Saturday, April 16, 2011

Good Questions, Bad Answers

Every so often I peruse the web to try and find interesting articles, websites or youtube clips that touch upon the same issues I discuss here. I recently stumbled upon a YouTube clip that troubled me greatly. On YouTube I found a response to the It Gets Better video created by a number of members of JQYouth. The video contains a caricatured version of a gay orthodox Jew (henceforth “GOJ’s”)who is answering questions about how gay Jews can live observant lives on a practical level. The purpose of this video is to promote the ideas that gay Jews: cannot live happy lives within a Halachic framework; are gay because of a traumatic event in childhood rather than being born with their sexuality; can change by the use of reparative therapy. The questions presented are valid, but the answers lack authenticity and the analogy used by the video’s author to prove that gay men can “change” is flawed. This post is dedicated to providing real answers to the issues in the video.
1)       What does it mean to be a GOJ?
a.       Just as the levels of practice and observance within orthodox Jewry are diverse, so too are the levels of practice and observance among GOJ’s. At its most simple level, being a GOJ means attempting to live one’s life within a Halachic framework while recognizing that one is homosexual. It is the ability to realize that G-d created man in many different forms and that He presented each of us with individualized challenges. Being a GOJ does not necessarily mean that one is “out and proud,” nor does it require prohibited sexual interaction with others of the same gender.
2)      What side of the Mechitzah does a GOJ sit on? Aren’t the genders separated because sexual attraction will distract from davening?
a.       GOJ’s sit on the same side of the Mechitzah as the rest of their gender. I have not yet heard a rabbi propose that gay Jews should sit anywhere else. It is possible that GOJ’s will have a harder time focusing their kavanah,  but the reader will realize two things:  being gay does not mean being attracted to every one of the same sex; we all face struggles in focusing our kavanah, a personal struggle is not a reason to subject someone to public humiliation (which forcing someone to the other side of the Mechitzah would do), this is an opportunity for the GOJ to strengthen his/her kavanah and work on strengthening his/her prayers.
3)      What mikvah, ritual “bath,” does a GOJ use, the mens or the womens?
a.       Just like the Mechitzah, GOJ’s use the Mikvah prescribed to their gender. Again, this may present the Mikvah goer with a unique challenge but remember: being a GOJ does not mean being attracted to every one of the same sex and attending the Mikvah is meant to be a spiritual journey, an immersion to cleanse one of the sins of their body. This requires focus and intent for all people. Personally, because I know that my kavanah is not perfect and because I do not want to risk making anyone else uncomfortable, I go to the mikvah at an hour when it is sure to be empty. When that is not possible, I spend time beforehand concentrating on my spiritual purpose and go to the mikvah on what I hope is an elevated spiritual level . . . and I make sure to avert my gaze.
4)      How does life for a GOJ get better? Can they have sex with someone of the same gender or must they remain celibate?
a.       There are some Rabbanim who do support that GOJ’s remain celibate. However, there are others who support GOJ ‘s in seeking a loving relationship. No one promotes a violation of Halacha, but emotional connections are not prohibited in the Torah. So, how does it “get better”?  For that, I suggest you read this post at . The blog’s author was featured in the video and addresses this same question. I think that it “gets better” in the sense that you can reach a level of psychological stability. You can progress in your life knowing who you are and not needing to lie or hide your true self.  In regards to sex, that is a very complicated subject. The answer depends on the individual’s hashkafic approach within orthodoxy, but some contact may be permissible.
5)      The video’s author claims that being gay is caused by abuse during childhood and that, just like an overweight individual does not have a predisposition to being overweight but can learn to control their weight, so too a GOJ can, and should, do the same and “change.”
a.       The idea behind programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig is not to change your urges, but to learn to control them. In that sense, GOJ’s can learn to control their sexual urges. This will not change their sexual orientation, but will be a conscious decision not to act on those urges. For some GOJ’s, this is the right choice. However, at no point will this turn them straight and I urge all GOJ’s still struggling with their sexuality to realize this. This is a valid path for GOJ’s to choose, but I would not recommend that someone attempting to practice such control marry or enter a relationship with a member of the opposite gender unless this truth is first put on the table.
I found the video’s author to be disrespectful towards the bullying that does occur in all societies. when watching some of his other videos, some personal information came to light: He “suffers” from same-sex attraction; has tried to change (and believes he is succeeding); and thinks western culture is trying to force him to accept a part of himself that he despises.
I pity him.
He is obviously not in the best place emotionally and I hope that he can find inner peace. I also hope he stops posting videos that are so negative, but he has as much a right as I have to publish things to the internet so in the meantime I will just hope I can be more persuasive.
P.S. I’m the link to the video: