Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Blast from the Past

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. 


  1. Sam - I think it's great that you are using your blog to work out your feelings and issues. I, too, found a public forum to be cathartic.

    Weddings are, by their very nature, very emotional. It has become, for us, a very challenging rite of passage to witness and participate in. When I was younger, weddings were something I looked forward to. At the time when I got married, weddings reminded me of what I had. Later, as our kids got older, I connected to the parents and not the bride/groom. But no matter what the connection, weddings bring strong, visceral feelings to the surface.

    At Eli's wedding, I was in tears at the loss of what I would never have with one of my sons. And so I so deeply understand a loss, in a sense, of what you cannot have because you chose another path. But the point is that you do have choices and options. They may be outside the lines, but you still have a future that can be full of love and possibilities for life.

    You are right that you are fortunate to be living at a time when tolerance is part of our vernacular. You will have your challenges, and maybe it will be a private ceremony that you create. But if you invite me, and I am able to, I will be there to celebrate, just like Gilad would have done.

    So hang in there and I get it. I get you.
    With love,
    Michelle/Gilad's mom

  2. As a "frafrumpt" orthodox jew I can't help but be a little offended by your post. While I think you raise some valid concerns (and by all means are entitled to them) I think you don't give your community enough credit. Not everyone is staring and not everyone is judging, instead you are judging them based on their level of religious observance and nothing else.

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  4. Anonymous!!! You are right. Not everyone is staring and judging. However, in my defense - stereotypes do exist for a reason, and a lot of the time many religious people are staring and judging. It was wrong of me to assume that everyone does, or that just because you are frafrumpt does not mean that you won't accept me. I just hope you can be one of them who does.

  5. @frafrumpt:
    Maybe such projections happen for a reason. Namely, I think that anyone that has spent a significant amount of time in an Orthodox community, realizes that although outwardly accepting at times, there is an implicit obligation to conform to the system. Do you really think that after reading about how homosexuality is immoral in the weekly Torah portion, that a religious Jew will be able to easily look at the author and not pass judgment?

    There's a reason it has taken so much time to accept homosexuals into our communities; and I don't think it's because people like Sam are too busy "judging them based on their level of religious observance".

    Keep up the good work. The introspection is refreshing.

  6. One more thing: If you don't advocate stereotyping, maybe you should not use the word "fafrumpt" either. And, I think the word actually means messy rather than religious....

    Just saying. Tolerance goes both ways....
    Michelle/G's mom

  7. Michelle, I honestly didn't know that frafrumpt is a derogatory or stereotyping word. If it is, I'm sorry for using it. I obviously know what it's like to be stereotyped, and I am all about tolerance. I'm sorry if I offended anyone and I meant no harm by using that word!

  8. I stumbled upon your blog today for the first time and I've been fascinated catching up on your posts. I was at the wedding you were at. You do not know me, but I know we have the same bday (facebook) and it sort of creeps me out because I was reading, i was thinking to myself: "ok im not gay, but I can relate to so much that you were talking about."
    I enjoy reading about your experience of this all and the community from your perspective.
    But along with Gilad's mother, I think that the people who will be there for you will be those who truly love you.

  9. Sam, I of course saw you at the wedding and I knew you were out but didn't bring it up because, honestly, it doesn't change much for me. I was your teacher, I was (I hope) a friend and mentor. That doesn't change. I may disagree philosophically with your choices and lifestyle, but guess what, I disagreed with some of your lifestyle choices in high school too (people weren't really "Shomer" in HS were they?), but that never stopped me from caring. And, I also must say that my care didn't stem from a paycheck or a job, it stemmed and still stems from a deeply felt duty of for care students, and especially Jewish kids (even if you are legal now, you're still a kid to me).

    As far as your waxing political and philosophical, continue to do so, it's healthy to discuss our legal system. I personally believe that gay marriage will be legalized (with or without my support) across the country within 20 years. How is it not a violation of civil rights given our laws, statutes, rights and legal precedent? That doesn't mean I or anyone else have to agree with it, but it does mean we have to accept it.

    As far as your role as an openly gay Orthodox Jew, I cannot fathom how anyone can reconcile living a life that embraces both. Thank G-d I do not have to make that choice and I don't envy your soul searching. But, I know that Hashem loves you, Hashem will continue to bless you and give you what you need daily despite what may be construed as sins. Shoot, there are plenty frummer than thou people who are only frum on the outside but are scary on the inside. Only Hashem and you know what is true for you and what is in your heart. It's really none of my or anybody else's business.

    I will speak to one other point. You mentioned feeling judged at the wedding. I believe that much of that was your own projection. But, I don't deny that people probably did judge you. Did anyone actually admonish you out loud? If they did, shame on them as they probably don't know the first thing about proper tochacha. And, if no one did, then relax a bit more and try to enjoy the weddings that will be coming. You're going to be who you are regardless of what we all think anyway.

    Lastly, if you are ever back "home" for a more extended period, I want to get you back on stage again.

    Gavriel "Mr." Lewin

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  11. I don't like to post on here much, but Gavriel "Mr." Lewin makes a great point in his last full paragraph. I'm sure it's hard to come back and face the "frafrumt" community, but you'd be surprised how little our personal religious lifestyles have effected the way in which we (I speak on behalf of those with whom I have conversed... needless to say it's a juicy topic that has come up at many a Shabbat table) view you as a person. I think you would be much more confident if you understood how much the friends, acquaintances and families from back home still respect you. People are generally cool with it. I'm not suggesting everyone thinks its "ideal" or agrees with all of your subsequent decisions, but I can tell you we never let that get in the way.

    So I urge you - try to ignore what you think the books or rabbis want us to think of you and discover what we're actually thinking and feeling. I'm not sure that wedding should have been so awkward. I don't know if you had to avoid anyone. In fact, it may be beneficial for you (in the future) to make your way back "home" more often. I don't think you have to daven at the Agudah or hang out in 7Mile with people who barely know you but have "heard the news", but you should definitely get back into things with your section of the community. Those who cared for you and still want to. Fact is that those who were once closest to you still should be and will be. Running away won't help anyone become even more comfortable and understanding. We'll welcome you into our lives if you will let us. If you try and avoid us, we won't have that opportunity. We won't have "new Sam" (who is really just old Sam with some new discoveries) in our lives.

    Keep it up.

  12. I think one of the most comforting things about leaving your hometown is the chance to recreate yourself and completely reinvent who you were in highschool. I totally get the discomfort you must have felt going back to Baltimore, though maybe not for the same reason. But when a person "leaves the nest" the last thing they want to do is return to the same box they used to live in, especially such a constricting box as Baltimore (at least that's how I feel when I go back).

    As for the wedding, it's always so hard to go weddings and not know when it's going to be your turn or if you'll ever find someone to love you and whom you can love too. I can't even imagine what it must be like for you, Sam, dealing with the added challenge of being a gay, orthodox jew. But as always, I extend a massive kol hakavod to you for coming out and for using this blog to share your thoughts and feelings to all of us.

    Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom from Israel,

  13. While I always enjoyed the adage of "be who you are and say how you feel because those who matter don't mind and those who mind don't matter", sometimes that comes with a grain of sals (sic).

    We're always so obssessed over what other people are thinking about us. We always put ourselves at the center of attention and assume everyone is looking at us. That's why our hair has to be perfect before we head to the party, or our dress has to fit perfectly right. We're all so caught up in what others are saying about us. In reality though, everyone else is cheifly concerned only with themselves. While you presume all to be focused on you, everyone else is thinking that all others are focused on them, in a subconscious way.

    As a simple, yet proud and passionate Orthodox Jew myself, if there is one thing I learned over the years, it's to be "tocho k'boro", or one's outside, physical appearance and behavior must be reflective and congruous of an inner attitude of the same values. Thus, if you want to have a high neckline, be my guest, I think that is wonderful and full of true value, but the Torah also says "lo sisnah es achicha bilvavecha, thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart" (Leviticus 19:17).

    So maybe be more inclined to presume that if a woman wears a wig (which the Torah doesn't say explicitly) or a man chooses to wear a hat (which the Torah does not say to do) they also know that the Torah does explicitly command us to love every Jew, irrespective of differences. Like Mrs. Schwartz said, passing judgement works both ways, Shamu.

    No doubt this is hard to do, for that is why we still have a Temple not, but God (who does really like you) only asks that we try our best.

  14. @Frady Luda,

    As I responded to Mrs. Schwartz, I meant no judgement by my usage of the word "frafrumpt." The subtle, yet judgmental implications of that word were not made aware to me until after I used it, and I apologize (again) for using such a judgmental term. I am in no place to be judgmental or use derogatory language.

    I do agree with your sentiment that we're all so caught up in what others are saying about us, but in reality, everyone else is chiefly concerned only with themselves. However, I think I am an anomaly to this true sociological phenomenon.

    Yes, this would certainly be true if I were talking about my new shirt or my new tie or a new haircut. Who actually cares but me? But I am not. I am referring to coming out of the closet as a gay, orthodox Jew in a community which has yet to have such an individual be so vocal. I have been told that I have been a topic of conversation within the Baltimore community. No less than 15 (literally, 15) separate individuals have come up to me and told me that me and my coming out has come up in conversation in their presence over the past 2 months.

    So, yes - I don't think my assumption that people have been talking about me is incorrect. Given the unique-ness of my situation within the greater Baltimore community, I do think people are talking about me and my coming out (and not my new outfit or haircut). It's unfortunate most of it is behind my back, though, and no to me, because I'd be more than happy to talk about it. But that's for a future posting.....