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.
National Coming Out Day was established on October 11, 1988, as a commemoration of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. I don’t recall if I chose that specific day to come out, but it feels especially meaningful for me this year as I reflect on twenty-one years of being out. My queer life is twenty-one years old and so much has changed. Not just me, and how I identify, but the world around me. My queerness has grown up. I don’t think the teenager who came out to his mother via email sent on dial-up internet could imagine the life I’m living now; that teenager didn’t think he’d even make it to this age.
This year, National Coming Out Day coincides with Simchat Torah, the joyous celebration of completing the annual cycle of Torah readings and starting them all over again. What I love about the annual cycle of Torah reading is that the stories don’t change, but we do. We bring new insight, new experiences, and sometimes, new baggage to our tradition’s stories each and every year. I definitely could have used some sacred guidance on coming out, but I realize now that I am the Torah I needed (and still need).
To commemorate the auspicious confluence of National Coming Out Day, Simchat Torah, and twenty-one years of being my authentic self, I am returning to the beginning of my rainbow scroll to offer that thirteen-year-old the Torah he needed.
Hi. It’s me. Rather, it’s you, from the future. Congratulations on taking this huge step! You told someone your truth and it was scary and unnerving but you did it; you should be proud of yourself. And if you’re not yet, trust me that I am. You might be asking yourself, “now what?” Well, for starters, you will do these hundreds (possibly thousands) more times, and it gets easier each time. For the most part, folks will respond positively, and the few that don’t, well, let them go. Being a gay Black teenager in the Midwest is hard enough, that added negativity will not serve you. On that note, being gay is not at odds with being Black, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I hate to tell you this, but, you should know that some of those who are closest to you will not understand your truth. As a result of that, they will actively reject you in a way that still hurts, even today. They do, eventually, come around, but I wish there was a way to protect you from this hurt.
Right now, you have your own reasons for wanting to leave Nebraska, and in about a year, the state legislature will give you at least one more. The good news is that you do leave, eventually. It takes a while, though. You’ll spend a few years in Boston, many more in New York City, and settle (for the time being) in Philadelphia. Not only that, but you get married. To a man! I know, right!? The road to marriage is a long, bureaucratic one, and it’s not exactly illegal in 1999, but…it’s complicated. Don’t worry about it for the time being.
At times, you will feel like you’re the only person who’s like you. You’re not, I promise. You will meet our elders and they will change your life. And you, sweet soul, will become an elder sooner than you think. You are ready and have wisdom enough. You will come to know the joy and sacrifice of our ancestors and revel in the power of chosen family. Know that coming out, publicly committing to this truth about yourself, gives others the permission, the power, and the possibility to do the same. For a while, this may be the only thing you understand about yourself and you will come to love it. Not only that, but your understanding of yourself will continue to grow and expand. It’s not a phase, it can’t be prayed away, it’s just one piece of the fabulous puzzle that is you.
As you progress through middle and high school, some of the boys in your classes will shamelessly flirt with you while also telling you they are straight; don’t entertain them. Do. Not. Entertain. Them. Trust me on this, they have their own stuff they need to work out and they will break your heart if you let them. They try this in college too, but you wisen up by then. Mostly. It’s a rite of passage of sorts that will eventually lead to the courage of conviction and compassion for others.
You are now, and continue to be, a deeply spiritual person. As you continue to live and love your truth, you will encounter religion in two ways: once by force and once by accident. The encounter by force will occupy several years of your life and then crash spectacularly. That will hurt, but from the rubble-strewn road that emerges, you find the fortuitous encounter meant for you. Some time after this, you’ll learn about the Talmud. You will study it with chosen family, you will love it, and it will change your life; memorize that feeling.
Remember, beloved, every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting, more authentic place. At times, this will suck, but I promise it gets better. Not just better, but unimaginably beautiful; I’m proof of that. Thank you for your bravery, your strength, and your deep wells of resilience.
You got this.