Saturday, January 29, 2011

Coming Out, Part II

Happy weekend to you all. Part of Eshel last weekend, we discussed many issues relating to coming out and telling your family and friends about a sexual orientation. When it comes to being LGBT, especially in the Orthodox world, coming out is automatically associated with rejection, hate, and removal from a community. Many in the closet presume that coming out will isolate themselves from all they know and love in their communities.

I'm here to try and persuade some of you otherwise. It's really important that you come out, if you're ready, and not to be scared about other people's reactions. I've said over and over again that everyone needs to be an individual and not worry about what other people think- but now I'm saying more than that. More often than not, my friends were upset at me for holding in my sexuality. Yes, mad at me. They were upset I had presumed they would react negatively, and were upset that I thought just because I was gay, they would leave me. So many assured me they wouldn't- and they haven't. In fact, many of my friends and I became closer after I came out, because I was finally open and honest with them about who I was.

Not only is it important not to let the community and our friends dictate who we are and how we should behave, but we should be giving them the benefit of the doubt! We should assume and expect that they be supportive- because so many are! For those still in the closet, just know that you're friends can so often surprise you and be supportive, more than you could have ever expected. This was a sentiment shared by many gay Orthodox people at the weekend. We all found that coming out was a much more pleasant experience than we had anticipated and people were a lot more ready to support us than they were to leave us.

Coming out is a preocess that one has to be ready for, that they feel they need to do, and that they do at their own pace and time. However, when that time comes that one feels they are ready, don't let the fear of other people's reactions stop you. More often than not, I have found, their love and support will surprise you.

Monday, January 24, 2011


This past weekend, I had the unbelievable pleasure of attending the first every LGBT Orthodox Shabbaton, known as Eshel. This shabbaton featured discussion of sexuality and religion, what it means to be LGBT and Jewish, and how to build and develop a community. It was really one of the best weekends of my life. As Shabbat ended, I had the pleasure of giving a Torah thought from that week's portion, and the blessings of Havdallah. I wanted to share with you (a summary of) my words:

This week is Parshat Yitro, which contains the 10 commandments. While so many look at this as a burden of our religion, I look at it as the essence of our people. There’s the moral code- how to treat one’s parents, neighbors, what one can or cannot do in regards to others as well as a spiritual code- how to keep Shabbat, and honor God. It's not one or the other, but both.

Next, the Haftarah refers to Isaiah’s vision of God and sent by Him on a mission. Isaiah feels he’s from a nation of sin and not worthy to be talking to God, at which point an angel touches his lips with coal to purify him of sin. But what sin was he guilty of that he committed with his lips? The commentators explain that the sin of Isaiah was calling God’s nation impure. He had no right to say he was from an impure nation and God cleansed him of that sin before sending him on any mission.

Growing up a gay Orthodox Jew is not easy for anyone. I just wanted to be accepted. And why? Because too many people decided it was their place to decide what does or does not constitute a sinner, like Isaiah erred. I made up my mind in senior year of high school to give it all up, and leave Judaism forever; it was the only option. But after a year and a half of studying in Israel while ignoring my sexuality, I understood how to develop my relationship with God without worrying about one aspect of who I was. In addition, I learned that there are so many interpretations and understandings of the Torah, that no one person could ever tell what exactly the precise understanding of the text is. No one could ever claim that we are a nation of sinners, because no one could ever know that- except God.

When I came out two and a half years ago, I knew my sexuality was a bigger part of me than I had ever realized. However, I also realized that this balancing act of sexuality and religion was not unfamiliar. It was just like trying to figure out how to approach God but still fit in with the rest of the world. Life is a balancing act, especially as a Jew. We have an obligation to the Torah and we also have an obligation to every one around us. Does this mean that one thing should override another? No. Never. Our time on Earth is not just about our relationship with God, or just about our relationship with man- it’s about both. It’s about the balancing act of how we can do the best we can in this religion.

No one else in the world has the right to tell us who we are or how we should behave. All we know how to do is our best; is balance this complicated Torah with our complexities as human beings. Isaiah was wrong for judging God’s people, as so many like to tell us that it’s not possible to be religious and gay- but as God taught Isaiah- they have no right to tell us what is or is not possible, it's simply up to us to do the best balancing act that we can.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Rabbis

Rather than go down the path of expressing my anger, frustration, sadness and struggle I thought I'd take the opportunity to discuss some of the better things that I've found being a gay Orthodox Jew- and hope to try and incorporate more happiness in my future posts.

The first Rabbi I came out to, in high school, simply expressed his wish to make things easier for me. No offered solutions, no discussing how to fix me, just admission, from my Rabbi, that he did not know what to do. The man I had looked up to for so many years, didn't have the solution- and at that point I realized there really was no solution and it would just have to be a path for me to forge, and create the life that would help me find happiness. It was a huge relief to have someone I respected so much struggling with me, trying to figure things out with me, and trying to help me forge a path- because he wanted me to find truth, just as much as I wanted to find it.

In Yeshiva in Israel, for a year and a half, one Rebbe worked with me on ignoring my sexuality, and not letting it be the only thing that occupied my mind, and replacing it with lots of Torah in order to avoid other issues. While not the best tactic, I was distracted from my "troubles" for a nice amount of time and really got a lot of learning done for the 15 months I was studying.

When I got to Yeshiva University, I came out to my Rabbi after I had come out to my friends and family, and figured I could build another relationship and role model. And I did. This man- a very religious, learned and respected Rabbi, albeit younger than most on campus- was the most supportive a Rabbi could be- especially given that I didn't come to him for support, just to have another close Rabbi in my life. His first response was "Wow, I can't believe someone in your shoes is still in my Shiur, learning daily and walking around as a religious Jew". He was awed and inspired by ME! He continued to hear my story and became a tremendous ally over my next few years on campus. He supported my dating men, supported my right to exist in the Orthodox community as a gay man.

None of this should be a shock, but I know for so many it is. Many people assume every Rabbi is bad, and everyone will reject them if they are Orthodox and gay- and I wanted to show that in my experience, that wasn't the case, and I'm so happy to have all their support to this day, and don't be scared of Rabbi's- especially in 2010, some of them can surprise you.

Friday, January 7, 2011


I know it's lame to call my first post of the New Year resolution, but instead of just being angry, I would like to suggest that we all resolve a few things for the new year.

Apparently, it is common for members of my "loving" and "supportive" community to question my roommates- past and present- about living with a gay guy. Won't it be weird? What if he, like, y'know, tries stuff? Thank God I have actual loving and supportive roommates who make me feel incredible about being in this community, where I so often feel and fear that I don't belong. I was so nervous to move to a new community because I didn't think I'd find anyone who would live with me. I thank my close friends in a addition to my roommates, for always making me feel part of a world that tries so hard to reject me.

But even when I think progress is being made and the community is opening it's mind a little bit, while I know it is, it's so hard to continue on when you know that behind your back, everyone asks "won't it be weird living with a gay guy". Hey world- wake up! I'm just like everyone else, with attractions only to certain people, with the ability to control my desires and needs- and not the audacity or tastelessness to hit on any living male creature.

Anyway, I'm annoyed that people still question my ability to be a normal person. But on a similar level, any friends that are supportive of me and the community also get questioned- are they gay too? Otherwise, why would they be so supportive? The notion that someone supporting a friend or a community with the need for support gets judged for trying to be a good person is one of the worst qualities of judgment.

So I challenge those in the Orthodox world- and those outside of it- to open their minds in the new year and realize that not only can I belong, but I am just like everyone else. To make the resolution to not just "be tolerant" but to accept anyone for who they are- regardless of their personal sexual preference or because of who they support.

It Gets Better- Gay Orthodox Jews