My original intention for this post was to write about the unique challenge of dating as a gay-Orthodox Jew (something that stemmed from a conversation I had with my father in the aftermath of my last post). Plans change. Tonight I had a conversation with someone very dear to me, Shane. This post will be about the subject matter we discussed.
A few short days ago one of my best friends, Devorah, told me that a friend of hers (an acquaintance of mine), Becky, had asked if I was aware that Shane is gay. I relayed this story to Shane, who had not come-out to Becky. Indeed, I knew of his sexuality. Not only have I been aware of Shane’s sexuality for a long time, he is my ex-boyfriend and someone who’s friendship I value dearly.
Shane and I both believe in something that is best termed “exclusive-coming-out.” We are aware of our sexuality, we live our lives as gay-Orthodox Jews, but we do not feel the need to share this fact with the entire world. We tell our families and others with whom we are close. This decision, one we had both come to before we were introduced, is based on concepts of Tzniut (modesty)—the lack of appropriateness in inviting others into our intimate lives— and the reality that many people in the Orthodox world are not prepared to accept our true identity. In some situations, announcing the truth could harm us in positions we hold. Our sexuality is the business only of those whom we decide to inform.
Shane was shocked when I told him of the inquiry. He had not told Becky and knew not from where she had heard. More disturbing was the fact that she felt this was a topic about which she could gossip. I do not suppose that Becky intended Shane harm. To her the conversation was probably no more than social. What she did not realize was that had her words fallen on the wrong ears Shane could face some very real, very harmful repercussions.
I have had similar incidents happen to me. Some time ago I was outed by someone I do not know to a family member of mine. Another time a friend inadvertently outed me in a conversation that followed her laughing at the suggestion of my being set up with a girl.
You may pose the following question: How if I, or Shane, intend to live my life as a gay-Orthodox Jew and perhaps one day settle down, do I intend to maintain an exclusive roster of individuals privy to my sexuality? Would this not become public knowledge? I speak for myself when I say that I am under no false impressions that there will come a point at which I will be able to exercise no control over who knows and who does not know of my sexuality. On some level I have already reached that point. This reality does not award people the right gossip about my private life and struggle. In fact, such a conversation is Loshon Hara.
Even if you, the reader, are accepting of the fact that a Jew can be both gay and Orthodox, sharing this information regarding an individual without the certain knowledge that this individual is completely out-of-the-closet is inappropriate, hurtful, potentially dangerous to this person in many ways and against Halacha.
Did Becky mean harm by her words? Probably not. Did harm occur in this instance? In some ways no, but in many ways yes. Having yourself unwillingly outed is an intense emotional shock because of the violation and invasion of privacy that accompanies such a disclosure. The best way I can describe the situation is by calling it an emotional rape.
I urge you all to think long and hard before you discuss the private lives of others.