Alright. First of all, I'm not going to begin this page by saying that coming out about religion is in any way the same as coming out about sexuality. But, seeing as this work is titled "Coming Out of the Broom Cupboard", I figured it would be appropriate to talk about how I actually began to tell people that I was Pagan, even if I might have touched on it previously.
It's not the same as telling your parents you're homosexual or bisexual or asexual or pansexual, but like any big, personal news, there's a way to do it and there's a way not to, or so I've found. Just like a homosexual boy isn't going to tell his Catholic parents the truth by bringing home "this guy I met at Pride" (I've known it to happen, doesn't end well) I'm not going to show up at school wearing all of my pentagrams and quartz pendants waving a smudge stick around the commonroom trying to purify it of negativity in exam month. Either scenario is going to carry a lot of shock to it, and sometimes, I think you even get the urge to want to shock people.
At times in the past, I've become so frustrated by people not understanding that I've said things that aren't true about Paganism just to shut people up (and have been very guilty about it later on.) I once took the idea that those considering themselves witches can be thought of as "angels" too far by calling a few people "mortals" and getting pretty big-headed in Art class. The problem with Paganism is that, like sexuality really, it comes with a lot of controversy and stereotypes. I think about all the witchy films I used to watch at All Hallows Eve and how I grew up with the idea of pointy-hatted, cackling witches, and now I have to deal with telling my classmates that I can neither effectively laugh maniacally nor do I own aforementioned headgear.
So, what do I think is the best way? Well, like there are many branches of Paganism, so there are many routes that you can take when explaining Paganism. If you're in the Alexandrian strand, it's probably not wise to talk about your latest skyclad ritual (that was an interesting conversation in Ethics class...oops) and if you're unique enough to be Gardnerian, you probably shouldn't go on about your privileged bloodline. My advice would be to, in the beginning, avoid mention of spells and witchcraft. Unless you're surrounded by wonderfully open and non-judgemental people, you might get reactions like "so you do voodoo? You worship the devil? Have you kidnapped a neighbour's cat and sacrificed it?" (No, don't believe in the devil, and NO)
The love of nature route did it for me. You might get called a tree hugger in the beginning, but it's a lot easier than the aforementioned scenarios. I'll set the scene for how I "came out": Pub meal with about ten people, half being of the male variety. We all happen to be members of Philosophy Society coming up that week, so we strike up a conversation about religion. Now, I could have handled myself very well if it wasn't for one of my friends who, already being told all about my beliefs, decides to shout out halfway through my explanation to the group
"Oh yeah, she's a witch!"
When it comes to things like this, friends can suck, especially when they still don't take you all that seriously about your beliefs. Despite this, I managed to relax the looks of trauma on the faces around me and explain without interruption. First, it was the love of nature route. The energy in all living things, the respect for it all and the belief in the elements. Then, they asked about deities, and I managed to explain about the Goddess and numerous other deities (for me it tends to be the Greek Pantheon with some Norse tossed in the mix), and when it came to the Horned God, I managed to avoid the connections to Baphomet and Satin, as well as any misconceptions that my God was also the Christian god. It might seem like an art form, but it's something I'd rehearsed in my head often, and it's something that I'm very used to now.
I'm not sure how others have dealt with it, and like I've said before, first reactions were very negative, but it does get better. I've realised that Paganism comes with a lot of formalities including the consensus that because it isn't a major religion and has so much belief in what most wouldn't call "real", that for a while they all think you're mucking about and going through a phase. The best thing to do is keep at it, and I'm sure that pretty soon, like they did with me, they'll realise that it's a religion you are passionate and serious about.