Tag Archives: coming out

An Open Letter to Tom and Transgender Teens Everywhere

Last week the story of Tom Chai Sosnik, a teenager that came out as transgender at Tehiyah Day School, his Jewish day school, headlines. Inspired by Tom’s courage, and the need to support transgender and gender expansive teenagers everywhere, Rabbi Becky Silverstein penned an open letter to Tom and teenagers like him. We’re proud to share this letter on Transgender Day of Visibility.

Dear Tom,

Tom Sosnik at his naming ceremony photos/misha bruk

Tom Sosnik at his naming ceremony. photos/misha bruk

As I was preparing my sermon last Friday afternoon, I decided to take a quick Facebook break and saw the video of you addressing your school. I watched it and immediately shared it with my own social network, commenting that “while I don’t know this young man, I have the privilege of knowing others who share a similar story. Almost nothing in the world could make me smile wider than this.”

Tom, we have never and may never meet, and yet I feel as though I know you.

I see in your face the faces of the LGBTQ Jewish teenagers I have had the opportunity to work with in my time as a Jewish educator and rabbi. In your face, I also see a vision of what I want so badly for our Jewish community to be: a place where everyone can be celebrated for the entirety of who they are and where nobody feels the need to hide a piece of their identity.

Tom, in your face I saw the reason why I am out, why I share my story, why I work to make our communities more inclusive. Tom, your courage gave me courage.

This week we will celebrate Passover. In his Torah study this past Shabbat, my colleague and teacher, Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater, remarked that Passover is not for the risk-averse.

The moments before and during the actual exodus from Egypt were extremely risky. How could the individual Israelites be sure that they would be redeemed? And yet, in order for our story to continue, each individual needed to take a risk, needed to take a leap of faith, and perform the Passover sacrifice.

Tom, at the heart of our communal narrative is the courage action of individuals taking a risk. In sharing your transition with your parents, community, school, and the greater world community, you modelled for all of us what it means for us to feel as though we ourselves were leaving Egypt, a central commandment within the Passover Hagaddah.

Tom, it is only through courageous acts of risk-taking that Judaism will continue to thrive and grow. Thank you for urging that process along.

I hope you don’t mind my taking this moment to also address those around you.

To your family: may you continue to be strengthened along the steps of this journey. May G-d continue to shine upon you, and may you continue to shine upon each other.

To your school principal: thank you for setting an example of courageous leadership and providing your staff the education and training necessary for the true embracing of all members of your community.

To your rabbi, Tsipi Gabai: thank you. I am proud to call you a colleague, and I urge you to share the ceremony you wrote for Tom. Put it on RitualWell and in the Keshet resource bank where it will join other rituals written by transgender Jews and allies.  You and I know well that the transgender and Jewish communities are hungry for new and meaningful liturgy; allow others the access to your ritual creativity.

To your classmates: thank you for modelling what it means to live in a kehillah kedoshah, a holy community.  The photos of you dancing in celebration of Tom’s tradition were, quite simply, amazing. May your warmth and understanding be a model for all of Klal Yisrael.

Tom, it seems as though you have an amazing community around you. And I want you to know that you are not alone. The LGBTQ Jewish community is growing, the trans Jewish community is growing within it.  Though there is much work to be done, there is also much to celebrate.

There are folks generations ahead of you (and of me) who have paved the way and are continuing to do so that you can be you. Take pride in knowing that with your Youtube video you took your place in the line of folks working to make the Jewish community more inclusive, more embracing, stronger. In that, I’m proud to call you my colleague.

Lastly Tom, there are folks in this world who just don’t get it. Here’s a bit of unsolicited advice: approach them with compassion, don’t read the comments, and remember, I’ve got your back.

Signed,
Rabbi Becky Silverstein

Like this post?

 

Posted on March 31, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

It’s the Little Things

Today’s post from Keshet Board member Carson Gleberman offers advice from parents of LGBTQ children. If you’re looking for more support, check out the Keshet Parent & Family Connection.

family-76781_1280What does it mean to be a “good parent” to a child who is questioning his or her sexuality or gender, already identifies as LGBTQ, or is somewhere in between?

We intuitively know that little things like word choice and facial expressions matter, but the right actions and reactions often don’t spring readily to mind in the moment. And—no pressure!—the stakes are kinda high. This theme emerged in the very first interview I did for my website.

“Parents can make it a self-fulfilling prophecy: they think [their child’s life as a queer person] is going to be hard, so they don’t stand up for them when they could, and indeed, life becomes harder than it needed to be.”—TH

Yet, parents have their own coming out process to go through, from zero to understanding to advocate, on an extremely compressed schedule. But my interviews with teens and former teens brought welcome news: “good” parents don’t have to be perfect. Attention to some little things, even if uneven or awkwardly done, make a big difference.

1. A few small signals, or invitations to open a conversation, might seem to be ignored in the moment but will register:

“My grandfather, who was 94 when he died, used to watch James Bond movies with me. One day, out of the blue he paused the movie and asked me what I thought of gay marriage, and said he agreed with it. My grandparents had a house on Fire Island for years (I’m still mad they sold it) and he said they had partied with gay people out there. Taking time to talk and voice support makes a huge difference. Recently I was driving out to Long Island with my dad and there was news on the radio about the Iowa Caucus. They mentioned the Republican pledge to reverse gay marriage. My dad was reading, only half paying attention, but his reflexive grunt of disapproval was really wonderful.”—PO

“My mom always said, ‘You can talk to me about anything. The most important thing is to respect your body.’ She would say that sometimes to try to spark a conversation, and I got annoyed and angry at the time, but it was actually really important. I think it’s appropriate for parents to bring their questions and concerns. In a way, I would be more offended by a parent not being honest with their reactions even if it is painful or shows prejudice.”—MS

Even in an era when same-sex marriage gains ground quickly, we should not underestimate the Mount Everest-like weight and carbon dioxide-like pervasiveness of the old expectations.

“A daughter of a two-mom family living in an LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood came home from pre-school and asked one of her moms if she was sure she wasn’t really a man. And many of her classmates had gay or lesbian parents.”—TH

2. And yet, making some small changes in language, even if you forget and don’t do it every time, can add up.

“Parents can make an effort to not create a heteronormative environment, like by not asking ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ but ‘Are you seeing someone?’”—PO

“And don’t express relief when your kid reveals an interest in someone of the opposite sex. It undermines an opening for any discussion about sexual confusion, for your own kid or someone she knows.”—KW

“I am surprised sometimes by how many people are still using the word “choice,” and thereby implying that it’s a moral defect.”—BK

3. Taking the time to listen a little deeper can show what your kid really needs.

“The after-school program at my son’s nursery school had different leaders than the day program. I didn’t realize the difference in their attitudes. My son hated after-school because they made him go outside and play soccer with the other boys, while the girls could stay inside and play pretend games. He said he hated the whole thing, and I did not probe as to why. Not until he was 18 and out, and after I had started the Spanish-speaking parent support group [at the nursery school], did we sit down with the pre-school director who wanted to improve the school’s policies around gender expression. That was a big step in the healing process for him and for me.”—LM

“You have to pay careful attention to the question that’s really being asked, which is often, ‘Having two mommies is different, but is it OK?’ [Kids] all come with a bit of baggage, even from liberal families.”—BK

In movies and on TV the dialogue may be emotionally fraught, but proceeds smoothly.

6104867657_64beb9cea8_zIn real life, we have to write our scripts and deliver them at the same time, and the results (at my house anyway) are rarely pretty. Even when I eventually get across the point I was just realizing was the truly important one, I often feel I haven’t done it very well.

But my research shows that matters much less than we parents think.

Like this post?

Posted on March 17, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Lightness, Darkness, Transition

"Light from the Darkness" was produced by European Southern Observatory (ESO).

“Light from the Darkness” was produced by European Southern Observatory (ESO).

When the winter solstice arrived, we went from the darkest days of the year to a gradual increase of light. Now, as the snow promises to melt and winter is on its way out, the days seem much longer and the darkness much shorter.

Those themes of light and dark usually accompany me in the Spring and, when thinking about light and dark, this story came to mind. It takes place a few winters ago when my grandmother was in the hospital.

The story is not about her passing, but takes place near the end of her life.

My light at that time was my passage into a long awaited physical transition. I was living in Brooklyn and had just starting taking hormones. I was ritually checking my face every morning to see if I magically sprouted a beard overnight and wondering if people would still recognize me—although after 3 months on on hormones, I can say that I looked pretty similar to before I started.

However, I was more masculine presenting and my friends commented on how my energy was shifting. I had come out to most of the people in my life, but had been a little lax on telling relatives.  I only told my grandparents when it felt like I absolutely had to, when I actually started growing a beard. But, that winter wasn’t the right time to tell my grandmother, she was in and out of the hospital and I didn’t want to confuse her.

My lightness was my transition, but my darkness was understanding that my grandmother was at the end of her life.

On a visit home to Boston, my mother and I headed to the hospital during the first few hours of a long, rainy-sleety winter storm. As you may have experienced with sickness or relatives or friends in the hospital, sometimes things move very fast. Although we had just come to visit, complications brought my grandmother into the ER, and my mother and I ended up spending most of the night in the hospital. It was the only place I wanted to be. Living in Brooklyn, it was hard to feel like I was supporting the family through my grandmother’s sickness and being present with my mother felt like a sacred task.

When we were allowed to see my grandmother, I stood by her bedside—and I thought, this must be so bizarre for her, does she see the changes in me? Won’t she be confused by the person she thinks is her granddaughter? We stayed by her bedside while she drifted in and out of sleep, and eventually my anxieties floated away.

When my grandmother started to open her eyes and realize we were sitting next to her, she looked right at me. Her wrinkled hand lifted out of the hospital blankets and pointed (shakily) at me. She said my name quietly.

Growing louder, she shouted, “there’s a stain on your sweater!” As my mother and I tried not to laugh, I looked down and realized there was indeed a stain on my sweater.

I am not sure how much my grandmother understood my transition, but it didn’t matter in that moment. Family is family and as she pointed out, stains are stains. Her comment had provided just the light I needed during that dark night.

 Like this post? 

Posted on March 13, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

My Second Trip to the Mikveh

June, 1997, Cincinnati, OH

It was the end of a journey. It was the beginning of a transition. I had spent five intense years of study, learning, mistakes, and growth at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. Those years had transformed me from a college prep to a religious leader. (Well, a potential religious leader.) The following day, I would be ordained “Rabbi.” The journey had been difficult, and it was just short of a miracle that I completed all my academic requirements in time for Ordination. I had secured a job as Assistant Rabbi of University Synagogue in Los Angeles. I was exuberant. And I was terrified.

unnamed-2Jews love to mark transition with ritual ceremony. So on this “Erev-S’micha” (day before Ordination), three soon-to-be rabbis joined me on a pilgrimage to the Cincinnati Mikveh. We had decided to prepare texts for group study after individual immersions.

Now the Cincinnati Mikveh is not your glamorous health spa. The space was dark and even a bit moldy at the time. But we had it to ourselves, and we created holy space. I showered, carefully cleaning my body and mind in preparation for immersion. I was nervous and even admittedly embarrassed at the thought of removing my clothes before my colleagues. I waited my turn, and then entered the mikveh chamber.

Standing at the top of the steps, I wanted to enter the mayim-chaim (living waters) slowly and deliberately. I stepped down. The water was lukewarm. Another step. I got goose bumps. Finally, I descended all the way and carefully lifted my feet allowing the river of transformation to fully acknowledge me. And as I recited the Shehechianu, I closed my eyes. Tranquility embraced me.

Soon after, the four of us sat clad in towels, studying Pirkei AvotMidrash, and Commentaries. After discussing the voices of our people, we then shared the texts of our souls. What a beautiful moment it was. We had all come so far. Soon it was my turn.

“You know, “I began, “I was about to say that this was my first time to the mikveh. But I’ve actually immersed once before …”

I continued to relate the story about the day I “came out.”

August, 1994, Great Barrington, MA

It was the summer of 1994, and I was working as an Educator at the UAHC Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. I kept myself busy, and I dreaded being alone. For whenever I was alone, I would ask myself, as I had every day of my life since I was sixteen, “Am I gay?

I hated asking that question, and I constantly pushed the answer deep into the canyons of my heart. I could not bear denying the truth any longer. Too many nights without sleep had already tortured my soul. Something had to change. I needed to take a stand. So I arranged a day off with two close friends. I had it all planned out. We would stay up late and engage in a deep conversation.

And I would come out to them.

But things never seem to happen the way we plan.

The three of us left camp in the evening and soon arrived at a country hotel. As they relaxed, my heart began to pound harder and harder. How was I supposed to do this? I wanted so very much for them to ask the question of revelation, as God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden, “Aye-ka (where are you)?” And I wanted to respond with the strength of Abraham, Moses, and Isaiah when they shouted, “Hineini! (Here I am!).”

But they never asked. And I never answered. Another sleepless night.

The next day, the three of us drove up through the Berkshires to Pittsfield where we saw a movie. “OK,” I thought, “after the movie we’ll talk.” But after the movie we ate. “OK, after we eat, we’ll talk.” But after that came more excuses. My friends didn’t understand why I was so reclusive. We then drove over to a small lake nestled in the rolling hills of Southwest Massachusetts.

My friends fell asleep in the car. They were bonded. I was apart. And I was jealous. So I got out of the car and walked into the serenity of an August afternoon.

I was alone. And I was a nervous wreck.

But I took a deep breath, and for the first time in my life, as I saw my reflection in the lake, I got myself to say out loud, “I might be a gay man.” I think I said it twice. And as the words lingered on my tongue, an incredible emotion enveloped me.

Just allowing for the possibility that I might be gay released me from those chains of years of denial. I was alone, yet I was no longer afraid of being alone. I undressed, and I entered that lake. And as soon as my head slid beneath her surface, I transformed the lake into a mikveh.

And that mikveh transformed me. It was glorious!

When I finished, I dried myself off, dressed, and got back into the car. I woke up my friends, but didn’t tell them a thing. I didn’t need to anymore. I came out to myself, and that was a big step. Later, in the appropriate time, I would come out to them.

That was my first trip to the mikveh.

 June, 1997, Cincinnati, OH

As I finished my story, my colleagues looked on. I had never before shared that experience.

I had never before even thought to share it. Sure, they knew I was gay. But my account put into perspective that Jewish ritual can sanctify all of life’s passages.

The following day we marched into the historic Plum Street Temple to the call of the shofar. As Hebrew Union College president, Rabbi Shelly Zimmerman, reached out to ordain me with the title of “Rav b’Yisrael,” I said to myself, “Hineini! I am here, and I am ready!”

2001, Los Angeles, CA

While my first trip to the mikveh released me, my second trip to the mikveh transformed me. I haven’t yet immersed a third time. I am waiting for my next life-cycle, which will occur when my life-partner and I stand beneath a huppah in the near future. And yet I am at the mikveh throughout the year, accompanying others who make time to nurture life transitions through Jewish ceremony. Each of them has a story. Each of them has a journey. And each of them has answered the question, “Aye-ka (where are you)?”

Epilogue: 2015, Culver City, CA

Two days before Ron Galperin and I were married in 2002, we immersed as one in the mikveh.

Like this post? 

 

Posted on March 11, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

What Matters is You (Not if the Dress is Black & Blue or White & Gold)

Last weekend a group of 60+ LGBTQ and ally teens joined together for the 4th annual Keshet/Hazon LGBTQ & Ally Teen Shabbaton. These words of Torah were shared by one of the participants during Shabbat services.

the dressMy name is Rachel Barkowitz, I’m a second year CIT, a one-year-long, out (and proud) lesbian, and I see the dress and white and gold.

For those of you who are unaware of what I am talking about, or are so wrapped up in the amazingness of this glorious weekend that you have already forgotten the occurrences of Thursday, let me remind you:

After taking a picture of a dress at her friend’s wedding, twenty-one year old Caitlin McNeill turned to the internet with a cry for help. She urged her followers to lend a hand in attempting to make sense of the confusing shot she took.

For some, the dress in her picture appears to be white and gold, though other see the dress with the coloring in which it was made, blue and black.

This debate which swept the internet split the global population into two sides, and I had the opportunity of witnessing this first hand when my college roommate refused to believe that I was telling the truth that I saw the dress as white and gold (I almost ended up in tears, but that’s another story).

So why did this dress become so important to world?

I can tell you with absolutely confidence that I…have no idea.

I can say, however, that the garments discussed in Tetzaveh, the parashah of this weekend, are of a different kind of importance than the now infamous bluewhitegoldblack dress of the present.

In this portion, God details for Moses how to make extremely significant vestments for Aaron that he must wear when acting as High Priest. To say that the details relayed by God are extensive would be an understatement, but every instruction is necessary to ensure that Aaron is truly sanctified.

And for the record, these garments were commanded to be made of gold and blue.

Coincidence?

I think not.

The attire which is made for Aaron is created so that he may become closer to God, and transform into a more holy version of himself when adorning them. One might venture to say that these garments are Aaron’s way of becoming his purest self.

The way that I became the purest version of myself, however, was by admitting to the world that I liked girls, and ridding myself of the garments I adorned which hid who I truly was.

For a long time, I was scared that coming out would make me less important, less worthy, and pull me further away from God, but I was lying to the world, and, more importantly, lying to myself.

I have learned throughout my journey, though, that being your true self, your purest self, only makes your connection to the world stronger, because it means that you yourself have taken steps toward becoming stronger.

So whether you see the dress as blue and black, or, like I do, white and gold, I urge that when you find yourself fighting for your side, to forget the schisms for a moment, and remember instead what this debate, and this weekend, represent: there is no purer you than a you that is true.

Like this post? 

Posted on March 6, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Finding Strength in Community & The Story of Purim

The first time I really dug into the story of Purim was actually also the first time I thought I might be gay. It started like any other day. I went to school, play practice, and then my mom picked me up.

Ester_y_Mardoqueo_escribiendo_la_primera_carta_del_Purim_(Ester,_9-20-21)_-_Aert_de_GELDER_-_Google_Cultural_Institute

Painting of Esther and Mordecai by Arent de Gelder.

Because it was Friday she brought me to shul. As we sat in the car waiting for the time to pass until services began, she asked me an interesting question: “do you like boys or girls?” And I guess I had never thought about it because I remember thinking “you know, that’s a good question. I should probably figure that out.” So when I went inside the shul and heard a d’var about Purim, I didn’t see it as an ancient story in a language I didn’t speak. Instead I saw it as an allegory for a coming out story.

Esther is the queen of Persia, married to Ahashverosh, and he has just decided with the help of Haman that he’s going to kill all the Jews. Problem is, Esther is Jewish. (Plot spoilers ahead, I apologize in advance.) So Esther decides that she has to tell him that she’s jewish, or all of her people are going to die. And so, she works up all of her nerve, and she tells him that she’s Jewish. She knows that it’s risky, but she does it anyway, because it’s what must be done to save her people. In the end, it works out great. The Jews are spared and Esther is no longer living in hiding. Call me crazy, but that’s a textbook coming out story, right?

Now I’m going to sub in some names to make this story more modern. Playing the part of Esther we have Will Portman, a Yale student. Instead of coming out as Jewish, he’s coming out as gay. Instead of the day when all the Jews are set to be murdered coming up, let’s put in the Supreme Court’s DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and Prop Eight decisions. And instead of the king, why don’t we have Will’s father, senator Rob Portman. Just like in the story of Esther, it all works out for Will.

His dad became the first Republican senator to publicly endorse marriage equality, and no one got disowned. Something even bigger that that happened, though. Suddenly the world got a whole lot better for LGBTQ+ kids everywhere. Because, just like Esther wasn’t the only one affected by her decision to come out, Will Portman wasn’t the only one affected when he came out. Suddenly, it became a lot easier for kids of republican parents to come out because they could point to the Portman family and say look, “they’re accepting, and you should be too.” And it became easier for Republican parents to accept they’re LGBTQ+ kids because that’s just what the senator had done. They had gained a role model.

Obviously, it isn’t national news every time someone comes out, though that would be pretty cool. But when it’s someone in power, in any sort of way, it helps. It helps LGBTQ+ people realize that they aren’t alone. When parents see other parents accepting their children no matter what, that helps them realize that they aren’t alone either. And when you come out in your family, your school, or your kehilla kidosha (holy community), you are helping everyone around feel a little less alone.

So back to a few years ago. After that conversation with my mom, all I could think about for what seemed like forever was the possibility that I could be gay. Apparently it wasn’t forever, and actually more like six weeks, because I remember having a realization on Passover. I was getting ready for the Seder when all of the sudden it hit me pretty out of the blue that, woah, I’m gay.

So I didn’t really know that to do with this information, because I didn’t know any openly LGBTQ+ teens and young adults. Mostly I just cried about it and envisioned people having bad reactions, not gonna lie. And then I made a plan. I was going to not tell anyone, not act on it, or do anything until high school. That didn’t last long. Literally days after the first of my friends came out at the beginning of eighth grade, I felt comfortable enough to come out too. After that, friend after friend started coming out. I swear, even in the closet we were attracting each other.

Since then, whenever anyone has asked me about my sexuality, I’ve told them the whole truth. I’ve answered their questions, except when they are too weird and personal, and I’ve tried to be the best role model that I could be. The truth is, I never would have had the courage to come out on my own. I needed a push. I needed my friends to be there by my side. I needed guidance. So I hope that whenever I tell my story, and whenever I answer people’s questions, I am helping them. Maybe I’m helping them come to terms with their sexuality or gender identity, or maybe I’m helping them to be a more accepting and considerate friend or family member. Even if you don’t realize it, telling your story or even just being out can be a limitless inspiration for those around you.

I’m sure Esther wondered why she, a Jew, was chosen to be queen. And I’m sure that Will Portman, the son of a prominent Republican wondered why he happened to be gay. And I’m sure that most of you here have, at least at some point, wondered why you are so lucky to be LGBTQ+ and Jewish. Looking back, we know that Esther was put in the position of power so that she could change the King’s mind. And maybe that’s the same reason why Will Portman is gay, so he could change his dad’s mind, and the mind of a lot of Republican parents out there. So if you find yourself asking why you’re LGBTQ+ and Jewish, I bet that the answer is essentially the same: so that you can change the minds of the hateful and bigoted people around you, or make it easier for other people in your kehilla kidosha to come out, and be accepted.

As Miep Gies once said, “even an ordinary secretary or a housewife or a teenager” (that’s you, readers!) “can, within their own small ways, turn on a light in a dark room.”

You don’t have to be royalty, or a political figure, or some big celebrity to make a splash or even make a difference. All you need to be is your wonderful and genuine self and I promise, you can change the world. Happy Purim!

Like this post? 

Posted on March 4, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

We Are The Light: What Parshat Tetzavah Teaches Us About Coming Out

Last weekend a group of 60+ LGBTQ and ally teens joined together for the 4th annual Keshet/Hazon LGBTQ & Ally Teen Shabbaton. These words of Torah were shared by one of the participants during Shabbat services.

In Parshat Tetzavah, God gives Moses his holy grocery list: oil lighting for the Menorah, some fancy spices for the oil, and some other spices to burn in the sanctuary. You know… the usual. God didn’t just send Moses on this shopping spree for fun. God knew that the Kohanim needed to see the oil before they began doing their job: guiding the Jewish nation. They needed to know there would be, literally, light at the end of the tunnel before they started going into it.

LGBTQ-Teen-Shabbaton-325x246At the Keshet/Hazon Shabbaton last year, I was openly out for the first time. The joke of the attendees was going up to me and asking, “Val, are you gay?” because I couldn’t stop saying it. But I figured out I was gay in 7th grade. So why did it take so long for me to be me?

Just like the Kohanim, I also had doubts about navigating through the tunnel, finding my light. I’m sure quite a few of you in this room know that tunnel, and it’s pretty damn dark.

I tried to make myself straight, which basically meant throwing in comments about whether I was team Jacob or team Edward every once in a while. Let’s be real, I’m team Kristen Stewart.

When I realized I couldn’t force myself to be straight, the denial and depression hit me like the tidal wave when Pharaoh tried to cross the Red Sea. I barely spoke to anyone, dropped all my activities, shut out my friends, and was this close to going into another type of tunnel, the one you don’t come back from.

Then I came out to my best friend, and I started my own Coming Out 101 to prepare for this process. This course will be coming to college campuses near you soon. (Juuust kidding.) Anyway, it was time to start shopping, time to pull out the gay grocery list. I stayed up every night watching every coming out video I could find. I studied each method, trying to figure out the perfect formula to come out, trying to find a solution that didn’t really exist.

God gave Moses a list of everything he needed to be a leader, but what really made Moses realize what he needed to do was getting thrown into the trenches when he least expected it. Because yes, the Kohanim needed oil and spices for the Menorah because that’s what makes a fire—that’s science. But would the fire burn if nobody lit the match?

I’m going to tell you something that took me way too long to figure out, something I realized right here in this room last year.

You can watch every coming out video on the internet. You can practice saying it every morning in your mirror. You can shop in every aisle, from realization to depression to denial, you can hate yourself and love yourself and try to find the RIGHT way to be, but the reality is that E may equal MC2, but your identity isn’t a math problem.

Your identity isn’t a problem at all.

And when you realize that, whether you already have or you do this weekend or you do in five years, you ignite a fire. You light your own menorah. And let me tell you, that’s just the beginning.

rainbow tallitYou may be used to getting butterflies because somebody sees your rainbow tallit and you think, oh no, what if they know, please don’t know, but soon you’re going to get butterflies because the person you love is holding your hand and everything’s finally in place. You may be used to walking alone in your school hallway, hiding yourself, but soon you’re going to walk alongside others of the same movement, waving a flag for your identity with hundreds of people, all creating a rhythm for justice. You may be used to praying to God in your synagogue to please help you, because you don’t know how much longer you can last, but soon, SO soon, you will be sitting proudly at your table for Shabbat dinner, because mazel tov, you made it.

But don’t stop there. Remember your roots. Send this message on and help somebody else light their menorah. Together, we can get out of this tunnel.

Because here’s the secret that shouldn’t be a secret: we are the light, Keshet. All you gotta do is strike the match.

Like this post? 

Posted on March 3, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Parenting an Openly Gay Orthodox Teen

In this post from Kveller, Elana Altzman reflects on her family’s journey when her oldest son came out. You can read the post in its entirety here.

13458701445_0ea733e792_zThe conversation over Shavuot lunch at a friend’s house three years ago started innocently enough—we were talking about the Israeli Rabbinate’s reluctance to provide kosher supervision to food served at non-Orthodox events in Israeli hotels. One of the guests at the meal responded with, “The rabbis have to control who comes in. What if homosexuals come in?”

Like me, this guest was a mother of four sons, an immigrant who came here as a young girl, a woman who did not grow up observant, but became observant as a young adult. Our kids were close in age. Perhaps these similarities made her comment even more shocking to me. Like her, I love my children and care about their happiness, education, and religious commitment. Unlike her, I have a gay son.

My oldest had came out to us a few months before, at the end of his sophomore year in high school. At 16, he was secure enough to come out first to two of his closest friends, then to us, and then to all his friends outside of our community.

But in our neighborhood and our shul in Brooklyn, he remained completely closeted, and knew his chances of being accepted, or even allowed to remain in the shul he grew up in, were slim. He tested the waters some, mentioning that a friend from a summer program was gay, an acquaintance was a lesbian. A neighborhood friend told him gays are disgusting. Another informed him he would burn in hell for being friends with a lesbian girl. An adult leader of the youth minyan, where my son lead services and read Torah regularly, railed against the lifting of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” one Shabbat morning, as part of his discussion of the weekly Torah portion, telling the kids in attendance that homosexuality would lead to the downfall of our society. Another adult shul member told him that someone like him, a teen who was accepting of gays, did not belong in the shul we had been members of for over a decade.

How much worse would it be if he were out as gay himself? We feared the repercussions on all our children, the emotional trauma that would result when our son would be rejected by the community he grew up in. That Shavuot conversation reaffirmed our fears. Our son quickly said goodbye and left the holiday lunch; our younger kids were playing, and my husband and I were thankful that they were unaware of the conversation.

Read the post in its entirety at Kveller.

Like this post? 

 

Posted on February 10, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Our Ten Most Popular Posts of 2014

With the first month of 2015 behind us, we thought we’d share our most popular blog posts of the past year. These are stories of coming out, of finding community, and of enacting change.

What are the stories you want to hear in 2015?

unnamed Coming Out & Staying With My Husband: Faina realized that being true to herself meant living authentically as a lesbian—and also returning to her husband and children.

When Anti-Semitism Hits Close to Home
When anti-Semitism hit close to home, the safety of this quiet community was put into question.

Looking Forward and Looking Back: On Friendships and Transitions: Two long-time friends sit down to reflect on how they kept their friendship strong when gender and pronouns shifted.

10321023_948003815650_1572420430904116827_oHow To Hire a Trans RabbiWhen the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center‘s top choice for a job was a transgender rabbi, they took the steps needed to educate their community.

Coming Out at Shabbat DinnerTake a minute to watch this video of this Jewish teen coming out to his family at Shabbat dinner. How much stronger will our Jewish community be when no one is left out?

Transgender Day of Remembrance and the Life of SarahHow do we take the lessons from the Torah portion on the life of Sarah and create a space for the memory of transgender individuals?

Coming Out for TwoSara’s coming out story is a little different— before coming out herself, her brother asked her to help him come out to their mother.

IMG_2264One Family’s Wish for a World without Gender Roles: When one Jewish couple put their child in daycare they faced struggles surrounding gender they hadn’t anticipated.

The Coming Out ProcessComing out as trans isn’t simple. Before coming out to his community, this rabbi had to come out to himself.

 

Like this post?

Posted on January 30, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Ask Asher: Home for the Holidays

Have a question about LGBTQ life? Jewish life? LGBTQ Jewish Life? Ask Asher! Send your questions to AskAsher@keshetonline.org and you might be featured in our next column.

asherAsher,
Like any college student, I’m both dreading and ready to come home to my family for holiday break.

I’ve been out to myself and my close friends for the past few years and I’m finally ready to take the step and come out to my family.

This year I’m bringing my boyfriend home with me, and I don’t want to introduce him as “my, um, friend.” I want to introduce him as “my boyfriend.” My parents are fairly liberal and accepting people, but I’m afraid it might be different when their own son comes out.

Do I warn them ahead of time? Drop the news at the start of a family dinner? Take them aside and tell them one at a time? I have no idea! I also need to know that it’s okay if I chicken out.

Signed,
Coming Home & Coming Out

Dear Coming Home & Coming Out,
My advice is to come out to your family before the holidays; give them time to adjust. If you can’t do it in person before the holiday, I would write them a letter. In the letter, I would ask that they wait to respond to you for at least a day; they are most likely going to have some really interesting reactions, and sometimes it’s best to process those feelings for a bit before giving voice to them. In short, some things cannot be unsaid, and it might be best for them to have some time to “not say” them to you.

Regarding your boyfriend, either you come out before the holidays and make it clear who he is, or you come home by yourself. Whatever you do, do not bring your boyfriend home to your family if they don’t already know who he really is to you. He is not a prop to be used, and treating him as the “tangible proof of your homosexuality” is not going to help your relationship—neither with him nor with your family.

The holidays are a time for family, and your coming out at the start of it makes the time all about you and your coming out, and that’s not fair to anyone—especially your poor, unsuspecting boyfriend, who will find himself in a rather uncomfortable situation. I know the impulse is to be as dramatic as possible (trust me, we’ve all been there), but you’re going to need to game this out a bit before you act; you are going to have to come out by yourself, on your own terms.

Happy Holidays!
Asher
[Editor's note: if your family needs support and resources, make sure they know about the Keshet Parent & Family Connection for parents and family members of LGBTQ Jews.]

Asher,
I was very moved by your answer to “My Brother’s Keeper.” My question comes from the other side of the situation—unlike “My Brother’s Keeper” who was mourning a loss when his sister transitioned and became his brother, I’m the one transitioning. I too have a protective family member, one who is so worried for my safety that they are standing in the way of my transitioning.

I’m constantly being told that expressing my gender isn’t something I should do—at least not outside of the house. How can I convince them that I will be okay?

Signed,
Not Afraid

Dear Not Afraid,
The question is whether or not you are listening to this advice. Assuming you are not, your family member will hopefully learn through experience that you are, in fact, safe. That said, be smart.

Trans people are more likely to become the victims of violence than their cisgendered counterparts, and you need to protect yourself and be safe. There is something to what your family member is saying; what you need to do is explain to him or her WHY there is no need to worry (you are going to safe spaces, you’re surrounded by friends, etc.).

Ultimately, the choice is yours, but rather than just telling this family member off, guide him or her through your choices so that fears can eventually be quelled.

Good luck!
Asher

Asher,
I am a Jewish (non-Orthodox) man, with two Jewish children and a Jewish partner. We are active in our Reform Temple, and our kids go to a Jewish day school. Our children’s birth family is Orthodox, and we are occasionally obligated to daven, or pray, in the birth grandmother’s Modern Orthodox Shul (where acceptance is limited, but they tolerate us).

My problem isn’t the cold shoulder from the members who have figured us out. My problem is trying to daven while surrounded by handsome young men.

"B'NaiJacobOttumwaMechitza" by Douglas W. Jones

“B’NaiJacobOttumwaMechitza” by Douglas W. Jones

I’m totally faithful to my husband, but the distraction is there. I almost never experience this in egalitarian settings, probably because the majority there is women and older couples.

The mechitza is having the opposite effect of its original intention on me! I feel too distracted to actually pray in this separated and segregated situation. Do you have any advice?

Signed,
A Distracted Eye

Dear Distracted Eye,
Prayer is a form of religious meditation; the repetition of the same lines and phrases with the goal of focusing your thoughts. One of the most important parts of meditation is allowing yourself to experience your thoughts, not repress them. Sex and sexual desire is part of what makes us tick. It is healthy and normal to be attracted to attractive people.

Instead of focusing on NOT noticing the cute guy standing next to you, take a moment to look at him (in a non-creepy way), appreciate his attractiveness, and then, when you’re ready, move on. I don’t know what your arrangement with your partner is, but you should be allowed to look at the menu, even if you can’t order anything.

You seem to be preoccupied with repressing your thoughts to make them go away, which, as we all know, never really works.

We are constantly surrounded by stimuli that distract us from the tasks we want to focus on. Sometimes the distraction is mild, sometimes it’s strong. You are the one who ultimately is in control of how susceptible you are to these distractions. So, try to work on how you react to these stimuli in a more positive way, and eventually, they won’t bother you so much.

If that doesn’t work, just follow this advice from “The Book of Mormon.”

Best of Luck!
Asher 

Posted on December 8, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy