Sunday, December 26, 2010

"feel as if you're holding my hand"

“Feel as if you’re holding my hand.”
I wrote this on Thursday evening. After reading it you might see why I was at first hesitant to post it as an entry.
Speaking with my mother, I told her that I don’t feel comfortable coming home. She asked why. Let’s backtrack about two minutes in the conversation. Last week I sent her the link to a recent posting over at Kirtzono. I thought it would be good for her to read the post because it contains a letter from a mother of another gay frum Jew. When I asked her about it, she shrugged it off. She said that it didn’t mean much to her, but that she found it “interesting” that such a blog exists. She steered the conversation to other topics.
I told my mother that while a friend of mine asked me to come home for Shabbos of another friend’s Auf Ruf, I probably wouldn’t because I don’t feel comfortable at home. Of course, she took it as an insult, and replied that she couldn’t take off work every time I come home. I told her that obviously wasn’t the issue. I started to get emotional. We started arguing, I said I couldn’t talk, she hung up. I was crying.
I came out to my mother five years ago. In that time the only real conversation we’ve had about my being gay was a few months ago when I forced her to sit down with me again and I told her for a second time that I’m gay. She asked me why I don’t want children and suggested that I marry a lesbian and have affairs on the side. Apparently she knows someone else that does that. My father, though I’m not close with him, is more accepting and understanding. He is also the holiest, most learned and most respectable man I know. Tonight, crying, I called him (something I, unfortunately, don’t do all that often—call, not cry, thought I don't cry often either).
I told him about the conversation I’d just had. I told him how it made me feel (rejected, heartbroken, angry). Though hard of hearing, he somehow managed to understand me between my sobs. “Feel as if you’re holding my hand,” he said to me as he tried to console me and promised to speak with my mother.
 I’m calming down now, but this is my struggle. Like a refugee, I feel like a man without a country, homeless. If I do not feel comfortable in my own home, and factions of the Jewish community reject me and try to change me…where am I to go?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

keeping an even mind

"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

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ask and They Shall Tell

Just the other week I was called a “militant gay,” now the gay military members can be open and honest.
A few weeks ago I wrote a short piece, based on an article I read on CNN, regarding the then only possible overturn of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Shortly thereafter, an initial attempt to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell failed in the senate. A few hours ago, as I turned on my computer after Shabbos, I thrilled to see that earlier today 63 members of the senate voted to repeal DADT. For my international audience, the vote required a minimum of 51 votes to pass. The fact that it received 63 votes means that the Democrats of the Senate were joined by 9 non-Democrats (8 Republicans and Joe Lieberman, an independent).    What, if anything, does this mean for gay Jews? For this analysis, I return to the article I mentioned in my earlier post.
Prior to the legislative decision to move forward with a repeal of DADT, the Pentagon spent considerable time and effort conducting a survey of US troops to gauge their attitudes on the possible open inclusion of homosexual servicemen and women. The results suggested that there would be little disruption. There are those that draw analogies to the 1993 lifting of a similar ban in Israel. "[I]t came and went, and that was it, nothing more was heard about it" (see original CNN article).I suspect in that as the US government enforces the repeal, there will be some minor incidents across the various sectors of the military. The current situation within Orthodox Jewry is one of uncertainty. Whenever I encounter a new Jew, I, unfortunately, assume they will not be open to my sexuality. Obviously, this is not always the case. Certainly, there are many members of the larger Orthodox community who welcome me with open arms and see my sexuality as a non-issue. Since the Statement of Principles was published this past summer (see link on right of page), there has been at the very least a tolerant attitude expressed by various rabbis, community leaders and members of the mental health profession. It is time that a survey be conducted within sectors of Orthodox Jewry to determine the attitudes, fears and concerns of the everyday Jew. A daunting, and perhaps near impossible, project, I am not naive enough to write this off as a simple undertaking. However, if gay Jews intend to make any progress within our society, it is important that we clarify the barriers to our success.  Are community members primarily concerned with the Halachic implications that acceptance might produce? Are there other socio-cultural attitudes affecting our struggle?
Throughout the entire process of the DADT repeal, military personnel and proponents of the repeal have emphasized that there will be no alterations to any of the substantive rules of military conduct. A soldier is a soldier and the expectations that go along with that role will not in any way be undermined by this legislation. As an Orthodox Jew, I cannot stress enough that I do not expect, request or demand any changes to Halacha. The Torah is divine and dictates the daily acts of a Jew in the same way that the military rules dictate that of the soldier. Acceptance of gay Jews should not and cannot be equated with redrafting Halacha. I will soon be dedicating a post to this topic and thus will cut myself short at this point.
No change as monumental as the repeal will succeed without a strong leadership. As a gay Jew, I believe that our movement needs a champion. A single influential Jewish leader that is willing to preach acceptance. We need a Moshe Rabbeinu to split the Sea of Intolerance and Closed-mindedness.
Of course, in both the military and the frum community, there is an ever present discussion regarding unit/community cohesion as well as privacy/concerns over the presence of same-sex attraction. Especially in Modern-orthodoxy, community members often interact with non-Jewish homosexuals in the workplace, on the street etc. It is my hope and belief that they treat these individuals as they would a heterosexual. In my own experiences, after I’ve come-out to an Orthodox Jew, there is an initial period of questions, curiosity and, at times, discomfort, but this is quickly overshadowed by the realization that I remain unchanged and that there are many other facts to my identity. With time and education, any concerns or discomforts that are felt within the Orthodox community can be worked through. In fact, acceptance of gay individuals will likely open the door for some individuals to step up towards positions of community leadership once they feel accepted for the entirety of who they are. This will not occur until the issue is openly discussed (and we are getting there). The same understanding that will seal any initial fissures in society will also deal with the issue of discomfort due to proximity of openly gay individuals in regards to sexual attraction. As one gets to know gay Jews they will understand that, contrary to some beliefs, we are not sexual predators constantly scoping out our side of the Mechitza or Bais Medrish. We, like anyone else, have attractions, but know when and where acting on these feelings are appropriate.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oh dear.

Mark Twain once famously said that “in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.” While everyone is entitled to opine as they will, there are some statements that make my stomach turn. The following article, published in last Wednesday’s Jewish Press, is one such article. Written by self-pro-claimed “prolific author”** Rosally Saltsman, I’m copying the text of the article below and interjecting my own comments between paragraphs.  I usually do not write so candidly, but this article makes my blood boil and I’m expressing that through my somewhat cynical tone.

Reflections And Feedback
Reb Nachman of Breslov has an interesting parable. He speaks of a prince who thinks he's a turkey. No doctor could help him until a wise man comes and says, "You know what, I'm a turkey too." And then, as he's pecking around with the prince, he says, "You know, we can still be turkeys and eat people food." And so they do. And the wise man convinces the prince that he can wear human clothes and still be a turkey, and so on, until he gets the prince to realize he's not a turkey after all.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was a genius of a man who’s lessons also included the concept of Ahavat Chinam, baseless love.

The Torah is very much based on the concept of Na'aseh V'nishmah. Who you are is predicated upon your actions. If a man or a woman is in an exclusively heterosexual relationship, by Torah definition he or she is not gay.
These analogies do not hold water. In fact, you have completely misunderstood Na’Aseh V’nishma. In the context of Jewish history it does not mean that “who you are is predicated upon your actions,” but that “your actions are predicated upon who you are.” By Har Sinai, the tribes of Israel were destined to become the Jewish people and therefore were willing to accept the Torah with blind faith. It was not their faith that made them Jewish, but their Judaism that instilled them with such faith. Furthermore, being in a heterosexual relationship does not make one heterosexual. Were I abstain from eating meat for a few years, would that make me vegetarian? Not necessarily.

I have received a lot of feedback regarding this series of articles over the last few months. It is indicative of how volatile an issue it is, considering that it is the most feedback I have ever received in all the years I've been writing. The feedback has been both positive and negative, appreciated and enlightening.

Which brings me to the first obstacles for change. There are gay men who are making it their life's cause to keep people from attempting therapy, by decrying the efficacy of change therapies in the media.  They do this because of their own inability to achieve success in these therapies. It's like secular Jews who feel so threatened by people who become religious that they do everything in their power to keep them secular. Militant gays petition for the right to be acknowledged for who they are but don't accord others the right not to be gay anymore if this is what they desire.
The gay men who decry the effectiveness of conversion therapy do so to inform others struggling with the issues we have gone through that options exist. We want these people to know that, when these therapies fail, and they will fail, it does not mean that the individual is flawed or perverted, but that G-d created them just as they are and that is okay. As we request acknowledgment from the greater Jewish society, we do not force anyone to decide upon any specific path. If someone wants to live a depressed and repressed life, we let them. We never force anyone out of the closet.

"The gay community sees themselves as a persecuted minority group," says Rabbi Shmuel Rosenberg, who lives in Elizabeth, New Jersey and who has been a Clinical Social Worker and family therapist for 22 years. In the course of his work he says, he has helped dozens of people, most of them men, overcome the limits of SSA (Same Sex Attraction).
 SSA. That sounds serious. Almost as bad as HIV. of those is an actual disease that ravages the bodies of thousands, if not millions, of individuals around the world.
I’m glad this man has found a “cure.”

Homosexuals often suffer a great deal of pain and rejection, condemnation and judgment by their families and their community and deal with a tremendous sense of frustration and failure when they feel they are unable to change. But when a gay man succeeds in changing his lifestyle, he is met with displeasure and even coercion from the gay community in the form of social hostility for having betrayed them. On the other hand there is a tremendous amount of support among strugglers and ex-strugglers themselves.
The pain and rejection we experience is best evidenced in articles such as this one. The author refers to a “lifestyle” that has been altered through the course of this treatment. Contrary to pop-media portrayals, there is no “lifestyle” common to all gay men. I believe the author’s intent was to claim that a gay man succeeds in changing his attraction.

People have been criticizing change therapies for not being a quick fix or any solution at all. Well, the fact that therapy has helped certain men and women to give up their homosexual lifestyles, marry and have children is enough proof that there are people who can be helped by it. It means that at least for some people, there is an option, there is a choice and there is hope. There is no reason not to offer those people the benefits of the potential resources available.
“Some” is not valid statistical evidence and thus does not constitute proof. Furthermore, the individuals to whom you are referring may have been bisexual to being with. I agree, this can be “an option,” should someone choose to undertake it. However, the gist of your article seems to indicate that therapy is the only option.

Reuven is what people call a "textbook case" of a person with SSA: divorced parents, overbearing mother, submissive father, molested as a young child. What isn't textbook, however, is that he never acted on his SSA and he's now married with a young child.  Reuven discovered Judaism in college at about the same time he considered becoming actively homosexual - and so with one foot out of the closet, he went back inside.
What textbook? I am disappointed that such a well published author would omit her sources.  To play devil’s advocate, let’s, for a moment, assume that this is the textbook case of someone “suffering” from homosexual feelings. Let’s say that 15%-20% of the population, both men and women, identify as suffering from SSA.  If the above stated is true, and the typical case is caused by childhood molestation and number of other factors, then there is a vast amount of childhood abuse occurring in the US and across the world, including in the Jewish community. Therefore, along with “repairing” the individuals with SSA, we really should work harder to stop all of this abuse.

If a homosexual lifestyle were a foregone conclusion of the above personal history then Reuven would never have had a chance. Today, Reuven enjoys a healthy marriage, Baruch Hashem, to a woman he is attracted to.
 I’d like to reiterate the fact that many people with homosexual feelings are bisexual. This means that a man or woman in a happy heterosexual relationship may harbor same sex attraction as well as attraction to his/her chosen partner.
           Another obstacle is that many people repress memories of molestation and abuse. Reuven had blocked them out and they only surfaced under hypnosis, which is how his neighbor was finally convicted. A childhood trauma could be the trigger, which sets the stage for a homosexual lifestyle later in life. It's important to investigate where this inclination stems from because, contrary to the claims of pro-gay groups, there is no evidence that this is mostly a genetic precondition.
            Sources! I’d also like to point out that any memory of parental rebuke brought to the surface through hypnotherapy can be skewed to an understanding of abuse, if that is the chosen interpretation.
"As soon as I started viewing this as a midda, not an illness or a condition, it was much easier to deal with," says Reuven. "Everyone comes into this world to do a tikkun and if it wasn't going to be this it was going to be desire for money or gaava or jealousy. People talk about accepting yourself but the self I'm trying to accept is the real self, the self who came into this world to fix something. If I identify with that and not my body, that's my real self. Anyone ignoring their middot is going to have an issue in this world. It's a lifetime work like any other middot work. It's hard going through the process and no one should think it's not."
OK, but the author does see this as an illness and a condition.

Another obstacle is overly high expectations. There are different definitions of success. If someone can get to a point where he has a good marriage and isn't engaging in homosexual activity, even though he's still attracted to men, that's a success. If someone is even engaging in less frequent homosexual activity, that's also a success. Change is incremental.
The gay man abstaining from sex is to be deemed on the road to a cure. Does this mean that the straight man abstaining from sex and not acting on his heterosexual feelings is turning gay? I’ve been abstinent because I believe that sex is something intimate and not meant to be wasted, I assure you, I am not turning straight.

"Therapy is different for each individual," says Adam Jessel, a therapist who referred some of the people who were interviewed for this series. "It will depend on many factors like their age, how they feel relative to the gay community, how much homosexual experience they've had, etc. The success of therapy is dependent on both internal and external parameters.

"Therapy doesn't work so well when people come to therapy because of pressure from others such as parents and authority figures. It requires an intrinsic motivation.  It won't work if it's somebody else's agenda.  In general, understanding the issues and the individual are prerequisites for change."
Somebody else’s agenda…like the one published here?

               Rabbi Rosenberg adds: "There's a message out there that if you have homosexual attraction you must be gay and will only be fulfilled in a homosexual life. There are sanctioned gay clubs in high schools and universities which make that claim and give legitimacy to a homosexual lifestyle. It conveys the idea that either sexual orientation is equally acceptable. This makes it harder for people with SSA to commit to a process of change."
Rabbi Rosenberg, there are many gay-straight alliances in high schools and universities across the nation. I am sure that, before these groups came into existence, the idea was scrutinized by boards of mental health and education professionals to determine if this was a good idea. If it were not for groups like these the tragic suicides we saw only a few months ago would be far more numerous.

Another impediment to people struggling with SSA is the media. It sends out confusing and misleading messages about relationships.

"They need to see that marriage is a lifestyle and not about sexual prowess like the messages propagated in the media," says Rosenberg. "When they see the superstuds in ads and movies, they question their own sexuality. Many of the patients who come to me are not really homosexual but they think they are because they have difficulty keeping up with what they think they ought to be." Rosenberg says that many people think at one point in their lives that they may be gay. This is especially true in a sexually segregated society like religious Judaism where there is a great deal of same sex interaction.  This promotes feelings but these feelings don't make you gay - it's more opportunistic than homosexual.
Perhaps the individuals aren’t questioning their sexuality, but are experiencing body image issues similar to those that often cause eating disorders in young women. The lifestyles of sexual promiscuity that are promoted in the media are not exclusively homosexual. In fact, I’d wager that, more often than not, sexual acts references on TV and in the cinema are between a man and a woman.

            Reuven feels it's important to get rid of the stigma.  "People should be aware that SSA exists, it happens. The most dangerous part of it is for the frum community not to be aware of it and not encourage people to get help." Reuven worries that if you put so much of a stigma on it and people don't get help now then what's going to be with their children if they get married? It perpetuates a vicious cycle. And if there are parents who have children who have been abused and molested and are perhaps blocking out their memories, they should get help for them.

             Because even if it doesn't manifest as SSA, it will manifest as something else. People are never aware to what degree abuse takes. Even verbal abuse. A few comments like "You're so stupid, you're just like your father." That's all it takes to damage a child.
Child suffering from abuse like this should be removed from their parent’s inadequate care.

So there's a double-edged sword, people assuming they're gay who actually aren't, misinterpreting other feelings for SSA, and people who may have a tendency for SSA not getting the help they need to deal with it because of the stigma attached.

But despite all these roadblocks, there is a great deal of change taking place out there, both in people's perceptions and in their willingness to embrace change. The road to teshuva, the road to mental health and the road to finding one's bashert are very, very long. To people with this particular nissayon, the road may seem endless. As a community we need to be supportive and encouraging of individuals. However, misplaced tolerance and acceptance of a homosexual lifestyle as a legitimate choice will only stand in the way of an individual's potential to build a happy and normal Torah home.
Teshuva for what sin? Why is repentance equated with mental health? Yes, gay people do find it difficult to find a bashert…because the men and women we are supposed to end up with are hiding in the closet or attempting conversion therapy. Perhaps I will not build a “normal” home as viewed by Ms. Saltsman, but I assure you that my home will be filled with Torah and happiness. “As a community we [do] need to be supportive and encouraging of individuals,” no matter what path they have chosen to follow.

I got the wonderful news that one of the men I interviewed for this series, Alan (Through a Different Lens), got engaged and married to a wonderful girl. Alan has gone from not being attracted to women to being attracted to this amazing one (who knows of his issues), and looking forward to spending the coming years growing in his relationship with her.  I'm sure we all wish them mazal tov! I can't think of a more effective endorsement for therapy of this kind. If we're going to wait for 100% success rate for any life change or a life altering decision, we'll never be espousing change at all. Every marriage is a milestone, every life matters, and every small step to success is gigantic.

May we merit many more simchas of this kind.

To contact Adam Jessel for personal or phone therapy:
972 (0) 54-672-0336

To contact Rabbi Rosenberg
Why, pray tell, has this article turned into an advertisement?
This entire article is rife with conspiracy theories and misplaced zealotry. It reminds me of the lies propagated in the infamous “The Principles of the Elders of Zion.” Rather than focus on the Jews as an evil, Ms. Saltsman focuses her spiteful pen upon the men and women who have struggled to find the courage to accept their sexuality. While Ms. Salstman reiterates the “success” of these therapies, she offers no conclusive evidence. I challenge her to publish research reviewed by unbiased experts in the field of psychology.
The original text of the article, without my comments, can be found here:

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 ( 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.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

On Target: Why “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Strikes Home

While reading an article on CNN this morning, it pleased me to see that the author brought up a number of issues that I have considered in regards to the possible repeal of DADT.  Rather than reinvent the wheel by re-writing what I think was a well written piece, I am posting a link to the article below. I urge you to read the article and then consider the following points: 
  • The military allows servicemen & women to serve so long as they stay in the closet.  Some Batay Knesset  allow gay-Jews alliyot and Kibudim …until the shul knows they are gay.
  • There is concern over the same-sex attraction that would cause discomfort in housing and bathroom facilities, which are split by gender. The guy/girl sitting on your side of the Mechiza will be there whether or not you know s/he is gay.
  • A repeal of DADT will not mean a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Recognizing gay community members in a Jewish setting is not the same as trying to redefine Halachic marriage.
  • Whether or not a solider is good should be determined by their actions, not their sexual orientation. If we are going to evaluate Jews (something better left to the heavenly courts) let us do it by religious observance.
  • On a smooth transition: It comes down to strong leadership”
  • The military conducted a survey of military personnel to evaluate attitudes; perhaps an attempt to gauge Jewish attitudes wouldn’t be so crazy.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lighting up.

While studying in Israel I came out to a friend of mine who was in the midst of planning her wedding. As the wedding drew near, I was asked to read one of the Brachot (blessings) under the  Chuppah (wedding canopy). My friend informed me that, while she and her fiancé had originally wanted me to be an Eid (witness), they feared that some of the Rabbanim (Rabbis) wouldn’t accept my Eidut (testimony) if they knew I was gay. I in no way blame my friend for having made her decision, but it was quite the wound to recover from. As a Shomer Shabbos & Kashrut (Sabbath and Kosher observant) Jew who wears his Zizit and Davens (prays) everyday, being told that I might not qualify as a complete Jew within some parts of society is very hurtful. 
Prior to the actual miracle of Chanukah, 2nd Temple Israel was already heavily influenced by Greek hedonism. Raised in the Hebrew Day School system, I was taught that the Yivanim (Greeks) arrived in Israel and in one swift motion attempt to wrestle control from the Jews. It wasn’t until my college years that I recognized the religious significance of this inaccuracy. The Jews of this period, commanded as we are to live as G-d fearing lives, were failing in this task. While the 1st Book of Maccabees relates the nationalistic battles of the Maccabees, the 2nd Book of Maccabees emphasizes that the purpose of the Hasmonean revolution was to spiritually redeem the Land of Israel. While the battles waged were against foreign occupiers, the thrust of the revolt was to return the Jews to a spiritual level befitting G-ds chosen nation.
We know that, while Antioches (IV Epiphanes, for those who are interested) is described as having forbidden the Jews from fulfilling some of the Mitzvot (commandments), many Jews had been heading down a similar path of their volition. The Hellenization (the blending of Greek culture with the cultures in occupied lands) of Israel was a slow process. The socializing and political interactions between Greeks and Jews led to the Jews slowly favoring Greek activities and moving away from the faith. Temple sacrifices were neglected and the positions in the temple became more political than holy. The battle fought by the Maccabees was not only against the occupation, but against the social assimilation and religious fragmentation.
Many gay Jews struggle to maintain the Jewish faith while stuck between a rock and hard place. Gay frum Jews do not promote assimilation. We recognize that G-d created us as individuals and that we cannot fight our nature. We sadly accept that we cannot fulfill every Mitzvah, but try to do the best we can with those we are capable of fulfilling.
Chanukah is unique in that one of the commandments associated with it MUST be done in public. The lighting of the Menorah is to be done for all to see. While commonly understood as a commemoration of the miracle that occurred, the display of the holiday lights broadcasts the fact that we remain steadfast in our faith. We inform everyone around us that the Maccbees succeeded in their cause of resanctifying the Jewish people. This Chanukah, as I light my Menorah, I will try to remember what it is the Maccabees fought for and what I am fighting for today: For all Jews to practice Judaism to the best of their ability and be welcomed within all aspects of society. I will light my Menorah for eight nights to remind myself and others that the Jewish spark is alive within me. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chalamti: An Introduction

בראשית לז:ט "ויספר אתו לאחיו ויאמר הנה חלמתי חלום עוד..."ד
Genesis 37:9 [A]nd he [Yosef] said to his brothers, “Behold, I have dreamt another dream...”
The Parsha of Vayeishev, which we shall read this coming Shabbos, introduces us to Yosef as a dreamer. The favorite of Yaakov’s twelve sons, Yosef was hated by his brothers for his visions of dominance over them. Rashi notes that Yaakov reprimanded Yosef not for the audacity of his visions, which were interpreted by Yosef as prophecies of him ruling over his entire family, but for the fact that Yosef bred hatred against himself for recounting these visions to his relations.
On August 28th, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. echoed Yosef’s words. “I have a dream,” he called out from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. For nearly half a century these words have served as battle cries for individuals and groups that remain misunderstood and misplaced by society as they fight for their civil rights. Each time a Yosef or a Dr. King has arisen and been strengthened by these words, there has been a Yaakov to reprimand him (or her) for the hatred these words bred. In their modern form, these pessimists ask the dreamers to await their future in quiet. They fear the possibility that these dreams, like Yosef’s, will breed hatred. Any hatred is misplaced and bred from a closed minded misunderstanding.
I have, along with my friends, dreamt a dream. We envision a time where we can live our lives as gay frum Jews. As the larger American society debates gay marriage, we gay orthodox Jews have only recently begun to gain recognition as a social group. Emerging from the rug beneath which we were swept, we remain a puzzle to many. We are attempting to live our lives within the boundaries of Halacha while accepting and experiencing our sexuality. This balance is not an easy one to maintain and it is frustrated by those that would have us return to the fringes of society. They prefer us silenced and ignored.  But Yosef’s prophecies were realized and Dr. King’s dream moves forward still.
Our cause has been championed by the voices of few, not because we are few in number, but because it takes courage beyond quantification to accept our challenge. Many orthodox Jews, when faced with the realization of their homosexuality, burrow deep into denial. These Jews attempt reparative therapy and plan on marrying women, hoping that no one will discover their secret as they hide behind masks of orthodoxy. Others accept their sexuality, but see it as incompatible with Orthodox Judaism. These individuals will begrudgingly cast off their orthodox identity as they embrace this new found aspect of their identity.  These paths are riddled with both potholes and heartbreak. The middle ground, those among us that accept our sexuality and remain steadfast in our faith and practice, continues to be chosen to by a small but growing number as we recount our dream and “out” ourselves within the orthodox world.
This blog marks the addition of my voice to the few who speak out on behalf of our cause. The opinions and views will be my own. Sometimes I will agree with my friends, and at other times I will dissent. I will do my best to write honestly and openly. I look forward to questions, comments and suggestions.
I have dreamt a dream.