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.
As a part of Penn’s Sex Week, Jay Michaelson spoke here last Wednesday. I’d read his book (God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality) over the summer and knew that he had a similar background and world-view to my own, and I was thrilled to find that his talk exceeded my already high expectations. The title was “Reclaiming Pleasure: Constructing a Non-Oppressive, Non-Repressive Sexual Ethic in the Shadow of Religion.” A lot of the subject matter was directly linked to sex, sexual energy, and the ways that religion tries to control sex, but the biggest takeaway for me was a distinction that he drew between “good gays” and “radical queers.”
The labeling is something that had never occurred to me, but the issue that it raises is something that I now realize I’ve of course been dealing with since I came out. What it comes down to is this: “good gays”, now that they are largely being admitted to the metaphorical “country club” of straight society, are happy to exclude or are at least complicit in excluding others from the club. “Radical queers”, on the other hand, recognize and remember the oppression that they themselves dealt with when seeking admission and want to use their new-found power to improve the system. A conflict arises when you’re someone who recognizes oppression, remembers the struggle, and wants to change the system while also being informed by tradition: a religious “radical queer.” Continue reading →
Modern Orthodox college students (and now egalitarian/Conservative college students, after the founding of Mechon Hadar,) speak of moving to New York after college as if it’s a necessary step toward attaining life satisfaction. New York is the only place where you’ll find a wide variety of kosher food. New York is the only place where you’ll have a vibrant community on Shabbat and holidays. New York is the only place where you’ll have a dating pool and meet your b’shert. Everywhere else is like גלות, exile.
Last summer, I went through this thought process and came to the conclusion that there was only one acceptable graduate school to go to, and I had better want to work for people there. At the time, it was comforting to realize that all of my Orthodox friends felt the same way. This was one of the few things I spent time thinking about that didn’t feel like a uniquely queer issue.
Whether or not New York is currently the best place in the country to be an observant Jew is of less interest to me than this question: do we want to perpetuate this perception (or reality) for the next 20 years? We have an opportunity to stop the madness. I can only offer my perspective as a queer Jew, but I’d imagine that many straight Jews feel the same way.
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.
עוד ישמע בערי יהודה ובחוצות ירושלים קול ששון וקול שמחה קול חתן וקול כלה
May there be heard again in the cities of Judaea and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride.
I have to admit that Jewish marriage announcements make me wince. This language is an ultimately inconsequential barb that says, “you’re different.” It’s poetry and it’s tradition, and it shouldn’t go away, but it’s one of those little elements of this religion that I want the people I am praying, eating, and learning with to recognize as problematic even while accepting its durability.
This line comes from the sheva brachot, the seven wedding blessings recited for the bride and groom at the wedding ceremony itself and, in traditional circles, for the week after the wedding.
The idea behind this language, that the voice of brides and grooms is the epitome of the sound of joy and gladness, isn’t a problem for gay positivity.
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.