In a world of labels, I define myself as a Wiccan lesbian woman.
I am a woman.
The last definition is the simplest, but at the same time also the most complex. To be a woman is to be part of a global substructure that unites half of the world's population. I make no claims that it is truly unified, as a woman in urban America would probably have few things in common with a woman in the tribal Amazon. However, to be female is to share certain traits.
The very distinction of being female means that to the majority of the world we are nearly always seen as separate and often as unequal. How often has one heard the phrase "Women are like a different species; I'll never understand them" or something along those lines? As a woman, I am different from men. People are given free reign to joke about how I must be a tomboy if I dress in anything but gender-specific clothing, or weak and feminine if I wear anything else. I cannot be as strong as a man, as smart as a man, or as good as a man, no matter if I am or not. I will always be chosen second for a sports team, regardless of my skill, and I cannot have male friends unless I want to be accused of sleeping with all of them. I will earn less, work more, and hit a glass ceiling no matter my education.
Nevertheless, I am a woman. I am a daughter, a sister, and may someday be a mother. I can be feminine. I enjoy cooking, and sewing, and cleaning, and other chores that have been relegated to the label of "womanly." Dancing, singing, flowers, pastel colors—all of these things are "of the fairer sex," and are all things I enjoy. So I am a woman. I have breasts and the ability to bear children, whether I choose to or not. I am not as tall as many men, nor am I strong in the same way. I like to wear skirts and dress up, and I think of myself as a daughter and a sister. Feminism speaks to me. I love being female, and define myself through it.
I am also Wiccan.
People understand what it is to be a woman, even when they are not. Few understand what it is to be pagan when they are not. "Witchcraft" is a common label, as is "Satanism." However, I am neither a witch nor a Satanist. I am Wiccan, a follower of Wicca, and worship the Mother Goddess and the Green Man. To be pagan, to fall under the subheading of Wiccan, is to respect all life, and cherish the earth, and hold sacred that which cannot be touched or seen.
In being Wiccan, I am forever resigned to filling in the "Other" box when asked my religion. Frequently, people who only know my religion will ask if I participate in animal sacrifice—never mind the fact that I am vegan because I cannot bear the thought of an animal being killed for food. I am discouraged for wearing the symbols of my faith openly. Should I choose to do so, I become fair game for hecklers on the subway, or preachers moving through the cars. People feel free to approach me and berate my lifestyle choices, even though they know nothing about me. I fear telling my Jewish, Muslim or Christian friends that I believe what I do, because they might shun me afterwards—or, worse, try and "help" me. Several times, I've been treated to rants that feature Exodus 22:18.
In being Wiccan, I agree to follow the earth. I agree to try and see the beautiful things that exist everywhere, from sunrises to weeds growing up through the sidewalk's cracks. I agree to follow a religion that worships equally the power of a storm and the faint touch of starlight. It is beautiful, and personal, and a part of my soul. My Goddess lives inside me, in my heart. She is everything that I aspire to be, and Her hand keeps me on my path. My belief is just as fierce as that of any other follower of any other religion, but in the eyes of the "civilized world," my religion hardly even exists. The closest I will ever come to a true "Check here" box on a ballot or survey is, if the surveyor is feeling particularly generous, "Neo-Pagan." But I am not pagan, even with a fancy suffix. I am a Wiccan, and that is more than enough.
I am a lesbian.
Of the three words I use to describe myself, this one could be considered the easiest to understand. It is mainstream now, forty-three years after Stonewall brought America's attention to the LGBT community. It is also a far more oppressive term than any of the others.
Because I am lesbian, I may not kiss my girlfriend in front of other people unless they are close friends. Should I do so, I will either be ridiculed or wolf-whistled, and it is a tossup which is worse. I cannot hold my girlfriend's hand in public without people staring. We cannot act like a couple at all, lest we be harried in the street, and should someone remark on what close friends we are, I must smile and nod and pretend that I do not love her just as fiercely as that person loves his or her significant other. I may not give her chocolates on Valentine's Day when strangers are around for fear of discrimination. I cannot do anything with her that might be considered romantic, because no matter how tolerant a city seems, there are those who hate "our kind." Equally bad—perhaps even worse—are those who say that they don't mind, as long as we keep it "behind closed doors."
Two women may not kiss when they love each other, but a man and woman can? How is this fair, in any definition of the word? How could it ever be?
Holding hands must wait for a darkened theater. Kisses must be behind closed doors. Heaven forbid that we ever go on an obvious date without someone making rude comments about fags and lezzies. But despite this, I am a part of something that goes beyond race or gender. In being lesbian, I have become a minority, and minorities can gain power. I am, as James Madison termed it, part of a faction, and "liberty is to faction what air is to fire." No matter my feelings of loneliness or despair, I have a tightly knit network of support around me at all times, whether I reach for it or not. Even more so than being a woman, or a Wiccan.
With greater opposition comes greater strength of resistance. With any opposition, resistance is inevitable. Women have their support systems, Wiccans have their covens or fellow believers, and lesbians have their community. I have seen two women who despise one another in regular life stand shoulder-to-shoulder at a tolerance rally. Moreover, they never through twice about it. I have seen people from completely different walks of life brought together by a simple religious celebration. I have seen women who have nothing in common stand up for one another. All of these groups give the greatest gift one human can give another—their support. They are often oppressed, frequently looked down upon, and many times discriminated against. Nevertheless, they are all groups, and by definition they have a system of helping one another.
I am a woman.
I am a Wiccan.
I am a lesbian.
I do not care that none of these labels lend themselves to integration or easy acceptance. They are labels that I use to define myself, and therefore, they are me. They define me beyond what simple descriptors could, and I am proud to bear them.