Trying To Balance Conflicting Identities on National Coming Out Day
Today is National Coming Out Day, and it’s got me thinking about the complex nature of identities and openness. More specifically, I’ve been told that I’m to write a post on that topic as penance for not addressing it the way She wanted me to in today’s What You Need To Know on Bilerico.com. I should really be sleeping, but my tics are so severe that the anti-tic medicine I take at night isn’t doing shit. So while I wait for my sedatives to kick in, here goes:
The subject of identity is probably the most common threat binding Notes From A Barking Shaman’s six year run together. I suppose I’ve hardly ever stopped exploring and dissecting who it is that I am as I move through the world, and yet somehow I feel less sure myself now than at any time I can remember since sitting down to write my first post back in September of ’06.
For the first time in recent memory, I find myself in the incredibly unfamiliar place of being closeted in one way or another across many areas of my life, and to be honest it doesn’t sit well with me.
I move through many different spheres and sub-cultures, and the values they each hold dear are often in direct conflict with one another. It’s a delicate balancing act, and I exist in a state of constant struggle not to be a social and ideological chameleon, but rather to hold on to a solid sense of self-identity.
Perhaps the biggest conflict is between my pagan identity and my work as an LGBT blogger and activist. Although I’ve talked in the vaguest terms about being pagan in my writing for The Bilerico Project, where I am now associate editor, the progressive LGBT movement is overwhelmingly anti-religion and faith. And as a rule, it seems that atheists seem to hold pagans, and in particular practitioners of magic, as one infinitesimal step above radical conservative Christians in terms of disdain-worthiness. The Lady really wanted me to use NCOD as an opportunity to address my pagan identity directly with that audience, but I chickened out in the interest of self-preservation. I could potentially build my LGBT activism and blogging work into a semi-reliable paycheck (in higher paying speaking gigs if nothing else), and I’m reluctant to burn my bridges any faster than I already do by defending faith as a concept, and pro-equality religious people as a whole in my writing there.
Given the LGBT community’s general view on religion, my faith, service to the gods, and place as a magician, is something that I heavily downplay in my feeble attempts at dating as well. Although I suppose that could be part of why I’ve not had good luck lately. I’m open about my paganism on OKCupid, but it’s a conversation topic I steer away from with potential suitors.
But within the pagan community I don’t particularly feel free to be my unbridled self either. First and foremost, the pagan response to my Tourette often makes me incredibly angry, and so I tend to try to suppress my symptoms as much as possible in pagan space. Believe it or not, some people see the TS as a sign of the gods disfavor towards me, and others can’t accept that someone could have the talent and discipline for magic when their body isn’t fully within their control.
Beyond those issues, you’d be amazed how many people want to “fix” my TS. Best case scenario they hound me to let them try, worst case they just try without asking my permission first. I’ve also been told that I should just (insert deity to pray to, wacky diet to try, crystal to carry, position to sleep in, etc), or better yet, just “let go of my negativity” and my TS will be cured.
I could go into a long and very technical magical explanation of the flaw that underpins most of the “cures” people have tried or wanted to try, but I’m just going to say that I’ve worked with some of the finest healers, magicians, and energy workers that I’ve ever had the privilege to know, and while I can use certain magical techniques to manage the symptoms for short periods of time (I can suppress tics far longer than any Touretter I’ve met who wasn’t a fellow magician), “curing” the Tourette is not feasible.
That’s a personal issue in my interactions with the pagan community, but there’s an ideological one as well. I’m a scientist at heart, and technology, science, exploration, and intellectual curiosity are deeply important to me. I’m not going to say too much here, because there’s a whole NFaBS post on this topic coming, but I and many of my friends and colleagues have noticed a growing anti-intellectual thread within the pagan community that seems deeply at odds with our history. I had an argument with someone not all that long ago about the gods-blessed Polio vaccine for Hel’s sake! And I’m going to choose not to delve into some of the “conversations” on economics I’ve heard recently.
All that said, you can imagine that a pagan, much less a spirit worker, doesn’t exactly feel welcome in science-friendly spaces either though. And there’s a popular meme, particularly in the online lay-science community that any religious faith is incompatible with even an interest in scientific thought and advancement.
On a different note, I’m certainly not closeted within kink/BDSM space about being GSRM, but as I’ve discussed before, my sexual orientation doesn’t fit well within the kink/BDSM world that I travel in. Likewise, the gay community can range from very accepting of kink and polyamory, to not remotely. I’ve chosen to build my identity within the world of LGBT blogging and activism from a position that uses my kink experience and status as an asset, although I do recognize that it closes as many doors as it opens.
I’m open to an extent about my spiritual beliefs as a kinkster and in my work as a kink/sexuality educator, but only to a point. The BDSM community wants spiritual programing, classes, and rituals, but stripped of any overtly religious or pagan context. This means that while I’m widely known as a shaman, ritualist, and facilitator of cathartic ordeals and scenes, my actual pagan beliefs are far less known or public.
I don’t know that I have a sense of where my GSRM identity fits within the pagan community, or within my own identity as a pagan person. I’ve only ever been involved with very accepting pagan communities such as Asphodel or FSA, but at the same time, for all their inclusivity, I’ve never felt like I explored the spiritual nature of my sexual orientation or identity. Certainly I’ve never had my sexual orientation and spiritual/magical being working in synergy the way I have with my kink/BDSM identity and my spiritual and magical Work. That’s something I’ve been hoping for an opportunity to explore at some point in the future.
So as I move through the world on National Coming Out Day, I wrestle with how to balance the myriad and sometimes conflicting roles I have to wear and identities I carry:
Gods-slave, Magician, Shaman, Educator, Writer, Activist, Presenter, Event (Assistant) Producer, Photographer, Kinkster, Switch, Touretter, Poly, Disabled Person, Designer, Mechanic, Gay, Queer, Male, Cisgender, Gun Owner, Liberal, and the list could go on.
I feel like an understanding of how to make all these roles/identities work and play well together is just beyond my reach, but that in time I’ll get the hang of it. Maybe some will have to merge, maybe some will have to be let go, and maybe still more will be added to the list, but no matter what, laying them out and giving them acknowledgment on National Coming Out Day is no bad place to start.