"I do not agree with what you say, but I will
defend to the death your right to say it." - Voltaire
I have always prided myself on being tolerant. Of course,
when I wasn't a member of any non-mainstream groups, it was easy to
think of myself as tolerant. I suppose, looking back, that my tolerance
was more on the level of a patronizing, old-guard Southerner who thinks,
"OK, the blacks can have what they like as long as it doesn't affect
I'm ashamed of that, these days.
Tolerance comes much more dearly when you are a part
of a non-mainstream community, and I'm now a member of several of them.
Oddly enough, it was easier for me to come out about
my sexuality than it was for me to come out of the broom closet. And
yet, neither one was particularly difficult. I'm the kind of person
who doesn't believe in hiding anything about myself. I try not to get
too vocal about it, but I do have a problem with people who can't handle
a pentacle pendant or a flogger keychain. And if I'm challenged, I'll
come back and get in your face.
I have learned that many people have problems doing more
than paying lip service to tolerance. Oh, of course, we'll tolerate
that you're gay, as long as you don't bring your lover to my wedding.
We'll tolerate that you're pagan, as long as you never mention the Goddess
or wear a pentacle where I can see it.... That kind of tolerance. Tolerance
I have a newsflash for the people who practice tolerance
under protest: That's not tolerance.
I have run into intolerance directed at myself a couple
of times since coming out of the broom closet. The most painful is that
of my husband. He's a devout Catholic, a member of the Knights of Columbus.
Until I came out, he was a lukewarm Catholic. Now he goes to church
every week, and I'm sure he's praying to save my pagan soul. It's hard
for me. I know that his faith says that what he's doing is what he's
supposed to be doing. But it makes me very uncomfortable because I have
a big problem with one-true-wayism. I also want to teach my little girls
about my faith, and I know that when they get older there will be questions
that I may not be able to answer.
When I purchased a pentacle stick-on for my car (similar
to the Jesus fish or the dove many Christians have on their cars) my
husband was appalled. He was even more appalled when I had the audacity
to put it on my car. He's worried ever since that we'll be attacked
by some nut, and he's angry with me for putting our children at risk.
I feel that if anyone tries anything, I'll have him or her arrested.
Like it or not, I have the right to put this simple display of my faith
on my vehicle.
A few days after I put the pentacle on my car, we were
unloading groceries, and an older neighbor walked past with his dogs
on a leash. He caught sight of the pentacle, and for the first time,
I was on the receiving end of "the hate stare." I'm sure you
know the look. It's the look that says "Damn you, you're a threat
to my way of life, you're not wanted here, go away, sit in the back
of the bus." For a few days, I was nervous that I might wake up
with a cross burning on my lawn, or my car vandalized.
I mentioned this to a friend who I thought I had come
out to. Turns out I hadn't. She said, "Well, you can hardly expect
a different reaction -- that's a Satanic symbol." I got pretty
exasperated trying to explain that no, it isn't a Satanic symbol. That
friend and I haven't spoken much since (and ironically, she's Jewish....)
Being "out" isn't easy. As a mother of two
small children, I know that I'm taking a risk by wearing my pentacle
and having one on my car. But I also know that I have to set an example
for my kids, and let them know that just because you have an opinion
that isn't popular doesn't mean that you should have to hide it.
How does all this relate to tolerance? I was just getting
I believe that the only way that people will learn to
tolerate something is if they are exposed to it. By hiding in the broom
closet, I was not helping others learn tolerance. I've had to learn
quite a bit of it myself, for people like my husband, my neighbor, and
my friend, who just do not or cannot understand that I am not evil.
I have had to learn tolerance for many other points of view. I don't
have the One True Way. And when I'm confronted with someone who thinks
he or she does, I have to remind myself, sometimes forcibly, that they
don't, either -- they may just be misinformed or in ignorance of other
points of view.
I think tolerance can be taken too far. If you sacrifice
your own peace, your own faith, just so that you won't bother others,
I think that's going too far. If you hide your faith, just to keep from
rocking the boat, that's your choice, but personally, I'm a boat-rocker.
I've shown this essay to several people whose opinion
I trust, and the main comment I hear is "You're soapboxing. You
sound adversarial." I know I do. And I've worked hard to tone that
down (see how well I succeeded?). But to some extent, I think perhaps
we should be a tad adversarial when it comes to tolerance. Passivity
is just not my thing.
I'm not saying that Pagans or Witches should "witness
for their faith", as some Christians do. At least, not in the sense
that we should go around proselytizing. But I am saying that when we
see intolerance, we should at least try to correct the misconceptions
others have about our faith, and yes, "witness" for it by
our actions and our deeds. Otherwise, how are we ever going to get to
the point where most people tolerate us?
I realize I sound adversarial. And perhaps I am. But
then again, I've never been good at tolerating intolerance.