In 1983, when I was in my teens, my best friend came out to me as gay. The world was very different back then: no same-sex marriage, no civil partnerships, no Internet, no mobile phones, no sat-nav, and obviously no social media either; not even digital cameras.
Remember how, in the film Pride, when the everyman character was grounded by his parents, he had no way of getting in touch with any of his friends? That was the reality for everyone.
The age of consent for gay men in the UK was 21. You could still be arrested for cottaging. The vast majority of people were homophobic. A majority of Christians were opposed to active homosexuality (and I was a Christian at the time). This was just before the awareness of AIDS became widespread in the UK.
So my friend had very little way of knowing whether coming out to me was a safe thing to do. I had definitely said that I didn’t mind if he was gay, but I don’t know if I had actually said it to him.
So there we were, one night, at the theatre, in the corridor, during the interval.
I can’t remember the exact wording of my friend’s coming out, or my response, which was something along the lines of it being totally fine by me, and good for him, and other positive noises.
As I have described elsewhere, this moment of truth led me to rethink my commitment to Christianity. I was already questioning it for other reasons, but I had known my friend since we were both about six, so I was pretty sure that he was born gay. So why on earth would God make him that way, only to condemn him for acting on his natural impulses towards sexual intimacy with another man?
The other reasons that I was questioning Christianity were the realization that there were amazingly wise and spiritual people and ideas in other religions, and I couldn’t see how they could be wrong. And back then, most of the Christians that I knew believed that sex before marriage was wrong. I was beginning to think that “try before you buy” was an excellent idea (and I haven’t changed my views on that point since!)
Not long after this, I decided to stop being a Christian, and started to explore other spiritual traditions, looking for one that celebrated life, love, pleasure, and sexuality in all its forms.
All acts of love and pleasure
So then I realized that Paganism was that religion, but thought that I was the only Pagan in existence (quite a common experience prior to the availability of information via the Internet).
Eventually I met other Pagans and then Wiccans.
Because one of the foundational texts of Wicca is The Charge of the Goddess, which contains the assertion that “All acts of love and pleasure are [Her] rituals”, and because I believe that same sex love is part of Nature, I initially assumed that all other Pagans and Wiccans felt the same way. Doreen Valiente certainly did. After all, as the saying goes, homosexuality is found in most species of birds and animals; homophobia is found in only one.
It came as a bit of a rude shock to discover that some early Wiccans excluded LGBT people altogether (though that pretty much ceased to be the case sometime in the 1980s, I think) and that much of Wicca is heterocentric. This is especially odd considering the history of queerness and gender variance in magic, witchcraft, and shamanism.
A cascade of truth
Of course, it’s worth remembering that coming out is not a single act that you do once – you have to come out multiple times to multiple people. Some of the best occasions of coming out as bisexual for me were the ones where the other person kind of took it for granted rather than making a big deal out of it. It’s also not safe for everyone to come out, so no-one should feel pressured into doing so. Sometimes the sheltering darkness of the closet is the safest place to be.
But an exciting thing for me about the act of truth that was my friend coming out as gay, was that it triggered a whole cascade of truth and happiness in my life. I am profoundly grateful for that gift.
When I was at sixth form college, I took part in a debate and persuaded about 20 people not to be homophobic.
It could have taken me much longer to get free of Christianity and discover Paganism and Wicca if it hadn’t been for my friend.
Because of my involvement with Wicca, I met my husband, and although I guess I probably would have got involved with Wicca eventually anyway, I still see my friend’s coming out as a key event that opened onto a whole vista of truth and joy.
I hope that, by sticking my neck out and articulating inclusive Wicca, I have shared a bit of that truth and joy with others. I say “articulating” because many people were already moving in the same direction and having similar ideas and insights.
What I have done is to add magical and theoretical foundations, started a public conversation, written books about it, and created a community (couldn’t have done that last one without other people, of course).