Monday, September 26, 2011

The Limiting Bubble - With Limiting People

Over the past two weeks, I have received many comments and reactions to my blog – both on and off my page – and I just wanted to specifically address two of them here.

Firstly, a very brave and inspirational woman from NY specifically addressed my first posting. She asked me to discuss if my coming out and “becoming gay” was only a result of an exposure that I may have had to gay culture or gay individuals. As I understand her, she ultimately desires to reiterate that allowing openly homosexual families to mingle and interact with “straight families” will have NO affect the sexuality or sexual orientation of children and family members from these heterosexual families. This woman - who is gay, orthodox, and has children - has experienced difficulty in enrolling her kids in a modern orthodox Jewish day school in New York. I stand behind her and can support her from my own personal experience that my homosexuality is not a testament of being exposed to gay individuals or any form of homosexuality. When I finally realized at age 20, it was not because of any exposure to gay individuals. It only took me so long to realize, admit, and accept it because of the kind of society and community (and bubble!) that I was raised in. Gay, orthodox Jews and their families should not be treated any differently because they are gay. So what if a child has two frum mothers or two frum fathers? What do people have against these children? Are they fearful of catching a disease? Are they scared their children are going to “turn gay?” I do hope that there can be unanimous acceptance of all frum children – from straight parents, single parents, or gay ones – in orthodox day schools in the future. It really shouldn’t make a difference.
Another reader of my blog commented on my first posting, asking me if growing up in an Orthodox community might have masked my homosexuality from myself; namely, that Orthodox adolescents are taught to be non-sexual, and that sexuality and physicality is for marriage only, etc. I think there is a very simple answer to this question: Yes. Since sexuality is a bit tabooed in modern orthodox communities and schools, anything “different” – i.e. homosexuality – is even more tabooed. So if Mike kissed Rebecca (or even hugged her! *gasp*), it would be a "big deal" and the couple would likely not tell any adults because being physical and sexual is not allowed according to the laws followed by orthodox Jews. That being said, since sexuality is downplayed in orthodox communities, imagine homosexuality, which is still struggling to secure normalcy in the secular world, being “normal” or “freely discussed and accepted” in orthodox circles. Yeah. Not a chance. Being raised orthodox, due to the objective and communal negative views on sexuality as a whole, definitely aided in the fact that I did not recognize, discover, or accept my homosexuality until age 20.

Unfortunately, these two responses relate to the same issue, which, according to me, is the primary issue that most orthodox, gay individuals face. There simply isn't (or there hasn't been) any recognition or allowance for gay individuals within in the confines of the orthodox bubble. The bubble can be very limiting, and the people in can be even more so. The one hope I have for the future is that being gay won't be considered "bad" or "abnormal" in the orthodox community. With time, I hope that this idea - that a certain percentage of the population is gay (both orthodox and otherwise) - can be passed down just as readily as the biblical and lawful mesorah. If that is done, maybe one day, being gay can simply be a neutral characteristic of an individual that everyone will accept.



  2. As orthodox Jews, we have a concept of tochecha- rebuking fellow Jews who commit sins and we also there are many times that still today Jews will be "put in cheirim"/excommunicated/not be accepted in the orthodox circles.
    For example, someone who won't divorce his wife and withholds a get is not allowed in Shuls. This is not because we are fearful of "catching a disease", but because some people do not have the PRIVILEGE to be associated with the orthodox community. When behavior is reckless (against the torah, unmoral, etc)- they lose this privilege and are not allowed in shuls, stores, to receive aliyot, etc... THESE ARE NOT RIGHTS, THEY ARE PRIVILEGES...
    That being said, you will obviously point to the clear discrepancy between homosexuality and other egregious sins. Namely- one does not necessarily have the option of not being gay, where he does not have to commit sins. Granted, i agree with you. If someone is homosexual, and rly strict about halacha- ppl wont know s/he is homosexual. Even if this person is out of the closet, if it is clear that they mantain strict beliefs and are committed to torah values- they should get that aliyah, bc they are not necessarily doing anything wrong..
    However when there are "two frum mothers or two frum fathers", BY DEFINITION THEY ARE NOT FRUM! Even if they are not having sex- which inevitably is impossible as there are no such thing as platonic relationships. And as acting on homosexuality is one of the worst sins a jew can commit- it is possibly appropriate to be disassociated from the community...
    Now why should the kids suffer?
    thats another story, and some possible explanations- might be that going to Jewish schools is not a right. or that schools do not want to condone this assur lifestyle. It is one thing to be Homosexual, it is another thing to act on it and flaunt it.
    Just because the liberal secular society says it is critical, normal and important for ppl to come out of the closet, that does not make it right. If i want to kill someone, I would not come out and say i have a rly strong desire to commit murder... Our personal battles/struggles are Personal.. It is against torah to come out- i dont think that alone should deserve "exile" for the community- but if the person would stay in the closet he would be accepted, granted it would be awkward when he is given shidduchim,etc- but there are other ways to deal with this struggle.

  3. Hey Anonymous, thanks for your comment.

    By who's definition are "two gay mothers/fathers" not frum? Who decides what's "frum" and what's not? Shouldn't we be judging favorably and assuming everyone is upholding halacha just fine? Why should we look for faults in people?

  4. By God's definition. The torah uses a much more negative word by homosexual relations than it does by even idol worship, murder, adultery, etc... I am obviously still maintaining the difference between one who is gay, and one who acts based on these temptations.
    Assuming that you agree to this- which every intellectually honest person should- as the proof texts are compelling and glaring, then by definition- 2 gay mothers/fathers cannot be frum... Having gay sex is the antifrum!! Even though, they are only perforim this egregious sin behind closed doors- by the fact that they are married- it is obvious that they are having gay sex, and is probably considered as one doing an aveirah publicly... And in many circimstances, if one blatantly and publicly desecrates the Torah, he is banned from the community (Someone who publicly breaks shabbos doesnt get aliyah in shul)......

  5. Anonymous, again you are making assumptions- just because a gay couple is married and happy together does not mean they are having gay sex. No one in the community has proof of that. You don't know what they are doing behind closed doors.

    And I'm not sure what community you live in, but as far as many communities I'm involved in- no one asks who in the room is Mechalel Shabbat, or who in the room keeps Taharat HaMishpacha before they get called up to the Torah, even though those things are behind closed doors. By your logic, when a husband and wife live together, we should assume they are having sex behind closed doors at all times! But theyre not allowed to for almost half of each month! But they still get Kibbudim and called up to the Torah in shul.

  6. Anonymous: I would like to start by saying that if every person who did any sin would be considered not religious then Judaism would not exist anymore. Humans are, by definition, not perfect, and everyone makes mistakes so get off your high-horse because I would venture to say that you have probably sinned yourself and if you are "religious" as you say then Im sure you are getting called up to the torah for aliyot, as well.
    Secondly, you avoided the question of who you are to judge another Jew. Why are you capable of deciding who is able to performs G-d's mitzvot? Only G-d should judge and by not allowing a homosexual man to complete his G-d given mitzvot(The same mitzvot you were given) then I don't know what kind of person-let alone jew-you are.

    Sam: I have been keeping up with your blog regularly. Overall I have found your position to be very interesting, HOWEVER, you blame a whole lot of people and institutions for the life you live. I don't know if you believe in nature or nurture, or maybe even a little of both, but you are constantly talking about a "bubble" that exists, which I agree it does, but not to the extent that you make it sound like. I come from a similar Jewish "bubble" to the one you come from, but you make it seem like your living in "Mormon-ville" or Meah Shearim. You spent at least a year in a secular college that is by no means quiet about sexuality before you came out. I just don't understand how you could put full blame for your lack of knowledge of your sexuality on one big institution that you refer to as this Jewish "bubble". I am not saying that it wasn't a factor but I would like to see you explore other options as well because you keep repeating yourself in your blog.
    Besides for that, more power to you. I hope you live a happy life and the life that you want to live.

    1. Sorry Sam and Anonymous 2 for the belated response-- I only just found out that you (Sam) were writing a blog about your experiences (power to ya!).
      Just for some context: Sam, we haven't spoken in a loooong time, but I remember getting along well at a basketball tournament back in high school (I went to a Modern Orthodox Jewish Day School very similar to yours) and, frankly, wondering then if you were gay... just to put that out there.
      Anyway, in response to this post in particular, I agree with Sam and I don't think he's exaggerating very much when he says that the "Jewish Modern Orthodox bubble" structured his thoughts on sexuality (and homosexuality in particular), though Sam-- you're obviously free to respond to this on your own. Although I'm not gay, I had a similar experience to Sam in terms of understanding the role of sexuality, having been educated to believe that physicality is inferior (and even detrimental) to intellectual love/affection. When I had sex with my non-Jewish boyfriend for the first time last year, I spiraled into numerous questions like "if he wants to be physical with me, then he clearly can't like my mind too," and "aren't we cheapening our relationship by being physical instead of appreciating each other's intellectual capacities?" I slowly uncovered the role I saw that my Modern Orthodox background played in constructing my perceptions of the value of physically connecting with someone one cares for. I'm not saying that sex (or physical/sexual activity in general) is the most important aspect of a relationship by any means, but I do think that it's important to recognize it as a complementary activity that does not inherently denigrate a relationship. Thus, directly to Anonymous 2's comment, it is important not to underestimate the power that an institution (especially one that purports a strong, all-encompassing worldview) has on the mentality of those who live within it.

  7. Anonymous, before we can begin discussing some of the general questions and ideas that you raised, we must begin by correcting your false statements: "By God's definition. The torah uses a much more negative word by homosexual relations than it does by even idol worship, murder, adultery, etc..."
    Now whats interesting here, is that that statement is false. Here are a list of things that the torah describes as "toevah":
    1. In context of the actions of foreign nations:
    a. Giving son or daughter to molech, one who practices divinations, an astrologer, one who reads omens, a sorcerer, an animal charmenr, one who inquires of ov or yidoni, or one who consulds the dead. Devarim 18:9-12
    b. Taking the gold or silver from atop carved images of other gods. Devarim 7:25
    c. It is used in reference to homosexuality 3 or 4 times (can't remember)
    d. Also I'll mention that throughout nevi'im the term is used many more times to describe the same acts (spec. idol worship and the like) and specifically describing them as acts of other nations that beni yisrael must separate themselves from, with the addition, specifically in Yechezkel, of referencing; usury (18:13), haughtiness and pride (16: 47-50)
    e. To sum up, it is mainly used in reference to actions that are prominent in other nations that g-d does not want benei yirael to engage in.

    2. Other contexts
    a. Sacrifice of a blemished animal (Deut: 17:1)
    b. Sacrifices bought through prostitution (Deut 19:19)
    c. Cross-dressing, and btw, women wearing pants would fall under this prohibition (Deut. 22:5)
    d. Two parties remarrying (Deut. 24:4)
    e. Using unequal weights and measures (Deut. 25:16)

    3. Throughout Mishlei
    a. Used in reference to various moral failings (check it out yourself)

    Ok, now that we have this list, we can see that the torah does in fact use the word in reference to idol worship, which you said it didn't. While this in and of itself would be a negative thing, since idol worship is one of the most serious sins, it is used to describe a long list (see above) of other activities as well, all of which are bad to different degrees, but non as horrible, in my opinion, as murder.
    I do not wish to go through and examine each and every sin described by the word toevah, but suffice to say that if people who are known to have definitely cheated in business at some point or another are given alyot in shul, then we certainly not dishonor an individual whose sin has not been verified (two witnesses, etc.).

    Though at certain points in this post I may have written with a slightly condescending/attacking tone, I apologize, that happens to be how I write. I encourage you to look at all the sources just mentioned inside and think on the matter, see if it changes some of your opinions.

  8. Anonymous, "Assuming that you agree to this- which every intellectually honest person should- as the proof texts are compelling and glaring".

    Ariel B, you should not have apologized for your tone. You should, however, have pointed out that anonymous is an obnoxious, pride-less, scumbag. How do you have the balls to write something 100% false and then to claim that "every intellectually honest person" should agree with you because "the proof texts are compelling and glaring", your lack of intellectual honesty astounds me sir, truly. At least you wrote anonymously, it shows that you understand the disgusting nature of your actions, and would be ashamed to ascribe your name to them.

    Sam, good luck with everything. The road ahead of you is littered with difficulty, as I'm sure you're well aware. Still, always keep in mind "Lo alecha hamelacha ligmor, velo ata ben chorin lehibatel mimenah" "It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it".

    Keep writing and all the best.