I met the gaze of each the six men and women staring at me. I carefully considered what I would say next. And then, for what now seems like the umpteenth time, I jumped off that proverbial cliff.
A friend I hadn’t seen since the summer invited me for Simchat Torah dinner. Eager to see her, I accepted and spent the days prior to the holiday looking forward to what promised to be an enjoyable evening. Naturally, the large table of slightly over a dozen young professionals split into two conversations. Immediately I hit it off with the people on my end. We were all loud, opinionated, and eager to poke fun at new acquaintances. The perfect meal. By night’s end I, like many of the others gathered, still hadn’t caught the names of those on the other end of the table. An icebreaker ensued. The prompt: sharing your high school nickname. I was one of the last people to share and seemed to disappoint the people gathered. I didn’t have a nickname. I dropped out before I underwent that rite of passage. Interests piqued, the people closest to me with whom I’d been speaking the entire evening wanted to know why I dropped out. I wasn’t eager to get into the struggles of my youth, my depression, and learning to come to terms with my sexuality, so I tried to downplay any interest. The conversation restarted but soon the spotlight once again fell upon me. People really wanted to know why I didn’t finish high school the normal way. I guess they sensed a story.
If you’ve read my blog consistently over the past two+ years you know that, though far from closeted, I don’t believe in placing my private life and my sexuality on display for the world to see. Perhaps its rooted in tznious, perhaps I’m still afraid of having to deal with bigots in otherwise docile settings, or perhaps I just don’t think its anyone’s business but my own. Maybe its all three. Anyway, on this occasion I decided to just go for it, again, and briefly cover all the bases that led to my dropping out. Necessarily, this focused on my sexuality. I think people were . . . shocked, fascinated, intrigued, compassionate, and sympathetic. And then, when I finished the speedy version of my life, the questions started. None based on ill will, and none stupid, but still, this was not one of the topics of conversation I considered upon entering the meal.
Coming out is always both annoying and terrifying. I don’t know how people are going to react and, frankly, I find the experience bothersome (after all, heterosexuals don’t need to announce their sexuality to the world, why should I?). So why did I do it? Why did I give in to the peer pressure and share my story? There was one major reason. Over the past few months I noticed a shift in the gay demographic within my community. Specifically, the more vocal and visible gay men moved elsewhere. Though there are new members of the kehilah, young blood so to speak, my limited interactions with these men and women leave me doubtful that they would do a good job expressing the needs facing the larger gay frum community. Let me be clear, I do not want to fill anyone’s shoes and take on a public role. I’m content with my privacy and don’t want to change that. But, and perhaps this is me being conceited, I think I will at times have to be the local individual to vocalize those needs and work on causing change on a slow but steady basis. I guess I saw last night as the first of what will probably be too many question and answer sessions on this topic. I just hope I’m up to the task and that I can accomplish it without infringing on my privacy too much.
*minor spelling edit, 10/10/12
*minor spelling edit, 10/10/12