Most people will automatically assume a reference to ‘The Closet’ is about sexuality. However there is another group queuing up for the privilege of ‘coming out’ and I think it’s time we started asking whether the closet has served it’s usefulness. A walk/roll in wardrobe might be more appropriate these days at the very least. Anyway – I am referring to spirituality or probably more accurately, people who have a sense that their spirituality is marginalised by religion or other belief structures.
I’m not sure I want to compare but perhaps there are some parallel experiences of power and notions of normativity and identity that fit. I’d like to explore some of the assumptions that are limiting and what these mean for people experiencing a genuine sense of un-ease.
1: Lets start with language, particularly dualistic structures of language that inform thinking and more importantly understanding. Basically things are either ‘this or that’, you are either religious or Not. Most of the time this is framed in creation versus evolution – people have to pick a side. And it’s more than awkward to try and say ‘neither.’
2: Throwing in ‘other options’ outside the well established dualisms like above is seen as ‘too politically correct’ it sometimes sounds like ‘stop including/pandering/indulging all these minorities!’ We’ve worked so hard to make some things invisible and constructed almost an Orwellian Ministry of Truth like certainty that ‘it always has been this way.’
3: Change and fluidity are definite no-no’s. Identity is assumed to be fixed – whether it be via ‘nature or nurture’ we are supposed to have done all that figuring out by the time we are in our 20’s (more or less) and then it’s locked in!
4: When it comes to declaring you are of a different ‘persuasion’ there can be intense scrutiny and general sense of ‘fair game’ for others inquisitive questioning. Some people have a sense of entitlement and see ‘curiosity’ as a form of inclusion or acceptance. However – questions that start with ‘Do all…’ should be met with an equal ‘Do all…’ and wait for the eyebrows to raise.
5: Linking in with 2 is the quintessential ‘it’s a phase!’ You just need ‘convincing’ – or an exorcism. Panic and freaking out with references to cults, mental illness or some level coercion are implied.
6: A sense of ‘betrayal’ from others who think they ‘know the person better than anyone’ often (but not always) family and friends or close associates. The idea of the ‘essential true self’ affords people the right to ‘know someone’ so the change is assumed to be about ‘hiding’ or ‘pretending to be someone’ an ‘imposter’ – “I don’t know who you are anymore” hurts because it supports this unhelpful view of self.
7: Catastrophising the future sometimes follows 6. Fear tactics are employed via creative exaggerations of how bad/hard/unfulfilling etc life will be for you if are going to be ‘this.’ Large doses of guilt and shame are sometimes included by referring to people or connections that might be lost, broken. If that doesn’t work then full scale ‘interventions’ could be next.
For those who have never been on the margins this might seem a little perplexing. So another way to look at it is through the lens of loss and grief. It doesn’t have to be about death. But any radical change in life suddenly exposes a lot of things we might have taken for granted and the vulnerability while working through ‘what it all means’ might require some form refuge or sense of security.
Human beings need to belong or more accurately to feel, experience and believe they are accepted, valued and respected. Ostracism, exclusion, rejection and isolation undermine all of this. I think The Closet is a realm of consciousness that allows for risk assessment or discerning in the moment what will work best for providing for those important needs. So perhaps The Closet is more like a Green Room, where we see through the curtain at the audience and decide who to put out on the stage.
Spirituality is a deeply personal, intimate experience and is as unique to people as sexuality. Our relationship with life is infused with the delights of both aspects but isn’t always simple. Having a ‘place’ that serves as a form of protection is wise, not weakness. It’s nice to be able to step out of the ‘lime light or spot light’ and while in ‘The Green Room’ embrace, integrate and become comfortable with ourselves.
So get out there and ‘break a leg.’