A Queer Jew Looks Back on High School (and the Search for Role Models)

The very first person I came out to as a lesbian just introduced himself as a proud transman for the very first time.

We haven’t spoke in over a decade, but thanks to Mr. Zuckerberg I’m here for his announcement. I’m here, and I hear it, and I feel those “!!!!” coming out feelings all over again.

Back in high school, when I was struggling to make sense of myself, he made me feel as if what I was feeling was both groundbreaking and totally normal. Around him I talked about my crushes, not in whispers, but proudly. Around him I planned for a future that included words like “wife,” as in “one day I will have a…” instead of the “one day I will be a…” conversations my other friends had.

He was what I needed– he was there for me in a way no one else was.

And… (Or, perhaps, but…)

To be his friend meant dressing in revealing clothing that dared anyone to say anything, dare anyone to approach us. Clothing that didn’t feel right, but f— it, neither did my skin.

To be his friend meant skipping classes, drinking too much, experimenting with drugs, and throwing one’s lot in with the goth kids.

To be his friend meant the world couldn’t hurt me anymore, because I was going to hurt myself first.

(See where this is going?)

To be his friend meant stepping away from the debate team, from the straight A’s, from the synagogue, from the people who very well might have supported me— but who I wasn’t ready to trust. After all, they never gave me any reason to trust them. They never stood up for me. He did.

I’m older now, and distance grants me the ability to reflect with muted pain: I felt trapped ten years ago; there was no safe place to be out. Being out meant being part of the bad crowd. But being closeted wasn’t an option either.

Would things have been different if I had a teacher, a youth group leader, a rabbi who said, “I see you…and you’re welcome here?” Would things have been different if I had a role model who wasn’t a peer struggling just as much as I was?

Would I have had the strength to say “thank you for being my friend… but I’m going to have to pass on this fairly self-destructive path to self-discovery”?

Truthfully, who knows? High school isn’t always known for being the place where we make our best decisions. Maybe I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do it any differently, but without any allies, I didn’t see another path.

To my friend Matthew, I am so proud of you for coming out. Thank you for listening to me all those years ago. You weren’t the role model I needed, but you were the friend I had. If I could have done it differently, I might have. But I wouldn’t have done it without you.

We both made it through… let’s keep going.

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