Privilege and the Broom Closet

(First of all, thank you to everyone for your kind words on my last post. I am still recovering emotionally; writing about other things is helping. Here, have some.)

So recently there’s been some talk about people jumping ship from things like Facebook over to Google Plus. It’s apparently even great for pagans.

I wouldn’t know. A few months ago, Google suspended my account after less than a month since I was listed as “Lupa Greenwolf” instead of my government-recognized name. Since my professional pen/personal pagan name wasn’t good enough for G+, my profile remains suspended–that image above is a screen shot taken from my browser when I go to the G+ page. I could change my name on this account to my legal name and still be able to live my life more or less the way I do now, but I have a number of personal reasons for preferring to be “Lupa” in the pagan community, and keeping my legal name reserved for other parts of my life. I’m not a tightly closeted person, but it’s my choice to present myself under one name or another.

I’m lucky that I was able to make that decision, because there are a LOT of people who don’t have that choice either way. Pagans who would have much worse consequences if they decloseted. People who use the internet to connect with queer, poly, or other minority folks and don’t wish to connect those to their legal names. And, of course, people who have been the victims of stalking, domestic assault, and other crimes who don’t want to make it easy for their attackers to get at them again.

If you can be out of whatever closet by choice and not force? Great! But understand that you have a privilege that many others do not. Your privilege is that you have the option to decloset (or not) and can decide whether you feel you can handle whatever negative consequences may occur without having it made for you.

So who are you?

–Chances are good you don’t have children, or at least don’t have to worry about someone trying to wrest away custody using your religion, sexuality, etc. as a lever. Or you feel that you have enough grounding to win a custody case, and so aren’t concerned.

–If you do have children, you don’t feel particularly concerned about the effects having decloseted parents could have on them in school and other situations. You feel either that there are no real risks, or you feel capable of handling the risks, and you feel that your children will be sufficiently protected physically and psychologically from the potential effects of your decisions.

–If you are in one or more relationships, you do not feel that your partners are at sufficient risk that you should stay closeted to protect them, nor do your partners feel threatened enough by potential risk to protest your decloseting, or even end their relationships with you. Or you can afford the potential loss of your relationship(s) and not be so badly financially and/or emotionally harmed by that loss that it would be better to stay in the closet.

–You also probably are either securely employed in a non-bigoted environment, can easily choose to move to another work environment, are self-employed, independently wealthy, have a spouse, partner, or sugar daddy/mama who is capable of supporting you no matter what, or otherwise don’t have to worry about your source of income being destroyed by bigoted employers/coworkers/systems.

–You’re probably fortunate enough to have people who support you emotionally and psychologically, a safe buffer of friends and/or family who will give you safe space for being who you are and who you know won’t abandon you.

–You can handle the potential loss of people who may turn on you entirely if they find out, or are capable of dealing with harassment from them if they stay in your life, or if you can’t get away from them. Additionally, you are not dependent on these toxic people for a place to live, food to eat, support in school, or in the case of minors, legal dependency.

In other words, while you may face risks due to decloseting, you feel you are capable of handling them and can consciously take them on by being public about who and what you are. You may even face the same risks as someone who stays in the closet, but you feel more prepared and able to face them than the other person.

Granted, there are exceptions to every rule, but given what I’ve seen of closeted vs. uncloseted folks, the above are very common descriptors of the willfully decloseted. It doesn’t make you a bad person, or a good person for that matter, but these are all privileges that not everyone has.

Moreover, it’s a dick move to criticize people who stay closeted to any degree, or their reasons for doing so. Not every decloseted person attacks their closeted associates, but some do. I have seen many people over the years complain about people not decloseting, whether that was the broom closet or the queer closet or whatever closet others were using for protection, I’ve seen them called traitors, and I’ve seen the blame for continuing discrimination against everyone else laid at their feet for not standing up and being visible. I’ve seen pagans say “You should have nothing to hide if you’re strong in your faith”. I’ve seen radical queers tell closeted queers that all they’re doing is milking the “benefits” of the closet and not taking the full brunt of queerphobia. I’ve seen closeted people being told that by staying in the closet, they’re actively supporting the bigots themselves.

And the criticism is always by people who are ignorant of their own privilege, sometimes willfully so. They’re people who have financial, psychological, logistic, or other advantages that many of the closeted do not, the ones I mentioned earlier. They can’t seem to see past their own self-righteous tunnel vision to see that not everyone has the same options they do, and may not be as safe as they are.

Before you start complaining about how I’m attacking the decloseted, this is what I mean by privilege: Privilege isn’t a criticism of the fact that you HAVE something; it’s a reminder that not everyone ELSE has what you have, and that affects the options each of you have access to in a given situation. The criticism comes when you forget that imbalance, and act in spite of it, and thereby harm those without your privilege.

Why is this important? As individuals move, so moves the community. If the community only moves in the direction of privilege, then it begins to exclude those without privilege more and more. (We already see this with struggles with transphobia and racism in the pagan community.) A pagan community that relies more heavily on G+, for example, excludes those who cannot be decloseted or otherwise link their legal name to their involvement with paganism.

So if you’re considering making yourself a G+ only kind of pagan, using your legal name openly as a pagan, by all means please make your decision as you will. But as you do, please remember that you get to have that privilege, and how ignoring privilege can affect the larger community over time, with each decision an individual makes.

ETA: I have since found out that the name issue with G+ has been relaxed, and have submitted an appeal to see if they’ll unsuspend my account. Even if they do, that still doesn’t solve the overarching issue of closeting vs. decloseting, which is what this post is about–G+ was just one convenient example.

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18 thoughts on “Privilege and the Broom Closet

  1. Totally agreed…While I’ve not been given a bunch of crap on not using my legal name in connection with some of the devotional activities I do for a while, I have been given crap about it on several occasions, and have been “outed” on a few others. It sucks. I have to wonder every time I’m passed over for a job, or can’t get promoted further in the places that I already work, if the word got out on these matters…

  2. I was unaware of this issue Lupa, thank you for bringing it to my attention. I will stay posted to see if Google does relax their position with this, and honestly, I am really only on Google for business reasons anyway. I would much rather be on one of the “smaller” social networks for personal and/or political stuff, since that can also be reasons to red-flag you (some free country, huh?) However, it seems that most people will not use the smaller and less-invasive networks as much, and honestly, this confuses me! :-)

  3. Interestingly, I have two G+ accounts, neither of which are under my legal name–one for my public life with actual pictures of me(which gets no use because almost none of my friends will leave facebook), and one that I use to promote my blog and with pictures of satyrs and gods. I don’t know what’s wrong with Google that they think “Satyr Magos” is a real name but “Lupa Greenwolf” isn’t. Perhaps that inability to enforce the rule consistently is why they’re relaxing the “real ID” standard.

    • Nobody’s looking down anyone’s nose; I feel you’re getting defensive over this. All I’m doing is pointing out that being able to come out of a closet isn’t a privilege that everyone has the freedom to enjoy, and that that freedom shouldn’t be taken for granted for a variety of reasons.

    • I live “in a country where people actually have freedom of religion,” too. That doesn’t mean I can come out of the “broom closet” without facing devestating consequences (and I consider myself rather lucky that I “only” face disownment from roughly 2/3 of the family I keep in touch with if they found out I was pagan; hey, at least it’s not violence).

      Even with regards to legality, there are a number of loopholes in things like employment laws. The “right to work” states don’t require a reason for firing (or not hiring) a person, so they can still decide to fire or not hire someone because of their religion, they just can’t *say* that that’s the reason (usually, it’s just some BS “this person is not compatibile with our company culture” reason), and contract/1099 positions (which are a dominante form of “employment” in many industries, particularly tech) don’t even share many of the protections that W2 employment has, making it even more prone to hidden discrimination.

  4. How did they even know that it wasn’t your real name? If they “assumed” based on the fact that it doesn’t sound like a — what.. typical north american plain jane name — then what are they planning to do about people whose legal names ARE, in fact, somewhat unusual? Goodness, there was just an article here in my province the other day about some of the names people chose for their kids this year – things like Lord, Prince, Princess. Seriously! So when Princess so-and-so registers for google, will they also get banned? Silliness. (and do the Beckys have to register as Rebecca? or the men who have grown up going by their middle name as their share a first with their father have to use their first?)

  5. I have been a mental illness and disability advocate for years at my places of employment. I knew people who did not want their MS or deafness known by the general public for the same reasons. I just figured given all of the prejudice against people with mental illnesses and other disabilities, that some people simply did not want it to be known.

    I never saw it as privilege or lack of there of since I worked at a highly public position and so did they. We were all educated professionals who worked in U.S. government policy positions. I guess that is privileged in most people’s worlds.

    It does have to do with simple prejudice and people’s perceptions. I was open because well I had to be, since I was Deaf, and had to constantly ask for things like a light alarm for my office. Also, I had family members with mental illness to take care of. I figured that people had to accept it warts and all. But I had nothing to lose. That is the privilege – whether you have something to lose by being open.

    As for me, I’m old, rich, brain damaged, have nothing to lose, and just don’t care what others think.

  6. Thank you.

    As you may be aware, there is an increasingly arrogant, noisy movement among mental health professionals disparaging the use of pseudonyms by MH professionals. I recently had to learn a colleague in private email about this. In this state, the licensure board for counselors has instituted a new requirement for licensure: a “moral fitness” statement from each of your last two supervisors. This provides a glorious loophole for bigoted supervisors to torpedo someone’s entire career without having to go to the trouble of making up grounds to fire them.

    I’ve seen it happen.

    Consequently, I don’t dare post anything under my real name where my supervisors might see it. If want to discuss the DSM-V, insurance company issues, the comparative merits of treatment methodologies — I don’t dare under my name, because what if my supervisor objects?

    The kicker is that I mostly think my supervisors would be fine with any of that. I even cleared blogging with them, though they don’t know where my blog is or under what name. I can’t take the risk.

    Once I am licensed it becomes more work for a bigotted boss to destroy my life[*]. I’ve been joking that the first four things I’ll do when I get licenced are: 1) scream, 2) call my sweetie 3) notify my malpractice insurer and 4) sign up for the various *-friendly professionals lists.

    [* Some, of course, are willing to go the length: a pre-lic social worker I know was suspiciously fired despite glowing performance reviews, a month or two after coming out in a very nice article in the local paper about polyamory.]

    Want more *-friendly therapists? Support pseudonyms so we can make it far enough in our educations to treat you!

      • Massachusetts. Where we are also effectively not permitted to go into private practice until after licensure; the only places you can work toward licensure are institutions which are Department of Mental Health licensed. While it is possible to chose your supervisor, you will inevitably be provided one by the institution employing you. So.

  7. Very good post, thank you for the reminder! While I’m fortunate enough to be (mostly) out of the pagan closet by choice, I have known more than one person who had to be VERY careful; either they lived in the heart of the Bible belt, or they were afraid that family members would find out and basically destroy their lives. It was SO sad when I would send them a card or pagan book, and they would BEG me in advance not to put anything on the envelope or package that looked even remotely “witchy”. But I am always careful to do that even when they don’t ask, just in case. Outing anyone for any reason, even with their permission, is just plain WRONG in my book.

  8. Thank you for this insightful article. I stay in the closet as well and use my magical moniker instead of my legal name in any Pagan-related matters. I run my own business and I simply don’t want people to be distracted regarding my business should they Google my name and see all sorts of things they may find curious. Yes, it’s completely selfish of me, and I certainly must be a Very Bad Pagan for not contributing to the cause by putting my well-being on the line. If you can hear the sarcasm in my voice, you’d know I don’t care. The practice of magic is about doing your will, and if it is not your will to have your legal name associated with your spiritual quest, so be it!

  9. WRT G+ – I don’t remember if you mentioned this or not, but have you tried appealing? According to this discussion with Google’s Chief Architect – https://plus.google.com/103389452828130864950/posts/YJbzDptWGQt – you should be able to get your account un-suspended pretty easily (in theory), particularly because your name is pre-established (hell, you’re published under Lupa!). According to Zunger, it’s supposed to be little more than “no, this isn’t a handle. Yes, it’s a pseudonym that I wish to use. Here’s another place I’ve used it.”

  10. I’m quite out, have children, etc, and I don’t on any level fool myself into thinking that I could protect myself, my kids, or partner if my community decided to make my life difficult for my life path or relationship choices. I’ve seen it happen to several Pagan friends over the years. I live in a state that will prosecute without hesitation, and I don’t have the resources against that kind of machine.
    I’m not in Basra. That’s what I tell myself everyday.

  11. Totally agreed. Not only have I been stalked and harassed before when I came out-offline, on and everything in between-my faith is a bit off the beaten road and I sometimes fear what would happen if the wrong person ever got wind of what I believed. Seriously. I have a baby to worry about.

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