Why Insist On Pagan Normalcy?
Author: Rev. Jackson Warlock
I have never considered myself, as people would say, a “normal” person. To give a little bit of perspective, in the area I live the most common response I get from people upon officially meeting them is something along the lines of “Oh, I recognize you, but I didn’t know from where…” In other words, I look different enough from most of the people around me that people see me and remember my face.
This is not horribly intentional most of the time, but I am simply a recognizable person apparently, simply by virtue of my looks. I do not fit a “Pagan stereotype” as it were… with the exception of my hardly-excessive jewelry… but my point in this opening paragraph is to essentially state that I have been the target of tactics in many of my communities to sweep under the carpet people who society might consider too different to somehow be allowed to speak for the community or even, in some cases, myself.
Why do I bring this up? Well, it appears that (as happens in many movements), there has been a push within the Pagan community to oust members of the community who do not fit into a mold which is “normal” and friendly to non-Pagans.
Well, perhaps “oust” is a strong word, but the point is that people are expected to present in a way which is not too extreme… too Hippie, too Gothic, too New Age, too Radical. And Gods forbid we actually wind up in the newspaper or on TV if we don’t look like some happy little clone of what people think the rest of the world is supposed to look like!
An article showing a picture of a person who doesn’t look like a “normal” person is suddenly accused of stereotyping regardless of the information in the article.
We wouldn’t want the rest of the world thinking we poor oppressed Pagans are (gasp) Goths! Such stereotypes as this are, after all, the reason we are so oppressed in today’s society.
Or are they?
I think it is a huge mistake that in our quest for acceptance we start dictating how others should dress and act to avoid scaring the non-Pagan majority.
Somebody gets told at school that they need to keep their pentagram necklace underneath their clothing and gives some ridiculous explanation about it being a “gang symbol” and suddenly we go off on rampages telling everybody who will listen that “We aren’t all Hippies or Goths or conspiracy theorists!” as if the entire problem was those people in our community who look or act different instead of… you know, years upon years of monotheistic preferential treatment.
Stereotypes are perpetuated not by people who appear to fulfill those stereotypes, but by people who are opposed to the people those stereotypes shallowly represent… just as people do not actually oppose rights for Queer people based on the fact that there are flamboyant gay men out there, people do not actually oppose acceptance for Pagans based on the fact that some of us enjoy Gothic subculture.
That, my friends, is just an excuse… were all of us to look exactly like non-Pagans all of the time, people would still have a hard time accepting us who don’t already… we’d only succeed in keeping quiet and making ourselves invisible.
Now, the stereotype that all Pagans are Goths or all Pagans are Hippies or all Pagans are Ecofeminists or whatever else are all stereotypes, and everybody with a lick of sense knows that. But why on Earth does that mean that the Goths, Hippies, Ecofeminists, New Agers, et al. are the actual problem?
Rather than choose to portray Paganism in all its diversity, we push anybody different under the carpet as if somehow shopping at Hot Topic or having a collection of Dungeons and Dragons figurines automatically makes one an immature Pagan unworthy of representing our community.
Or, if we choose to acknowledge that these people exist and are not bad Pagans for it, we still insist that they not be the ones speaking for us because people might think we are all like that.
Or when talking about stereotypes we make a bigger deal about what we are not than what we are.
We punctuate any mention of our own religions with the strong statement that we are NOT like those teenage Goths who wear huge pentagram jewelry and black clothing or those New Age cooks who don’t shave their legs or whatever other Pagan stereotype one chooses to speak of with disdain at that particular moment.
But at what price?
I know I for one want to fight for acceptance and tolerance on my own terms, not on the terms of those people who quite frankly aren’t going to accept me even if I do act just like them.
If I am going to be accepted for being Pagan I want to be able to do so without acting like something I’m not or something I don’t want to and I’d certainly abhor the idea that fighting for Pagan acceptance somehow means making sure everybody knows “people like me” or “people like them” are a minority.
So why should I expect somebody else to change their clothing style or mannerisms so they don’t fit a stereotype, as if I am arrogant enough to think I know what sort of image they really want or need for themselves?
Why should fighting for my own rights, or anybody’s rights for that manner, involve making cutting remarks on people who look and dress different from society’s norms?
My point is this: We need to just lay off the Goths, the Ren Faire junkies, the New Agers, the Hippies, and everybody else.
It does not matter one bit whether or not I am a member of any of these categories… those people are still a part of my Pagan community, and they do not deserve to be spoken of only in a misguided and useless attempt to prove that I am not them.