Earlier this month we heard from Jordan Dashow about how having pride in his queer identity meant having pride in his Jewish queer identity. Now Jordan reflects on being a survivor of sexual assault—and how that experience further defines his identity as a proud LGBTQ Jew.
(Trigger warning: This post discusses issues related to sexual violence.)
It is April 2, 2014, over three-and-a-half years after I publicly came out as gay on Facebook. I am in a classroom at Tufts University, not paying as much attention to the professor as I should be, as I contemplate what I had drafted moments before I left for class. My heart is racing. I am staring at my computer screen, full of white and blue pixels, as my hand hovers over my laptop’s touchpad. It feels like the last few years have all been leading up to this moment. I know people will notice. I know they will talk about it. I question whether I should restrict my post so no one on my limited profile—most of the adults I’m friends with—can see it. I hesitate, yet I make my decision. I click the blue button that says “post.” My status, a call for people to attend “It Happens Here” at Tufts, begins: “3.5 years ago I was sexually assaulted at Tufts University.”
Coming out as a survivor of sexual violence has been a difficult process, and in some ways it has been even more difficult than coming out as queer. Whereas our heteronormative society teaches queer people that there is something wrong with us, our society which is steeped in rape culture—a culture that excuses, normalizes, and at times even condones rape—teaches survivors that not only is the sexual assault partially our fault but that we should hide our identities. For me, knowing who I could confide in about my experiences as a survivor was even more difficult than figuring out who I could confide in about my sexuality.
So do I take pride in my identity as a survivor? It seems like an odd question to ask, especially considering the physically, emotionally and psychologically violent experience that comes with that identity. Yet, it is an important question. Too often survivors, like queer individuals, are expected to remain silent about this part of their identity. And I refuse to be silent.
So yes, I am proud. I am not proud of what was done to me, but I am proud of who I am. I am proud of how I have turned my experience into a tool for advocacy. I am proud that in a society that tells me I should shun this identity, I have found a way to embrace it. To own it. To not be ashamed by it. Because, ultimately, even our negative experiences inform who we are.
As I said in my last post, taking pride in your identity is when you no longer only reveal that identity when it is unavoidable but freely offer up that information because you have nothing to be ashamed of. And when it comes to being a survivor, we shouldn’t be the ones who are ashamed. Our assailants should be.
But why even talk about this? It may seem odd to be discussing my identity as a survivor in a post about Jewish queer pride but for me, it could not be any more appropriate. I am writing this post in May, a month after Sexual Assault Awareness Month, although it will be posted during LGBT month. For me, those two months are inextricably linked.
At the end of the day, our identities do not exist in a vacuum. My queer identity is shaped by my identity as a Jewish survivor. My Jewish identity is shaped by my identity as a queer survivor. And my identity as a survivor is shaped by my identity as a queer Jew. I cannot separate these identities from each other nor can I separate them from any of my other identities. The fact of the matter is, I cannot truly have pride in my Jewish queer identity if I do not take pride in my identity as a survivor as well.
So let this LGBTQ Pride month not just be an opportunity for us to take pride in our LGBTQ identities; let it be an opportunity to take pride in all of our oppressed identities. You do not need to love the experiences that gave you those identities or resulted from those identities; however, I do strongly believe that we need to have pride in ourselves, and that is only possible once we reject the stigmas society has put on our oppressed identities and have taken ownership of them for ourselves. So let this LGBTQ Pride month be an opportunity to recognize that all of our identities inform our queer identity, and let’s take pride in that. Because that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Sexual Assault Resources:
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Organization Members are LGBT anti-violence organizations across the country. This list includes organizations listed by state, alphabetically, with support for survivors of sexual assault, partner abuse, and hate violence.
The Network/La Red hotline provides emotional support, information and safety planning for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and/or transgender (LGBQ/T) folks, as well as folks in SM/kink and polyamorous communities who are being abused or have been abused by a partner. They also offer information and support to friends, family or co-workers on the issue of domestic violence in LGBQ/T communities. You don’t have to leave or want to leave your relationship to get support. The hotline is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to midnight, Saturday from 1-6 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to midnight. Call 617-742-4911 (voice) or 617-227-4911 (TTY).
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: Find “live help for sexual assault victims and their friends and families” at the RAINN national sexual assault online helpline. It is free, confidential, and secure.
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It is September 5, 2010. I am in my dorm room at Tufts University, having just arrived to campus a couple weeks earlier for Pre-Orientation. My heart is racing. I am staring at my computer screen, full of white and blue pixels, as my hand hovers over my laptop’s touchpad. It feels like the last few weeks have all been leading up to this moment. Yet, I have no idea if people will even notice this moment, if they’ll even talk about it. I hesitate, yet I make my decision. I click the appropriate button to save the changes. My Facebook now lists me as interested in men.
What does it mean to have pride in one’s identities? Can we trace our pride? Figure out when we first acquired it? Measure it? Is our pride indicated by a facebook “interested in” section? A picture? A status?
As a queer person living in a heteronormative world, I was taught not to take pride in my identity before I even knew what that identity was. I still remember when I first began feeling attracted towards the same sex and was disgusted by myself. I still remember when I used to try my hardest to change my identity. I still remember when I vowed to myself that I would never reveal my same-sex attractions.
And yet, things change. I cannot pinpoint when exactly I began to be proud of my identity. It was definitely some time during freshman year, after I had already come out of the closet. But was it when I changed my Facebook “interested in” to men that I was truly prideful? I don’t think so.
For me, coming out of the closet was a necessary step before I could be proud to be queer. Being proud means not just accepting one’s identity but rejoicing in it. Embracing it. Loving it. Knowing that despite the pain and hardships it has caused you, you will not reject it. That you will own it. Taking pride in your identity is when you no longer only reveal that identity when it is unavoidable but freely offer up that information because you have nothing to be ashamed of. Because you don’t.
For me, having pride in my queer identity is also about having pride in my Jewish queer identity. For too long, I thought that my queer identity and Jewish identity were in conflict. For too long, I thought that I would have to choose one over the other.
Coming to Tufts Hillel changed that thought process. At Tufts Hillel, it became clear that not only were those two identities not in conflict but they could even complement each other.
Yet, during my first couple of years at Tufts, I could not get a worrisome thought out of my head. What if my Jewish community here does not reflect the real world? Will I be able to find communities outside of a liberal University’s college campus where both my queer and Jewish identities will be welcome?
Interning at Keshet my junior year taught me that I should not be worried. At Keshet, not only did I learn about some of the amazing Jewish communities and organizations across the country that are not only accepting but embracing queer Jews, I also saw firsthand the work that Keshet’s employees were doing nationally to make sure even more Jewish institutions were actively embracing queer Jews. I saw what it meant to work in an office full of many people who were proud to be both Jewish and queer. For me, having pride in my queer identity meant I also had to have pride in my Jewish queer identity.
Growing up, Passover was always my favorite holiday. Not only did Passover provide me with an eight day vacation from my Jewish day school, it also was an opportunity for my family to get together and celebrate the holiday. It probably didn’t hurt that we were also most likely the only family on Long Island that actually enjoyed eating matzah.
My first Passover in college and away from home was horrible. Although I was able to go home for the two seders, it became clear to me that what I truly loved about Passover was the opportunity for my entire family to be home together and take a break from our normal day-to-day schedule for eight days, yet I was spending the majority of the holiday at school. By Passover of my sophomore year, this issue was exacerbated by my new vegetarian diet, which left me hating Passover even more.
However, by my junior year, Passover started having a different meaning to me. That year, I began identifying as a humanistic Jew and started thinking about each Jewish holiday’s significance to me, as a queer humanistic Jew. Before, Passover had been important to me because it was an opportunity for me to spend time with my family for eight days. However, I had never really engaged in what Passover, the holiday and story, actually mean to me. Now when I think of Passover, I think about overcoming oppression. Because that’s ultimately what the Passover story comes down to: an oppressed and enslaved people overcoming obstacles and being led to freedom.
As a queer individual, this narrative especially resonated with me. We live in a world where queer people are oppressed: by a heteronormative society that erases our existence, by laws that dictate that we are lesser than our heterosexual peers, and—at times—even by ourselves and our own internalized homophobia. However, unlike the People of Israel in biblical times, we cannot wait for plagues or a super natural being to free us from our oppression; we must be our own saviors.
Since Passover of last year, we have made significant gains for LGBTQ Equality. In June of last year, the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act and Prop 8 was finally put to rest. In addition, nine states welcomed marriage equality in 2013. While there are reasons to celebrate, there is still a lot more that needs to be done.
The People of Israel’s departure from Israel did not signify equality and freedom for all. Women were still less equal then men and slavery was still condoned by the Torah. Not everyone who was granted freedom when they left Israel received the same amount of freedom. As we gather to celebrate the story of Passover, it is important that we celebrate the successes of the last year. At the same time, however, it is important that we recognize who is benefiting the most from these successes and who still has the farthest to go. The transgender rights movement is still lagging significantly behind the LGB equality movement. The same summer that parts of DOMA were struck down, key parts of the Voting Rights Act were also struck down. And women, on top of many other obstacles, continue to earn significantly less than their male counterparts.
The fact of the matter is, all issues are queer issues. We cannot fight for queer equality without fighting for trans equality and racial equality. As long as females and people with disabilities are oppressed, so too will segments of the queer population be oppressed. As Passover comes and goes, let us pledge to not just fight for the issues that the mainstream LGBTQ movement has prioritized but for equality for all. In just the past year, we have managed to overcome and break down several oppressive institutions, but we cannot stop until all people, regardless of identity, are truly equal in this country.
Silence and lies. These are your choices when you’re in the closet. When your friends start talking about crushes, hot celebrities, sex—do you stay silent? Or do you lie? Do you stay silent and hope your friends won’t notice? Do you lie and hope your friends aren’t laughing in their heads because they somehow discovered the truth?
Life in the closet is a play, and it’s up to you when the curtains close.
For me, that moment came my freshman year at Tufts University. It was several days into the community service pre-orientation I had signed up for, FOCUS (Freshman Orientation CommUnity Service), and my FOCUS family—as our group of 8 freshman and 2 leaders were called—had just gotten falafel for dinner. A group of us were talking with one of my FOCUS leaders, and the topic of sexuality came up. Discussing a Jewish friend of hers, my FOCUS leader remarked how she felt that there weren’t that many gay Jews out there.
Suddenly, time slowed down in my head. Was this the moment I would finally talk about my sexuality publicly? I had known going into Tufts that I was going to “skip” the coming out process as much as possible. I had already told my family and my best friend and I didn’t want to come out afterwards in the traditional sense. I wanted to go to Tufts as someone who was out and let everyone else just find out (it’s much easier than it sounds when you had a graduating class of 48—word travels fast). But now that the perfect moment had presented itself, I hesitated.
And then I spoke: “As someone who’s both gay and Jewish…” The rest of the sentence didn’t matter; from there on out, I was out.
Being out in college was not like I expected. While you’re in the closet, your sexual orientation becomes one of your most important identities; yet when I came out at Tufts, in many ways, my sexual orientation became inconsequential. Tufts is not only queer-friendly but has a lot of queer students. I was no anomaly and people’s sexual orientation was just another characteristic among hundreds of others.
Even at Hillel, my sexual orientation was not only accepted but embraced. After attending a Jewish Day School for 13 years where there was no support for queer students, “that’s so gay” was thrown around daily, and homophobic remarks often times went unchallenged, it was a pleasant surprise to find a Jewish community that not only welcomed queer students but even had programming focusing on the intersection of Judaism and queerness. This past spring, I was elected as president of Tufts Hillel, adding to a sizable list of queer Jewish Hillel presidents at Tufts.
As great as my experience has been overall, there are still moments where I am reminded that Tufts is not as queer friendly as it may sometimes seem. Last year, Tufts passed a new policy allowing religious groups to apply for exemptions from our non-discrimination policy when selecting their leadership criteria, consequently allowing religious groups to forbid queer students from running for leadership positions.
In addition, while my experience overall at Tufts has been great, it’s always important to remember that unfortunately, the queer friendly atmosphere at Tufts is not a microcosm of the larger United States. I was reminded of this just last year, when I returned to New York right after a string of high profile anti-gay hate crimes. My Tufts gay pride and “I like Pro-Choice Boys” pins, which normally adorn my book bag during the year, were, consequently, no longer on my bag when I arrived in NY for break.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be out in college in a safe and overall welcoming community. As my senior year comes to an end in the spring I hope to take the queer-friendly atmosphere I have found here and work to make it a reality wherever I live.
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“If it doesn’t bring more love into the world, it probably isn’t religion.”
The date was October 13, 2010, and I was at Tufts University’s Coming Out Day Rally. At the rally, Tufts University’s Jewish Chaplain, Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, spoke about the importance of not just tolerating people’s differences but embracing them and told the crowd the statement quoted above. This message was so simple, yet so powerful — and so powerfully different from what I expected a religious leader speaking about LGBTQ issues to say.
Growing up, I attended a Conservative Jewish Day School from kindergarten until 12th grade. Throughout high school, I struggled to come to terms with my sexual orientation and my religious beliefs. I was forced to grapple with these issues alone, as my high school did not offer any support for queer students and in general ignored their existence. As far as I know, no one has ever come out in my high school (though one student who was already out transferred in) and homophobic comments, including the commonly repeated phrase “that’s so gay,” went unchallenged. Consequently, I never felt safe coming out in high school.