My journey of figuring out my sexual orientation began when I was 12 years old and living in a suburb of Chicago. Before my school’s mandatory gym class would begin (where everyone would put on the same awkward-fitting tight blue jersey shorts and baggy grey T-shirts), 50 or so girls would be crammed like sardines into the locker room to change. Standing in the corner of the room, after a minute or so of staring into space, I locked eyes with a girl across the room. She looked around to her friends, as if for guidance, and abruptly pointed and screamed the agonizing word, “lesbian!”
Immediately, I saw an army of girls glaring at me with the most uncomfortable stares I had ever seen before in my life. A few frowned, while others pointed to their mouths, sticking out their tongues to signify that I made them sick. I ran out of the locker room crying, feeling ashamed and completely perplexed by the accusations. If only I could tell that tear-stained pre-teen that the girls’ accusations weren’t completely wrong and that everything would be all right.
Navigating through the conundrum of balancing my sexual orientation, as well as my Jewish background and identity, has been strenuous. Coming from a traditional Jewish household, I have been raised with the customs and teachings of the Jewish faith. I have attended Jewish day camps and Jewish overnight camps, Hebrew school, weekly Shabbat services, Jewish youth group programs, and Friday night dinners with my family for my entire life. Judaism has been a large part of how I have been brought up, and it has been frightening thinking that my religious background and sexual orientation could not fit together.
Thankfully, I have been proven wrong. And of all of the places to discover how I can be a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community while still being a practicing Conservative Jew, my pluralistic Jewish boarding school in North Carolina has been my safe haven and the place where I have been able to find myself. I am forever indebted to the American Hebrew Academy (AHA) for helping me to embrace both of these important identities of mine simultaneously, and I continue to feel like my younger self is finally being given room to breathe.