Tuesday, December 7, 2010

the dreamer revisited

Joseph and the Technicolour Dream Coat Biblical Closet: A Guide. (Parshat VaYigash)
I am not in any way implying that Yosef was gay. Read on.
בראשית מה:א-ג
"ולא יכל יוסף להתאפק לכל הנצבים עליו ויקרא הוציאו כל איש מעלי ולא עמד איש אתו בהתודע יוסף אל אחיו. ויתן את קלו בבכי וישמעו מצרים וישמע כל בית פרעה. ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אתו כי נבהלו מפניו."
Genesis 45:1-3
“And Yosef was unable to contain himself in front of all who stood before him. And he called out ‘Remove everyone from my presence.’ And Yosef stood alone when he revealed himself to his brothers. And Yosef called out in a loud voice, and all of Egypt and all of Pharaoh’s household heard. And Yosef said to his brothers, ‘I am Yosef, is my father still alive?’ And his brothers could not respond to him because they were left disconcerted before him.”

Yosef has, since I’ve begun writing this blog, slowly become one of my favorite biblical characters. The excerpt above re-enters the biblical narrative as Yosef reveals himself to his brothers. Approaching 40, it has been approximately 20 years since his brothers sold him to a group of traveling merchants and left him for dead. In that time there was no way they could have assumed or known that he, Yosef, had become Pharaoh’s second-in-command.
We find Yosef overcome by emotion as he is about to reveal himself to his brothers. Unable to bear any possible embarrassment to his brothers (Rashi), Yosef commands that all the servants in the room leave as he prepares to disclose his true identity. Even so, we are told that all of Egypt heard. Yosef’s brothers, shocked and frightened by his announcement, were unable to respond to the simple question posed.
Before my analysis of this segment of the Parsha, I'd like to recount a short story:
There was a nervous fear in Abbey’s eyes. She took a deep breath…and still couldn’t get the words out. I clasped her hand into mine and squeezed it as tightly as I could, silently attempting to give her the encouragement she needed. Abbey asked the moderator to return to her in a few minutes. The next person in the circle admitted that, as a child, she had kleptomaniac tendencies. The following individual also made a deeply personal confession. It was my sophomore year in college and my staff—7 college students and 1 professional that had grown to become a family—was doing a leadership/team-building exercise. The activity was structured around a series of rounds of confessions/admittances. With the progression of rounds, the “risk level” of the questions was elevated. The activity was climaxing with each person sharing a fact about themselves they had rarely, if ever, shared before. The moderator returned to Abbey.
Still holding my hand, Abbey inhaled deeply and, with a slight tremor in her voice, said “I’m gay.” She proceeded to tell everyone that, while she had kept her sexuality a secret for a long time, she felt it was time for her to be honest with herself and her friends. Abbey spoke about the struggles she faced coming to terms with her sexuality as a practicing Christian and as a woman in West-Indian culture. The reactions of the staff members varied from tears to looks of confusion. The moderator took control again. He emphasized that Abbey was still the same person and that we would have opportunity to discuss our thoughts in a few minutes.
Slowly, Abbey and I released our grip on one another’s hand as the exercise began to wind down.
**A few weeks prior, Abbey had approached me, in confidence, to share the same secret. She had admitted wanting to come-out, but was not sure of the appropriate time and place. This was why I, sensing her impending confession, had grasped her hand.

The blogger Saul David (kirtzono.blogspot.com) has noted, b’shem acher, that every time someone “comes-out” it as if they are jumping off a cliff, unaware of what surface will break their fall.  The story of Yosef’s unveiling of his identity provides us with guidelines for coming-out. These are only a few suggestions, an attempt to issue a helping hand to those in the coming out process, based on my own experiences and the Parsha. I hope these can  add structure to the leap so that it may be taken with slightly more confidence. In an original draft this post was immense as I sought to approach each section with deserving depth. I've composed  a briefer entry and will gladly expand my thoughts on any topic upon request.

And Yosef was unable to contain himself…” Yosef was terrified, but he knew that he could no longer contain his secret. Having developed an identity completely separate from anything his brothers knew, he had no way of ascertaining what their reaction would be. It was possible they regretted the hatred to which they exposed him, but it was also possible they would leap at the opportunity and finish the murderous task they had set out to do decades earlier.
Come-out only when you feel ready.

And he called out ‘Remove everyone from my presence.’ And Yosef stood alone when he revealed himself to his brothers.” Yosef asked that everyone other than he and his brothers be removed from the room in which the audience was being held. While there is a debate among the peirushim (explanations) as to why Yosef did this, Rashi’s explanation seems to be the most plausible. Yosef was afraid that his brothers would be embarrassed (because of their previous actions) when they discovered before whom they stood. Yosef removal of all unnecessary bystanders created a forum in which he thought both he and his brothers would be most comfortable.
Come-out in a place that will calm you and your audience as much as possible.

And Yosef called out in a loud voice…” Yosef did not grant any of his fears embodiments through a nervous stutter or a shy tone. He spoke with confidence and certainty. There could be no questions of fact following his announcement.
Present yourself as confident, even when terrified.

I am Yosef, is my father still alive?” The question Yosef posed was not if “our father” was still alive, but if “my father” was still alive. Yosef knew of that his father was still alive, Yehuda had said as much to him only a few moments before this exchange. Why then is Yosef asking such a cryptic question? Keeping the focus on himself, Yosef defined the terms of the conversation. He asserted himself as an individual genealogically connected to the same patriarch as his brothers. Even if the brothers still maintained some dislike for Yosef, his nexus with their father remained unbroken.
Claim your heritage and birthright. 
Do not let the views of others detract from who you know yourself to be.

And his brothers could not respond to him because they were left disconcerted before him.” Shocked. Terrified. Awestruck. Relieved. All of these thoughts and emotions were running through Yosef’s brothers heads.Yosef couldn’t have expected otherwise. Just as Yosef’s brothers needed time to come to terms with the magnitude of his announcement, so do most peoples families (and friends).  For the brothers this brought the fear of retribution from one of the world’s most influential characters, a man who’s wrath had 20 years to grow. It also meant that they might be able to bring their father not only the food they so desperately needed for physical nourishment, but the emotional nourishment for which Yaakov had hungered for so long. The parents of a gay child are similarly thrust into an emotional limbo by their child’s coming-out. They, most likely, do not have a clue how to respond as their hopes and dreams are apparently dashed. Expect this, give your family and friends time to understand what it is you are telling them. Be willing to work through any questions or fears they have. Provide them with resources to understand that they are not alone. Most importantly, show that you remain unchanged and that you are still their loving family member/friend. 
There is bound to be some level of shock at your announcement.
  Be willing to work with your family and be cognizant of the enormity of your announcement.

4 comments:

  1. As you know, Rashi says Potiphar lusted after Joseph. When Joseph was alone with Potiphar's "wife" the rabbis imply Joseph wanted privacy to sin. What do we learn from this? To out oneself one should take their time?

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  2. VY,
    I chose to relate this specific interaction between Yosef and his brothers to the coming-out process because it serves as an example of the revelation of a hidden aspect of identity to a group of beloved individuals. I would not think to relate that earlier segment, regarding the seduction of Yosef, to the coming-out process.
    I think I will leave discussion of that to the next cycle of Torah reading.
    Thanks for reading as well as for the thoughtful comment.

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  3. I think it's admirable that you are trying to help others deal with a reality you've accepted, had to grapple with, and which you've shared publicly.

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  4. Thank you, vy. :)

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