"Remember when life's path is steep to keep your mind even." Horace
How can you explain to the world, to your friends and family, about your deepest fears, blunders, and passions? Even the person closest to you, your “bosom buddy,” will be unable to understand until you let them in and share your inner most secrets with them. This is one such attempt.Struggling for acceptance, I live in constant fear of rejection. Unlike the timid teen asking out his crush, I anticipate a communal denunciation. Jewish life is centered, in rite and ritual, on the synagogue and the assembling of all congregants together in holiness. The concept of one Jewish nation, a whole indivisible entity, is drilled into Jews from the moment of our birth. Most Jews are unable to fathom an existence outside of the community. As a gay Jew, I have often felt (and at times feel) the need to conceal my sexuality to ensure my place in this group. I know that I am not alone in experiencing these feelings. These concerns were the foundation of my search for validation of self.
Without social reinforcement from the surrounding Jewish community, young gay Jews-- in this regard I feel I can speak for more than just myself— are prone to seeking out confirmation from the surrounding world. Attempting to find a balance between the two seemingly contradictory aspects of his identity, the young gay Jew will often explore the secular world. Unfortunately, the standards of propriety in secular society are often immensely different from those in the Orthodox world. The need for introspection becomes paramount and choices are made. The freedoms offered in this alternate society, once tasted, can cause even the most devote Jew to stray from his faith.
And now, the confession: As a university student in my late teens, I drifted “off the derech” (an orthodox expression literally meaning “off the path,” best explained as “straying from the faith”) a number of times. I violated the Shabbos, I tasted non-Kosher wine and food and I even became “involved” with a number of men. I am not proud of having done these things. I do not have excuses, I have reasons. I do not intend to educate you further on my tastes of sin. By far the saddest part is that I know I am not alone in my mistakes.
Orthodoxy promotes concepts like Shomer Negiah (abstaining from touching the opposite gender until marriage), but there is, obviously, a lack of a clear application of these concepts to the young gay Jew. This absence only further distances a Jew balancing sexuality and religion. Having no structure with which to approach a dating life, gay frum Jews are tempted to explore their sexuality in less than desirable means because there is seemingly no other social reinforcement of their identity. These encounters result in further shame and regret. As I Jew I want to say “Yes, as well they should.” Stepping back from the specifics of this situation for but a moment, we must acknowledge that any adolescent seeking an accepting crowd is likely to fall in with people who are a bad influence. We all make mistakes. The only thing we can do is try and turn these mistakes into learning experiences and lend a hand to those around us facing challenges to which we can relate. As a gay Orthodox Jew who has fallen down the very same path, I want to help steer those currently struggling with this towards a more positive place.
Though not found spelled out in any Siphrei Mussar or rabbinic shmooze, the standard Jewish ideals of physical holiness and purity can be applied to the life and relationships of the gay frum Jew. Each person must decide how to do this for themselves, but I can offer my attempts as an example. Since the wedding of someone very dear to me, I have abstained from any sexual contact with another man. Essentially, I’ve been Shomer Negiah. I’ve realized that, while temporarily gratifying, any relations outside of a serious committed relationship devalue me not only as a Jew, but as a person.
For those seeking support, I recommend joining the discussion/support group JQY (link on the right of this page).
Edit:12/23: corrected font error