Thursday, November 10, 2011

Healthy Identity Development: LGBT Studies at the University of Maryland

I am taking a class this semester called LGBT families. It is a sociology course that discusses LGBT issues as they pertain to the family, including marriage, parenting, LGBT children, etc. This course, which an intensive upper-level course, requires a lot of academic reading. I was never a big fan of academic articles; I find them boring, pretentious, and arcane. However, the articles from this class are some of my favorite that I have come across while at college, and there was an idea in an article I read a few weeks ago that I would like to share with all of you.

In a very simple sentence, the author explained coming out as “healthy identity development for an LGBT individual.”

Now, this might seem obvious, simple, or even cliché – but as someone who comes from an orthodox upbringing and has come out, I am constantly and consistently frustrated at the lack of visibility of gay men and women in the orthodox community. I am frustrated for two reasons: one selfish, and one selfless and caring. I am frustrated because as someone who has been accepted, welcomed with open arms, and ultimately not ridiculed at all as gay individual in an orthodox community, I yearn for all of the closeted gay individuals in the orthodox community to come out (I know you’re there, guys). Selfishly, this visibility will make a stronger community of orthodox gay individuals, a stronger stance of orthodox gay individuals, and with the appearance of more and more gay individuals in the orthodox community, perhaps minds can be changed, opinions can be altered, and “gay” won’t have to have such a taboo attached to it. I yearn for a time when homosexuality is socially accepted and recognized in the orthodox community. I believe that with more visibility, this goal can be achieved.

In a caring manner, I desire for orthodox gays to come out for themselves. As quoted in my LGBT article, coming out is part of healthy identity development. For those of you who might be gay and closeted and think you can “wing this,” and “get married to a woman without any repercussions,” and think that “your community won’t accept you” or “what will my mom say?” or “how will I ever marry a girl?” or “will I ever be normal? How can I be?!”– whatever your fears are: know that they will not come true. I was there once. So many other out, gay Jews have been there, too. I know what fears and anxiety you possess. After having the experience of coming out, please understand me that things will not only be fine, they will be great. Coming out was the healthiest thing I could do for my overall well-being, and, as specified in the aforementioned article – part of my healthy identity development.

This may sound like a plus for Dan Savage’s "it gets better project", and in a way is it – me telling you things will be more than fine once you come out. This post was actually sparked by the blogger Another Frum, Gay Jew and his most recent post, highlighting the importance of being the person you were meant to be, not what your society, family, or community expects of you. Today, I come with Dan Savage’s message from an orthodox standpoint, desiring you to come out both for the community and very much so for yourself as part of healthy identity development that turns you into the person you who really are and the person you are meant to be. 


  1. "...I yearn for all of the closeted gay individuals in the orthodox community to come out (I know you’re there, guys)."

    Do you respect those who want to struggle against homosexual urges (wherever they come from)? Why do you think that just because YOU came out that EVERYONE else should?

  2. Well, DB. You ask a fair question - "Why should everyone else come out just because I did?" Well, let me clarify that I don't want everyone to come out just because I did. As very clearly expressed in this posting, I want people to come out for two reasons – to make a stronger community of gay, orthodox individuals, but also (and more importantly!) so that they can uninhibitedly be themselves. Having to hide who you really are and sequester who you were meant to be is unnatural and unhealthy. Accepting who you are an coming out is a natural and healthy party of identity development, just like my article said.

  3. Sam- plz honestly explain why it is important to come out as homosexual....
    There is no way to disprove this man of genius. Before you rationalize, try to hear him out.
    Peace and Love,
    Friend always

  4. Dear Anonymous,

    I listened to this man's speech. Thank you for posting it. You asked me to honestly explain why it is important to come out as a homosexual. Well I do explain those reasons in this blog posting and I also reiterated them the comment before yours. Reference those if you are still unclear why I think it is important for orthodox gay Jews to come out.

    That being said, I understand the counter arguments against what I said, both before I listened to this Rabbi's shiur and afterwards. I know that it is against the torah to act on your homosexuality and that even if you are gay, because the torah says to not act on it and the torah is the eternal book of truth, we should follow it and those who are gay, should very simply not act on their desires.

    This is where the conflict between being gay and frum lies. One may think that because the torah forbids any homosexual act, they should not act on it for the sake of the torah. But that - very simply -is not healthy. It is not healthy physiologically, but much more so - it is not healthy for identity development. Closeted frum gay boys who don't act on their desires might think that what they are doing is correct and even gallant. But please know that by doing this to yourself you are not being a genuine, real, happy, content, or authentic person. You are pretending to be someone who you are not, and although the torah does say to not be gay, it is emotionally unhealthy to pretend that you are not.

    I hear and understand your argument, and even understand why one might desire to follow such a path. I disagree, and think that this is the focal point of schism between orthodoxy and homosexuality: do I not be myself because the torah tells me to? Or should I give up all of my judaism and just be gay? I think there is a balance that one can strike, and that is up the individual to forge. So many frum Jews are coming out and finding a comfortable balance between their religion and sexuality - and they are the happiest, most content people I have ever met: they have found themselves and have successfully completed their healthy identity development.

  5. I'm not going to comment on the conflict between Orthodoxy and Homosexuality. It's a debate that I, as a heterosexual, feel is appropriate for me to get into. No matter how much compassion I may have, at the end of the day I really have no idea just how painful it is to feel like the religion you were raised with does not fit with your biological makeup.

    One point I did want to make though:

    I don't think think it necessarily "gets better" for all those who come out, and I think it's important to keep that in mind when recommending that all those who are closeted should come out.

    You are from an Orthodox community that is clearly open-minded to be accepting of you. But not all communities are like that, and for some closeted gays, to come out would mean to cause much embarrassment to their family name. I know of numerous cases of people who were discriminated against in the Shidduch world because they have a gay sibling.

    That being said, it's important to acknowledge that not every community will welcome its youth who come out, and nor will every parent. For some, completing their sexual identity development will come at a high price that they may not be ready to pay.

    I agree with you that there are plenty of Orthodox people who are open-minded enough to welcome you regardless of your sexuality. But let's not give people the impression that coming out will ALWAYS be great.

  6. It sounds like you believe that in banning homosexual behavior, the Torah is recommending a course of action that is emotionally unhealthy. But being Orthodox means seeing the Torah as the word of God. Yes, the Rabbis interpret the law and apply it to new situations, but this particular law is pretty straightforward. You said in the comments that you know many frum Jews with a "comfortable balance" but how much space is there for such a balance to be intellectually honest?
    It is definitely hard but possible to reconcile Orthodox Judaism with being gay: just see it as a personal challenge and stay celibate. But if you genuinely think that a ban against gay sex is an inherently bad law, in that it stunts character growth, does that make you question the way Orthodox Jews insist that all of the Torah's commandments are relevant to our times and are still demanded by God?

  7. Hey there, Fellow Terp - how goes it?

    So it is intriguing that your blogspot name is Fellow Terp because that probably means that I know who you are. As opposed to other anonymous posters who post their comments as "anonymous" and I have absolutely no idea who they are, your blogging name narrows my guessing pool down by...a lot. So...hey. Maybe I'll see you around.

    Anyways, Fellow Terp, you claim that being orthodox means seeing the Torah as the word of God. But....can I ask you something? Since when did you become the expert on defining what it means to be orthodox? According to whom does orthodox mean seeing the torah as the word of God? That might be your understanding of "orthodoxy" but to others, that might not be the best way to define it.

    You question the "comfortable balance" that I and other frum, gay Jews try to achieve and question the intellectual honesty of this balance. Being frum and gay is a struggle. It is also an inherent contradiction. We understand that. Which is why we attempt to forge this balance; we attempt to create this space that best suits our needs and desire to be part of the orthodox community we were brought up while simultaneously being happy, content, and emotionally healthy in the lifestyle God chose for us. There is no right answer to being frum and gay. I simply come at it (with many others behind me), with the idea that we love Judaism and don't want to be ostracized just because we are being true to ourselves, true to the way God made us. We attempt to live an orthodox life to the best of our ability, thereby allowing us (hopefully) the comfort of being ourselves in the religious community we were raised in.

  8. Why do all Orthodox gays need to go around parading and proselytizing their homosexuality? I'm not saying you don't have the right to defend yourself here on this blog or express your thoughts. I'm all for it. In fact, that's why people come here to read your blog... cuz they want to hear what you have to say. It's your outlet. But I'm still curious. How come everyone (or if that's inaccurate - so many of those) who "comes out" becomes an instant missionary for the Gay Mission. People go from quiet, scared and closeted to waivers of the proverbial gay flagship overnight. Nobody can just be. They need to go around convincing the straight majority that we're not open-minded enough. We need to be told that there's something innately wrong with our community for not producing more gay kids. I dunno... cancer patients often blog to share their plight... but they rarely blame their audience for not supporting them properly. Also, frum people who announce their homosexuality are feel like they're the world's most educated philosophers and rabbis. They are given the unshakeable right to assert what G-d wants of us and contemplate the meaning of life with an authority that cannot be questioned. You question the gay guy as he spews his thoughts - you are instantly closed minded. A bully of the poor guy who is just trying to find his way. I say, equal rights... I don't stand for unsupported arguments or flawed logics so I won't just accept any and every preaching Orthodox homosexual's claims to knowing better than the closed-minded gays. This is to say nothing of your arguments.. they are fine.

    Again, this is your blog, so maybe its rude to raise these kinds of questions.

  9. Dear HosesTea,

    You know, honesty is an amazingly underrated virtue in my opinion, and I appreciate your honesty, HonesTea. You ask questions that many people might think, but few ever express. Allow me to give you my two cents:

    You bring up extremely fair questions. Why do orthodox gays feel the need to proselytize their ideas and thoughts and what not? When you think about it, there really are quite a few blogs out there for gay, orthodox Jews. But, HonesTea: perhaps you are only thinking it from your perspective? There are two sides to every situation. Allow me to paint you ours.

    We live in a society today - and I'm talking about contemporary American society, not just the Jewish world - that still discriminates against us. Just like women in the 20s and 30s, blacks in the 60s, and any other minority that has attempted to achieve rights in America - we are that "new" minority that is socially discriminated against and legally, we have laws preventing us from being who we are. Granted, America has come a very long way - 7 states have passed marriage equality laws and straight people - especially on the coasts of this country - have come to accept us and accept our desire to be accepted by our society. Just for your own reference, here is a map of the current legal situation with marriage equality in America:

    Anyways, that being said, when a gay person comes out (again, not specifically referencing a Jewish gay person), you overcome this huge obstacle that probably has been inhibiting you for as long as you have been closeted for. Could you imagine trying to be yourself and being limited by your country/society, and if you are Jewish - your family, community, religion, etc? It's very hard. And for the majority of gay, frum Jews who come out and have overwhelmingly positive experiences (i.e. me), I can attest that I desire to spread my thoughts and experiences to express to gay people that "it's ok/it gets better" and to straight people that "I am normal, I happen to be gay, and I desire the same rights, respect, and privileges that you all get for being yourself."

    I don't think I ever called anyone out for not being open-minded enough OR for having an innate problem with your community for not producing more gay kids. I/we may be frustrated with the community and/or think that there is something intrinsically wrong with the community, but that's not because the community doesn't produce enough gay kids - that is ridiculous. It's because the community at large doesn't accept us and that, HonesTea, is what is so hard. Striving to overcome the obstacle of being closeted, finally able to be ourselves, and then being shunned by our community that we were raised in? That is our perspective, HonesTea, and that is why, I think, a lot of gay frum Jews attempt to discuss and express their experiences and thoughts.

  10. For me personally, I think that ultimate acceptance of gay individuals within the frum community is by having those who are gay come out. With more visibility (as expressed in this blog posting), people will likely/hopefully become more accepting and those of us who are gay can achieve the acceptance that we so desire.

    Oh, and by the way - cancer patients don't need to blog about not being supported properly, because they are objectively and unanimously supported. We frum gay Jews are not.

    Lastly, HonesTea, we frum gay Jews are not and do not think that we are the world's most educated philosophers and rabbis. We do not have nor do we think that we have "the unshakeable right to assert that G-d wants of us." It is combative of you to assume that and accuse us of that, because you know we don't actually think of ourselves that way. The ONLY thing that being gay and frum does for us is to have us start to be philosophical and reevaluate what G-d wants of us. It is hard to be a frum gay Jew. There are inherent contradictions. That is why we pose such philosophical and educated questions - because we do need to contemplate the meaning of life, for our lives need meaning –since no one previously has taken the initiative to assert objective or clarifying meaning to our lives as frum gay Jews.

    For all of the other frum, gay Jews who follow this blog - am I wrong? Do you agree/disagree with anything that I said? Is there anything you would add?

    I hope this helps you understand us a little bit better, HonesTea.

  11. @Sam, great response, just gonna add my own two cents.


    I take issue with a lot of what you said and the tone in your writing. Firstly, all, or even most, of Orthodox gay Jews do not "go around parading and proselytizing their homosexuality." In fact, most don't. I wish more would. I wish we had more blogs like this one and Another Frum Gay Jew. Because we do have a voice, and we do need to be heard. Because we can't, as you said, "just be." Every time we turn a corner, there is someone else telling us not to "just be." To change, or hide, or be ashamed. There are many people in the "straight majority" who are incredibly open-minded and accepting, but there are also those who aren't.

    Secondly, there is no one that I've ever heard of saying that there's something wrong with the Jewish community for "not producing more gay kids." Maybe you just didn't phrase it properly, but your wording is extremely offensive. Not only that, it is also extremely wrong. I wouldn't wish homosexuality on any Jewish Orthodox child.

    Thirdly, Sam said it, but I'll echo what he wrote- the parallel you drew between gay Jews and cancer patients is inaccurate. Cancer patients don't blog about lack of support because they get support from everyone.

    Fourthly and finally, out gay Jews "feel like they're the world's most educated philosophers and rabbis." I'm not out, but I have written articles and I do have a blog, and I can tell you from personal experience that no, this is not how gay Jews feel. Every time I write something, I question over and over what I'm saying before I post it. I welcome people who question my statements, as opposed to just people who simply accept what I write. We don't feel like we're the world's most educated philosophers- we are just trying to make our way in this world like anyone else, and choose to share our thoughts publicly.

  12. Sam - you make some very good points and address each one of my concerns thoroughly with sensitivity and thought. I now understand your motivation to share, ponder and blog much more than ever. I also appreciate the fact that you were able to accept my critique without taking offense to my concerns or the casual style in which I raised them. That's true open-mindedness. Way to go. Blog on!

    Elle G. Biti - 1. I'm not sure what exactly you found offensive. Casual, maybe. But offensive? Have you seen some of the stuff people post on blogs like this? I think I'm allowed to ask questions as much as anyone else, especially if they're not antithetical or hateful.
    Also, I don't fully understand your explanations. You explain that there aren't enough "paraders" out there, and there should be more because "we have a voice and it needs to be heard". Is that really a good reason? The other reason seems kind of petty. The general argument was: "We are frowned upon by many, therefore we must roar back. How else can we survive the opression we face every day?". Not sure any minority group (as you put it) would gain from that kind of attitude. It's simply not productive.

    Also, you say "I welcome people who question my statements, as opposed to just people who simply accept what I write."... so please don't take offense to my "tone" or comments.

    I think Sam addressed all my questions sufficiently (ie don't feel like a lack of response is a "defeat", I'm not trying to win any battles here), but I suggest you reevaluate why exactly it is so important to share your feelings and if what you presented above is logical, honest and productive.

  13. Hey Sam, I think you are really brave in having this blog and hopefully it sparks some respectful conversation. You and the other readers might be interesting in checking this group out:

  14. Hey Sam,

    1. Shkoyach on this blog. You write extremely well, and it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there like that. I'm especially impressed with the way you respond in such a level-headed way to all comments, even the not so nice ones.

    2. From one of your comments above: "According to whom does orthodox mean seeing the torah as the word of God? That might be your understanding of "orthodoxy" but to others, that might not be the best way to define it. "

    In that DO you define orthodoxy and being orthodox? (big question these days, I know, but I'm curious what you're definition is)