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.
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.