I was born and raised in Baltimore, MD. Although I have moved to College Park, Maryland to attend college, I still mentally consider Baltimore my hometown and colloquially refer to it as “home.” So, a few Sundays ago, I went home.
I went home to attend a friend’s wedding. I didn’t think much of this wedding; it was after a long, hard week at school and after a rather fun 21st birthday weekend, so until I actually changed into my suit and arrived at the wedding hall, I didn’t think twice about it. Once I was there, however, new thoughts and manifestations started forming in mind. There are two separate things I want to discuss about this wedding: firstly, being “out” at a public event in my hometown, and secondly, my thoughts on the wedding itself.
The bottom line was - this was the first public occasion I was at in my hometown after coming out. Truthfully, although I only go to school less than an hour from home, I really don’t go home that often. Aside from holidays and the occasional “dinner with dad” evenings, I can say I go home roughly three times each semester. And, during many of those times, I only go to my physical house – i.e. I don’t wander around the streets of Baltimore, have many social run-ins at the kosher supermarket or at the local restaurants, and when I do go to shul (re: synogogue), I tend to stick with my three of four friends who are there that day. So, I haven’t really seen the parents, families, and acquaintances who know me from the community as a child. Yet, as soon as I walked into the 500-guest wedding, my childhood raced past me in a blur or colors. A very surreal blur of colors. Old teachers, moms, Rabbis, friends, peers, family friends – they all popped back into my now-gay life. I wasn’t sure how to handle them. Can I assume they know? Do I bring it up in conversation? Should I fake who I am just because I am back in the community I was closeted in for over 20 years? I couldn’t make an objective decision myself during the socializing time, so thank G-d I had a few friends from Maryland who were there; friends who know me, accept me, and socialize with me on a regular basis.
Mingling with the Baltimore orthodox community again was both anxiety producing and intriguing at the same time. I kept seeing people who I wanted to avoid, making a make-shift list in my head, and ducking behind waiters and carving stations to escape their barraging questions and fake “how are you?!s.” It was intriguing because since I left Baltimore over three years ago, I hadn’t publically socialized in such a large, social setting. The people I grew up with are frummer (more religious) than I remembered. Is her neckline really that high? Did she always cover her hair? Why does she look so damn frafrumpt (ridiculously religious)? While it was intriguing to internalize that either my community got more religious or that I forgot how religious my community was, it was also really difficult. Difficult, because I knew that my true identity would not be so easily accepted – publically - by a lot of people in this community. Obviously there are those who do love me and accept me - but definitely not the majority of the overall Baltimore community. I am so lucky to have amazing friends and a rather open-minded community on the University of Maryland campus. I guess I forgot how religious other communities might be, and as such, how close-minded/potentially unaccepting they might be, too.
Although difficult to internalize, it gave me more strength (cliché, I know, but so true!). I was reminded that this open-minded bliss that exists here on campus might not be the bliss I find myself in once I leave here. Granted, many communities (Jewish ones, too!) have come a long way and are being more accepting, but my 4-hour excursion back to Baltimore reawakened me like a really strong cup of coffee on a Monday afternoon. I need to be prepared to deal with the challenges that may continue to face me even though I’ve come out and have been out for over 8 months now.
On another note, this was the first wedding I had been to since I have come out. Lots of hard, emotional questions manifested during the ceremonies. Will this ever happen to me? Who will walk down first? Will my parents walk me down my aisle? Will my to-be-spouse’s parents walk him down the aisle? Will there even be an aisle? Will there even be a ceremony? What kind of Jewish ceremony can happen at a gay wedding? Forget religion for a moment – will I even be able to get legally married in the state that I want to be in? Will my federal government, who preaches “all men are created equal” and “every person has the inalienable right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” ever legitimize and recognize my marriage? Will my family ever recognize my marriage? What about my dear friends in the Baltimore community? I understand that I have chosen to live a life that attempts to bridge orthodoxy/orthodox culture and being gay, and that is a tough balance to create - but will there be any place for me when it comes time to marry?
I know what the answer is: there is no right or wrong answer (for now). This is the first generation, really, where orthodox gays are finally coming out and attempting to live their lives. Most of these questions haven’t been answered yet, and I think time will only tell for a lot of them.
Mazel Tov, Mazel Tov.