial Profile for more information.