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.
If you can, do me a favor.
One morning, when you were ten or so, you swiped a rainbow necklace from a green leather box in the upstairs bathroom and wore it in the toy room while playing a video game. I believe it was Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time; the whole reason you wore the necklace was because it had six colored circles on it which reminded you of the medallions. But then, as you remember, your brother Levi asked you to hit pause so the two of you could chat. (You’ll understand in a few years why I’m using the name Levi and the word “brother.”)
Levi pointed out that it’s not polite to take other people’s things without asking, and that rainbow necklaces like this one have a special connotation. He went on to explain what “gay” means, and said that wearing the necklace is generally an indication that the person wearing it is gay. He then used the moment as the perfect segue into coming out to you. And then—and this is kind of the punchline—Levi said that “since you aren’t gay,” it’s not quite appropriate for you to go around wearing it. The many layers of value and irony here were lost on you for several reasons, and really you just wanted to get back to Nintendo, which you did a moment later.
Like a well-loved record, this memory has become scratched and is starting to crackle—and that brings me to the favor I’m asking: I wish I’d taken the time to journal it so I could remember it more fully. Would you do that?
That story is a gem in an otherwise pretty muddy year; ten is not quite a perfect ten. Mom and Dad are divorced, you feel estranged from your siblings, and your friendships are sputtering out of steam. All of this is underscored by the fact that there’s a reason for your particular response to that picture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono (you know the one). As you enter the ninth circle of hell middle school, your vulnerability makes you a favorite target for bullying. Which, frankly, was so bad that you block it out.
It would be unhelpful for me to say that things aren’t so bad right now for you, and it would be dishonest to suggest that you’ll be able to take control of the situation. I know that right now you have a low opinion of yourself. You’re looking at a pantry full of questionable-looking ingredients and can’t conceive of a recipe that will make anything appetizing. I’m here to tell you that every one of those ingredients is perfect and will serve a purpose.
It embarrasses you that you love to make up fantastic stories with toys you should have outgrown years ago. Yet that’s your insatiable creativity, and you’ll replace those toys with amazing friends and collaborators who will make stories with you on stage and screen. You’re ashamed that, despite Dad’s insistence that you take self-defense and boxing, you’ll never really hit back. Yet it’s not those who bully who are tough; the tough ones are those who opt, instead, to develop a thick skin and preserve themselves without reflecting back that aggression. You’ll make mistakes in parking lots with boys whose names will be forever etched in your memory alongside their corresponding exits on the Southern State Parkway. Yet they are the rough drafts with which you’ll figure out just what to do with the enormous amount of love you have to give.
You’ll start to hear “it gets better,” which is true, but incomplete and not the point; it also gets worse, albeit less often. The much cooler thing that happens is that you get better. There is so much ahead of you that will delight you, but also know this: the things that don’t will temper you.
One day, you’ll have the courage to celebrate the things you currently think make you weak, and a community will rally around you, loving those qualities. Then you’ll be able to bask in the glow of that community. Wear that rainbow necklace your brother will give to you, when you are ready.
P.S. Tell Dad to invest in Google now and put that money in a trust fund. (Worth a shot.)
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Want more? Check out parts one, two, three, and four.