Living in a new place surrounded by new people has given me a new appreciation of how great it is to move past the “coming out” stage with Jewish communities. Coming out with subtlety, in individual conversations, is exhausting, and when I’m around large groups of people who don’t know I’m gay I try to simplify the process prettyregularly. I recently found myself in what I believed was an “unsafe” space to come out, risked coming out anyway, and only after doing so realized that my assumptions were wrong.
It takes time to get to know a community’s standards and practices and to find the true “safe spaces.” But something I took for granted in the liberal enclaves in which I’ve found myself are literal labels on safe spaces — stickers on teachers’ offices, classrooms, and Hillel offices indicating that one can identify oneself as LGBT there and be met with support. At this time where changes are happening so rapidly in the observant Jewish community regarding LGBT individuals, I now see the value of labeling those spaces where one knows one can be out and proud.
An anonymous listserv for observant LGBT Jews has lately been having some security issues. Spammers have been emailing out unpleasant words, including the standard diatribes against homosexuality. Some of the content of these messages, however, is funnier—a word-for-word copy of an invitation to the NYC pride march, except with incorrect meeting locations noted. A solicitation for an “orthoprax friend with benefits” (what would this relationship entail, talking to each other?) that came complete with a nude photo. I’m sworn to secrecy about what happens on the listserv, but these emails haven’t actually come through the listserv infrastructure, and that’s why, after talking to the moderator, I feel comfortable revealing their content. This situation illustrates the problem with the quasi-anonymous space that gay Jews have constructed as our “community” online.
Reactions to the dvar Torah I gave at KOACH Kallah were overwhelmingly positive. The rabbinic leadership of the United Synagogue enjoyed it, a few of the participants called it “amazing,” and the scholar in residence talked about it during his afternoon session before getting into his own teaching. I was, however, troubled by this response for one reason. I expected that after identifying myself as a gay Jew, any other LGBT conference attendees would have approached me and self-identified as well. This didn’t happen. That could mean a lot of things, but I’m leaning toward the interpretation that I was the only person “out” at KOACH Kallah.
I find it terrifying to consider being the only person “out” at the only conference for Conservative Jewish campus leaders. At a conference attended by about 150 people, that percentage is way off. It’s unclear whether 5% or 10% of the population is gay, but it’s certainly more than 0.66%. It may be that Conservative Judaism is still not a comfortable place for most people to be openly gay.
Two weekends ago, I went to Yale for the Ivy League LGBT conference, IvyQ. It was a fun weekend, great especially for meeting people in the Penn queer community. I discovered a long time ago that the best way to get to know new people at Penn is to leave campus with them, which held true. However, I had just as interesting and meaningful of a time at Yale doing Jewish things as gay things.
On Friday night, there was a Shabbat dinner for conference attendees, but I welcomed Shabbat not really knowing what I was doing for lunch. I found Egalitarian/Conservative services on Friday night, and was then excited to hear that minyan was davening in the morning as well.
There was a huge blizzard along the East coast that weekend, happening Friday night into Saturday morning, which actually worked out well because I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much by staying inside on Friday night and reading a book. Saturday morning, I woke up and trekked through the completely snowed-in campus to Hillel, where I joined the six people who had already arrived at the Egal minyan during psukei d’zimra.
On Christmas morning, 2012, I woke up to an email from a friend, responding to an email I had sent in June. In that June coming-out email, I had announced my intention to live as an Orthodox Jew and a gay man. It’s amazing how much things can change in six months, as one way that I make sense of Fall 2012 is as an extended break-up with Orthodoxy.
But my first thought on reading that second email was “hmm, maybe this is not an entirely hopeless enterprise.” It’s taken two months (or six months, or eight months…) to finally start the blog because I’ve been busy having life experiences to write about.
There’s a repeating pattern with Jewish rituals and identifications in my life. I gave a sermon in my Reform congregation during high school in which I discussed why I always remembered, but never expected to keep, Shabbat. Three years later, I was keeping Shabbat in college. When I started constantly wearing a baseball cap, in order to cover my head without wearing a kippah, I said “I would never wear a kippah under the baseball cap. That seems like overdoing it.” One week later I was doing just that, and two months later the baseball cap came off. When I came out to my parents in June and they expressed concern not for my sexuality, but for the difficulties I was sure to face in my adopted denomination, I told my mom “I am gay, and I am Orthodox, and that’s not going to change.” In November, I told them at Thanksgiving “I doubt that Orthodoxy will become gay-positive enough in the next 50 years that I’ll feel comfortable raising kids with that label, but I’m comfortable with this level of observance and I’m working on finding halakhic egalitarian spaces.”
I want observant Judaism in my life, and I look forward to finding the spaces that I’ll feel comfortable. If those spaces don’t yet exist, I look forward to building them. I’m starting this blog in order to join the conversation about Judaism and homosexuality on the internet and to share my experiences. Welcome!