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.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Burned Out and Coming Out

Due to the lengthiness of my last posting, I unfortunately had to stop mid-story, so I wanted to continue today. I hope to post more than once or twice per month, like I had initially intended. I also plan to respond to a few comments today that have been received since my last posting, one week ago.
I left off describing how I didn’t know I was gay until age 20, and I proposed explanations as to how that may have been the case (heteronormativity, modern orthodox bubble, etc). What I didn’t go on to explain last week was how I realized I was gay – what convinced me – and how the coming out process has been after that.
I have recognized (and have been reminded) that I need to be as vague as possible regarding certain parts of the stories on my blog, unfortunately, only because certain individuals may be offended or feel sensitively about this subject and its different facets. If you feel the need for more details or clarification, please feel free to comment or message me privately off of the page.
I will start with this: there was no one experience, or one interaction that made me realize I was gay. When I was away from Maryland during last winter break (January 2011), I was simply feeling very burned out. I use that term on purpose, because, I really felt like I was out of fuel, or that I couldn’t continue anymore. My whole life, subconsciously, I tried to fit into the molds of my society and be straight. That continued through my year in Israel and my first year and a half at Maryland. I’m not sure exactly what changed or caused me to realize my situation. Perhaps it was being in Tel Aviv, a city known for its acceptance of gay life and gay culture. Maybe it was because, for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who weren’t all Jewish and/or orthodox. Perhaps it was because I had simply stepped out of my modern orthodox bubble for three weeks and got a breath of fresh air. Maybe it was something as simple as time, and G-d had programmed me to only have 20 years of “straight fuel” in my tank (sorry for that really cheesy metaphor). Whatever it was, I was burned out. I was burned out of pretending to be someone that I wasn’t. I was burned out from living a life that wasn’t really mine. I was completely burned out, and that lead to my ~eight days of grayness, eight days of ambiguity, eight days of slumber. For the last week of January, from when I left Tel Aviv until I started Maryland again for the Spring Semester, I was just confused. I knew something was different, and I was uncovering something new, but I wasn’t sure what. I felt a bit aloof, especially from certain individuals, but then on that first Friday after winter break, it just hit me. I’m gay. Everything just lined up, everything was explained; it was the reasoning for all of the questioning. It was the reason why I had been feeling so burned out.
It was a Friday afternoon when I realized. I was overwhelmed. What do I do? Who do I talk to? I didn’t know any gay individuals, let alone gay orthodox individuals. I was still in a relationship at the time. I was about to start my 4th semester at Maryland. At the time, I was supposed to be ready to go to shul (synagogue) for services Friday night. I was – colloquially – a hot mess.
After that Shabbat, I made an alias facbeook account. I called myself Seth Feldman – I wanted to be as generic as possible. A few months previously, a friend of mine mentioned this gay, orthodox guy’s name in passing and, at the time, I obviously didn’t make any note of him because I was absorbed in my straight, orthodox world. However, when I made my alias account, I decided to message him. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to say, but I figured I would start with him, because I really had nowhere else to turn. I ended up just saying “Hey, I’m Seth, I was raised modern orthodox, I just realized I am gay, help, etc., etc.” He was very supportive. We ended up messaging a few times and he was a great outlet until I ended up actually telling people that Sam (not Seth) was gay.
The first person who knew that I was gay aside from myself was a friend who used to go to the University of Maryland with me. I didn’t even plan on telling her when I did – it was all her doing. It was the second week back from school, and she had noticed that I was acting differently - distancing myself, not being as social as I used to be, limiting my face time at hillel and around campus. So she told me to come over so we could talk and catch up. Somehow, this friend got it out of me. Being a psychology major, she was very forward with her questioning, and after 10 minutes of “what happened over winter break?” and me trying to brush it off with “nothing, I just realized some new stuff,” she progressed to “well, what did you realize?” Pretty much, she wasn’t buying my passive/ambiguous responses. She was asking so many direct questions that she got me to say“…uh….I don’t know….it was something biological!” She responded (this time with a smirk; I think she knew by now…) “what was that biological realization?” And then I said it. “Rachel. I’m gay.” That split second of time was –literally- the most surreal moment of my life. My mouth was dry. My whole body was shaking. I could barely breath. But…I had told someone. It was the first time I had told someone, and from the point on, it simply perpetuated to more and more people with her help and from the help of the boy I messaged from my alias facebook account. I eventually told my roommate, my sister, my parents over Pesach (Passover), more friends….and the only reason why I kept telling more people is because no one cared. During my ~two weeks of closetedness between winter break and the beginning of the semester, I was scared to tell anyone (hence the alias facebook account, etc). I thought my social and religious life was over. But…I was so wrong. Coming out was the best thing that I have ever done. I am a happier person now. I am more content with myself. I am able to forge stronger, closer relationships with my family and friends because I am a more genuine and legitimate person.
I really didn’t intend this blog to be a means to get other closeted individuals to come out. However, since I am writing about coming out now, I do want to specify now, that…it really does get better. If anyone is reading this and is in a similar situation to what I was in – please know, that it gets better. That’s all.
I really intended to write more, but both time and length have gotten the better of me for now. However, Aviva’s and Cindy’s comments (thanks, guys) will be addressed first on next week’s posting. And then I will continue with my thoughts and story/ies.

Have a great weekend. <3

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sam's gay???? Whaaat?!

I never really thought I would write a blog. I always had friends who wrote blogs; I was encouraged to read them, comment on them, follow them – but I never was into the idea of writing a blog myself. I also never had a reason to write one. In recent months, aside from acquiring a reason to write one, someone special has blog-ly influenced me, and that subconsciously convinced me to finally start this one. Welcome!

I write this blog for a few, very specific reasons. I want to share my story with close family and friends. I want to world to hear me, understand me, and to ask questions and comment as they deem necessary. I am an open book. I want to extend that notion here on my blog, and allow this to be a free space where I share my thoughts and ideas, and I hear back from all of you.

Yup…I’m gay. Who would have thought it, right? Well, I’ll tell you. Almost no one. If I were to quantitatively estimate, I’d say about 95% of the people I came out to had responses such as: “Haha, good one, Sam,” or “You’re funny, Sam,” or “Really?! No way!” My all-time favorite coming-out conversation, however, was:

“________, I have something to tell you.”
“Uh oh!”
“Don’t worry, _________, I’m not pregnant! [chuckle]”
“…And I know you’re not gay, so…what is it?”

That was an actual conversation. Most people are so shocked by my homosexuality, I think, because I don’t fit many of the stereotypes that are usually associated with gay individuals. For starters, I’m not excessively flamboyant. I quasi-like sports. I was never really into fashion or pop culture or what designer made Beyonce’s dress on this week’s cover of Cosmopolitan. To cap this all off, I always showed “interest” in girls and even had girlfriends. And, sadly enough (I will touch on this more later in this posting and in future ones, too), just simply being an orthodox Jew has the community as a whole assume you are straight. How many out-of-the-closet, orthodox gay Jews do you know? When I came out to myself 6 months ago, I was the only one that I knew of. For all of this and more, people found it hard to believe, at least initially, that I am gay. Understandable.

However, what is so crazy about my story is that I did not know I was gay until late January/early February of 2011. I simply had no self-awareness of my homosexuality. I never realized I was gay, I never told myself that I was gay, and I never told anyone else I was gay…but this is all entirely because I didn’t know I was gay until – literally -earlier this year. When I say all of this, I almost always get immediately bombarded with such questions as: “How did you not know you were gay until you were 20 years old?” or “How were you not conscious or aware of your sexuality until now?” I always embrace and accept these questions, because, truthfully – they are beyond legitimate. How didn’t I know? How did I live for 20+ years, 9 of which after I had started puberty, and not know that I was gay? These are all fantastic questions, but I think there do exist reasons why this was the case for me. For starters, I was raised very exclusively modern orthodox. I went to a modern orthodox school, I am from a modern orthodox family, I went to a modern orthodox synagogue, I went to a modern orthodox camp, all of my friends were modern orthodox…to sum it all up, I was raised in a very modern orthodox bubble and that’s all I was ever surrounded by.

Because of this bubble, I didn’t know that homosexuality actually existed. I obviously knew what “gay” meant, but (obviously) I didn’t know any gay people, and because I was never really into pop culture that much, I never really saw any themes of homosexuality on TV or the media (glee, modern family, etc). And, because my society culture, religion, and community all emphasized heteronormativity (, I never considered that anything else was an option. It wasn’t an option to be gay. No one Jewish was gay (at least in my community). How could they be?! If they were gay, then they couldn’t get married, have kids, and perpetuate the mesorah (Jewish tradition) like we are all intended to do.

“But, still, Sam…you knew what it meant to be gay, so how didn’t you realize? I understand your society didn’t really recognize homosexuality, but how didn’t you become aware of your sexuality once you started puberty?” This series of questions always comes next.

Some more great questions. Answer: I find girls so pretty. Since I knew I found girls at least somewhat attractive, I sort-of convinced myself that “it’s ok, Sam – you find girls attractive, so you can do this and be straight.” However, what I realize now is that finding someone attractive and being attracted to someone are very much so not the same thing. I was stupid enough to convince myself that I was heterosexual because I found girls pretty. For all my girlfriends, I found them to be awesome individuals and aesthetically pleasing/pretty. That combination allowed me to convince myself that I was sexually into them. So although I may have had homosexual desires, I was able to ignore them for 20 years because I used the fact that I found girls pretty to convince myself that I was into them. And then add to that the fact that my community encouraged heteronormativity and then my inability to discover my homosexuality until age 20 may make some sense now.

I think this enough for my first posting, but I hope to continue the story at some point in the near future. I welcome your thoughts, questions, comments, or reactions.