Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
Dear younger Daniels,
When I re-watch episodes of RuPaul’s “Drag Race” and Mama Ru has the final three queens talk to younger pictures of themselves, I always think about what I would say to you two, so here goes.
First of all, you may think it odd that your future self is speaking in the plural. There is a reason for that, which you will learn in time, as sometimes it feels like we’ve lived three different lives: pre-Closet Us, Closet Us, and Post-Closet Us. The world is a cruel place, and I won’t be able to protect you from it. As Dumbledore says, “It is my belief, however, that the truth is generally preferable to lies.”
You are going to have to learn some hard truths about your place on this planet and, no matter how much I wish I could change that, I can’t. You are going to learn that the world was not made for people like us. We do not conform to some idea of what a boy is. Your body and mannerisms will never allow you to pass for straight or masculine, and you will want just to be invisible. You won’t understand why your childhood friend stops being friends with you, but there is a voice in your head that has an idea. When you finally understand what it means to be “gay” and say it to yourself for the first time when you are ten, you will be concerned with every action that you do, worried that you will give yourself away. You will retreat into yourself, probably to the confusion of everyone around you. They won’t understand, and you can’t seek solace because you know that the love you desire–what you are hiding–is the love that dare not speak its name. This is all true, but this is not why I’m writing to you.
I’m writing to you to say, thank you. Gratitude, you ask yourself? Yes, gratitude, because from where I’m sitting right now in May of 2017 in the United States of America, I am realizing that the two of you are the ones who I will be drawing strength from in order to resist our new reality.
To youngest Daniel, thank you for being a sissy boy. It has taken me many years to claim our femininity with strength. You saw yourself in Dorothy and in Disney Princesses like Ariel. These were your role models — the characters who brought you joy. Thank you for falling in love and immersing yourself in their worlds, even though you “weren’t supposed to.” Thank you for absorbing the messages of following your dreams, believing in yourself, and believing that hope and love will prevail. These lessons will, I believe, inoculate us from the worst of the horrors one can encounter in the darkness of the Closet.
To teenage Daniel, I need to tell you that you will get through it. When you made the decision to go into the closet for our own safety, know that you really didn’t have any other choice. Thank you for doing what you needed to keep us safe and to get us to where we are now. Thank you for becoming a hard working student; it will be our grades that will allow us to escape the Midwest and make a home on the East Coast. Thank you for finding role models in Star Wars and Harry Potter: Princess Leia and Yoda; Hermione and Dumbledore. They will become your teachers and avatars. Their values will become ours, and their struggles for justice through light and love will become a North Star in our lives. Thank you for getting lost in Greek mythology; with men in relationships with each other and men in, for all intents and purposes, dresses, Greek mythology was the one place you could see some part of yourself reflected. Through them, you knew that you were, in fact, allowed to exist in this world. Thank you for exploring our Jewish identity–for really thinking about what it means to be a Jew in this world. You internalized the messages of “I am my brother’s keeper,” “tikkun olam,” and the memory that we too have been “strangers in a strange land.” These values would become the foundation for the work of who we are now able to be as an adult–realizing a dream of being a real-life version of a Jedi, a member of the Order of the Phoenix. Thank you for repeating in your head as you lay down to sleep that someday, when we were older, we would live the life we wanted, as ourselves, no longer hiding in the closet. Thank you for enduring the psychological and spiritual toll that took.
As I look to the days ahead, and plan out our future, it will be the two of you from whom I will draw strength. I will need the power of the ruby slippers, our dreams and wishes, and our lightsaber and wand to face the day-to-day realities that threaten the future of the people we love and the planet we call home. I promise to make you proud and to be the adult now that we needed in our lives back then. I promise to do this, but you must promise to stay with me, until the end.
Now, let’s kick up our heels and get to work.