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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

GROWING UP IN A FRUM GAY HOME




We are really fortunate that sassy and delightful Z agreed to speak to us today, as her story is quite an unusual one. She lives  in an ultra-orthodox home and remembers all kinds of funny gay experiences in her frum high school.

                                Not that Frum Gay Girl would ever recommend pulling a stunt like this...

Hi Z. Thanks for joining us today. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
Z: Hi Frum Gay Girl. I’m really excited to be able to speak out on this blog. Thanks for inviting me. I’m in my twenties. I grew up in a big chassidish family and my first language was Yiddish.

 The unusual thing about me is that I grew up with a frum gay mother and that I am queer myself.

                                Not for you, she don't

Get out! No way! That’s pretty unusual! What was that like for you?
Z: At first, I didn’t want to tell anyone I was queer because I thought people would say I was just doing it to be like my mother or to be cool or trendy or something. 


Of course, when I came out to my siblings, they weren’t even a tiny bit surprised or upset, since my mother had already broken that barrier years before. My orientation was about as interesting to them as hearing I changed my shoes. That's how it should be! (But it was still a bit disppointing because it was big news to me)
                                Since you're asking, they're Manolos

How frum is your family now?
Z: Well, I have a brother who is studying for smicha in a chassidish yeshiva, and I have another brother who just came back from a year in an Israeli yeshiva. 


                                Do my glasses match these marigolds?

My other siblings go to Yiddish speaking chederim and Jewish day schools. 


Everyone is at different levels of frumkeit but we all have a lot of tolerance and respect for one another’s choices. We are one of the closest, most open families I know. We “adopt” a lot of people, and you never feel alone or unsupported.

                                Gives a whole new meaning to duck face.

When I had an issue with my boss recently, my “adopted” brother, my mother’s partner and my real brother all came along to back me up and that felt great, that support and connection.


What’s the best thing about growing up in a frum gay family?
Z: Because we are so open and frank, we do a lot of talking about big ideas, and as a result, we have excellent morals and strong beliefs about ethical behaviour. We have a completely famous shabbos table that everyone loves, and we are accepting of whatever level you are at. You come at your own standard, there are no prerequisites or requirements, you just show up as you are. What I love are all the different personalities, all the different ways people dress on Friday night, all the great holidays and the fun we have.

                                Bubbie Glinkelhoff and her good friend Mrs Zingleboim

When did you first realize you were queer?
Z: I just found out from a classmate that there was a lot of sexual contact between girls at camp and in elementary school. I was so shocked! I didn’t know anything and I was very innocent about that kind of thing. Of course, none of those girls labeled themselves as lesbian or queer. They didn’t have the language.

                                              Yes, Virginia, you read that right. Shocking, I know...

Then, in high school, there were two girls who were obviously in a relationship. They spent every minute together, holding hands, giving each other back rubs and hugs and holding hands. But this was in an all-girls school. It wasn’t so unusual. Still, people thought it was a bit over the top and talked about them behind their backs.

                                This is no one you know. Don't get scared yet.
There was one girl in our class who had a TV (a big no no in our community) and she came to school one day crying her eyes out about these two girls. “They’re lesbians!” she said. She’d watched some show that had gay characters and she brought the language to school. I remember thinking, “What’s the big deal? So what?” At that time, my mother was out to the family but not to the community, and I didn't understand her discomfort and fear. I was puzzled why she had such a bad view of being gay.


A lot of the friendships between girls in those days seemed like relationships. When they split up, the girls would be heartbroken for months. That’s because all of the emotion and sexual energy was kept between girls. There was no communication allowed with boys. Even so, there were always girls who were more interested in girls. Several of my close friends were never interested in boys, even when they were sixteen or eighteen.

                                Boys weren't as bad as chazer, but al-most....
It was really sad, though, because after the girl with the TV made a big fuss in school, those two girls barely spoke to each other, they were so ashamed.

                                Who me? I would never give a girl a back massage!

Later, in high school, there were two girls who got caught kissing underneath a blanket, and it was a huge scandal. The girls got kicked out of school. Now both of those girls are married with kids. They both were really beautiful and still are. I do wonder what their lives are like now.


Anyway, during high school, there was another girl in my class who I secretly called the big bad butch. She had a lot of relationships in camp and now she is an out frum gay person and really amazing and strong and funny. Her chassidish father is very supportive of her, but he’s an educated man. Sometimes, without education, people can be very tough. 


That girl told me that she always wanted to have a wife, even when she was a little kid, but she never felt she could tell anyone.


One day, my teacher (who was a rabbi) wore a pink tie to school, and everyone began whispering, “That’s so gay!” It was the first time that word, “gay”, had been said aloud in my school. And the really funny thing was that for the next three days, my big bad butch classmate wore a pink tie to school!


I don’t think I answered your question, but that’s because I’m not really sure myself!

What was the school’s attitude towards the LGBTQ community?
Z: Once, my teacher handed out worksheets where we could write down questions and topics in yiddishkeit that we wanted to talk about, and I wrote down a question saying that I wanted to know about how the Torah views being gay. I wanted to understand why G-d would put people in such a hard situation. I wasn’t trying to be provocative. My mother was gay and I just wanted to know.


When my teacher read my note, she started blushing and stammering. She was green! She said “Maybe we’ll talk about this after class” and of course we didn’t. Everyone was looking down and avoiding my eyes and the eyes of the teacher. It was embarrassing and scary, and I was afraid people would think I was gay. And that would have been a really bad thing at that time.


I think the school was trying to be open-minded but when it came to a really tough question, the gay question, they had to shut it down. And the amazing thing is that at that time, in a class of 18 girls, there were 4 that were gay. So it really was a relevant subject.

                                Beware, dahlings, ve vill make you gay while you sleep!

 Ha! There must have been something in the water when your mothers were all pregnant! What do you think your teacher might have told you, if she had decided to speak instead of remaining silent?
Z: I’m actually glad my teacher didn’t decide to say something, because I’m guessing it would have been something negative and judgmental, and instead, I had a slow coming out, a slow learning and understanding that was comfortable, safe and accepting. It was good, because many of the frum girls in my class are still blank slates and haven’t adopted negative attitudes. They met my girlfriend and they were lovely to her and to me.


Is there anything you regret?
Z: Growing up in a frum gay family, I didn’t have the high drama when I came out. All the shouting and the tears. I kind of wanted it to be dramatic. When I told my mom, she said, okay, let’s role play a bad coming out, and she started to cry and yell and tear out her hair and carry on, and even though we were play acting, it felt scary and bad and we had to stop.


Have there been frum people who have been particularly supportive of you, besides your classmates?
Z: My mother. She has been the most supportive person in every level of my life, whether it’s my queer life, my religious life or my larger life. I have one frum friend who is extra supportive of me (you know who you are!) and the Eshel* community is incredibly loving and supportive, especially the big circle of girls around my age.



Is there anything you’d want someone whose friend or family member comes out to them to know?
Z: You should be proud that the frum gay person chose you to come out to. They thought you were safe enough and understanding enough and accepting enough to reveal this very private part of themselves to. They are taking a massive risk to speak with you and tell their truth, and please please please try to live up to that, and treat them gently and lovingly. 



*Eshel: http://www.eshelonline.org/
Eshel is an organization that strives to help Orthodox LGBT Jews maintain their Jewish observance and find meaningful religious community both internally and in the larger Orthodox world.