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Sunday, 22 September 2013

COMPASSION ISN'T ENOUGH



Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I am 41 years old. I grew up frum (religious) and I am frum now. I am a doctor who works mostly with patients from the frum community. I’ve been in practice for over 19 years. I grew up all over the United States, and I didn’t move to New York until I turned 13 years old, and that was my first exposure to East Coast frumkeit (religion). 
What’s your family background as far as yiddishkeit goes?
 My mum’s family is yeshivish, and she grew up in the Bais Yaakov system and my father’s side is part modern orthodox and part chareidi. They are all Hungarian.  We went to Hebrew Day Schools and then, in Monsey, I spent two years in a Bais Yaakov type school. They made me gay They did! 
It was a very big culture shock to come from out of town and then come to those New York views on Judaism. Outside New York, you don’t have the luxury of judging other Jews based on their observance. In Monsey, I got suspended from school for not blindly following rules. I got picked to be the class treasurer, and we worked hard to earn money for a hard-cover yearbook. The school tried to steal our money and give it to the boys for their yearbook. I refused to give it because I was the treasurer and I got sent across the street to the boys building to face the rabbi, the death sentence of our school. When I made eye contact with him, the Rabbi called me chutzpah’dik (disrespectful) and then forced me to give back the money by suspending me from school and appointing a new treasurer.
I also got suspended another time for reading a romance book. They told me at that time that I was the reason three Gedolei Hador died!
I didn’t take it seriously, though it spurred on my independence and my lack of respect for adults. I began calling myself an agnostic. I knew that people had a desperate need to follow rules even if the rules were hurting other people, and I also knew that people in authority could take advantage of people’s weaknesses and victimise people with almost no shame. I decided I did  not want to be a victim but neither did I want to be a perpetrator.
Tell me about coming out to your frum family?
I come from a family of people who don’t talk about things much, so I can’t say what my mother said when I first told her. I am sure she said all of the things that she thought were the right things to say, but her face looked brittle and fragile. I can also say that for years after I came out, no one in my family except for my nephew, ever said the word gay out loud. 
My nephew says that he is down with the gays. I think my nephew helped my family get used to the word. I remember once I came to visit and I saw some kind of book, maybe it was gay poetry on my bed, and when I asked who put it there, my nephew said he found it at a garage sale and thought I would want it. I know my Mom heard that. I know that he softened things in his family because he was so accepting and it was so normal for him and he was so loving about it. He loves throwing around the word “gay”…he just texted me and asked me why a particular store in New York is overrun by lesbians and why we gays always get the good things.
Fast forward to now: My mom has gotten to the point where she came to my partner's home for yontiff to meet the family. We took a walk and I asked her how she felt seeing the evidence of how much my partner and I loved each other. She stopped dead in her tracks, burst into tears, hugged me, and said “How do you think I feel? I am so happy for you. Happy that you found someone who you love so much and who loves you so much.” Now, my partner calls my mom on the phone, and calls her shvigger, and my Mom sometimes text messages my partner random thoughts and observations. She wishes her good yontiff.
Once, my crazy partner decided she wanted to know how my mom feels about me being gay, since my mom never actually told me. So she called my mother! My mother said “That’s putting someone on the spot. I’d like to call you back after thinking about it!” I’m pretty sure I know the tone she used, the scared, possibly annoyed tone.
When my partner told me she did this, I was convinced my mother would never call her back because avoidance is an Olympic sport in my family. We’re kind of dodgy. However, my mom called her back and answered her question and said, “I want her to be happy. I will love her no matter what.” I know what tone of voice she used for that too. It’s her teary one.
What made you think you are gay?
I didn’t wait until I thought I was gay. I waited until I knew. I was in love with one of my best friends in high school but I didn’t know what it meant. My friends and I used to go to the Village on Sundays and hang out, and once, we saw two gay men holding hands and then kissing each other. It was the first time I ever saw something like that. I didn’t think that had anything to do with me at all. 
I didn’t know anything about sexuality in 9th grade. I had no idea what anything meant. Anything sexual I saw, I thought it was for non-Jews and eventually I would learn what Jews did, maybe in Kallah classes. So maybe that’s why we were taken aback when we saw the men, because it was sexual and personal and strange. But it didn’t have anything to do with me at all. I was full of silly little girl shock and giggling and curiosity.
My question of whether I was gay or not popped up repeatedly through 9th grade all the way through college. Once in a while, I would ask my therapist if she thought I was gay, and she would say, "What do you think?" and I wouldn’t be able to answer the question. I didn’t know anyone gay and as soon as the question was turned on me, I put the question away on a shelf. It usually popped up around an attraction. I never acknowledged the word “attraction”…it was more like an intense relationship with a woman that felt strange to me, even given how close girls were in the frum community.
What was it like falling in love with your friend in 9th grade?
I didn’t know I was in love. It was horrible! I wish I knew I was in love. For all of the women I was in love with when I was younger, if I had known what was going on, my life would have been so much easier, but also soooo much harder. It was adolescent and post adolescent torture not to know what was happening to me. I wanted to be around that girl all the time, think about her all the time, want to know everything about her, everything that ever happened to her, it was all consuming and I was a teenager, and I wanted that feeling to be returned. We are still good friends now, and we are both still intense people. For a while she returned my feelings, but perhaps not to the same intensity.
                                  We did NOT practice kissing. We didn't. Why would you think that...
I remember when she fell in love with someone else, when we were in college already. I was devastated. I think maybe that’s when I knew I had been in love with her. I watched her fall in love with someone else and I knew that’s exactly how I felt towards her. It was a really horrible feeling, especially to have no words for any of this. It never occurred to me that I was really gay and that that was an option for a frum girl. If I had had those words there could have been freedom in that.
                                                But what about all the girrrrrls?
What’s it like, being in a relationship with a frum gay Jew now?
A gift. I had given up hope of finding someone frum and I’d almost given up hope of finding someone Jewish and I never thought I’d find someone who matches me so perfectly, frumkeit wise. If I’d made a list of what I needed yiddishkeitwise, that would be what I get in this relationship.
                                Hi honey! I'm home!
Why did you think you wouldn’t be able to find a frum partner?
I shidduch dated men for over twenty years, until I came out to myself. I could have married two of them, one proposed and one was ready to, if I would have let it happen. He was a really nice guy and I kept wishing that I could like him like that, because he was soooo nice, but no matter what, I just couldn’t do it. 
It was after my first date with a woman that I understood all my years of dating men. I never understood what attraction was so I never understood what lack of attraction was. I never understood chemistry. I never realized the level of anxiety I was feeling on dates was past what was normal. Even on my worst date with a woman, I never felt that anxiety.
I didn’t think I’d be able to find a frum partner, because I guess, after being out for a couple of years, and going on retreats and being on dating websites and believing that I was seeing whatever was out there, I didn’t think it was possible. I knew that there was a handful of frum gay people who were out, but not more than that. Many were already taken and many I’d dated. Others weren’t my type.
How did you meet your partner in the end?
I’m so smart. I met her at the first ever Eshel retreat, almost four years ago. I saw her speak and I was a wreck. I was new to coming out, and it was my first time being around any frum gay people and whatever she said that night made sense in my head.  Year later, at another Eshel retreat, she spoke again, and I felt like she was the one for me, but I was too intimidated by her. I didn’t think she dated my type (femme). So we became "just friends", until I began to artfully pursue her, and then I won her heart.
What’s good about being a frum gay Jew?
I’ve matured and stretched more than anything else in my life has matured and stretched me. I’ve been forced to see the grey areas in people and the world, in my relationship with people I love, with my religion and with my Higher Power. I am wayyyyyy more open minded. I used to have a stick up my behind that is now half-way removed.
What’s not so great about it?
All the losses.
I lost my community of choice. I lost my best friends. I lost a place that was the only place that ever felt like home to me. I lost black and white thinking. Maybe that’s not so bad though.
I like the mainstream and I don’t see why I can’t live in it. But somehow I’ve been forced out of the mainstream and into the fringes and I have a resentment about that. I don’t consider myself out of the mainstream. I consider myself pretty normal.
What do you see as the biggest issue for gay kids growing up in the frum community?
I’m not sure if this is exclusive for gay kids. I think it’s true for all kids in the frum community. They grow up without a sense of healthy sexual self. Whether you are heterosexual or homosexual, wherever you are in the spectrum, if there’s no healthy outlet within the confines of the frum community to explore who we are sexually as children, and there’s no language given for it, then there are a lot of unhealthy consequences. I see a lot of patients who are sex addicts or who have sexual dysfunction, low self esteem, dysfunctional marriages, all kinds of unhealthy stuff. It goes on. 
This is how you catch the baby when the stork drops it.
I talk about sexuality all day in my practice. Sexuality has a huge impact on people's lives. Everyone’s lives. It only becomes especially frum people because frum people struggle with the difference between secrecy and privacy. Or tnius and secrecy. But with secrecy comes shame. Shame breeds all kinds of mental health issues.
Was/is it hard for you to come out in the frum community and why?
In one way no and in some ways yes.
As soon as I really knew I was gay, I knew I had to come out to everyone who was close to me, because I am not a duplicitous person by nature. I can’t live a dual life. So I knew I HAD to come out and it was immediate. I had no choice and it wasn’t that difficult of a decision, and I have a lot of people in my life who are really loving and supportive irregardless of where they are on the spectrum of religiosity. The parts that are more difficult  have been work related, and related to how some of my closest friends who are more chareidi are responding to my relationship with my partner.
                                What did you say? You're going GRAY???
It’s almost made me afraid of coming out. It’s made any time I am coming out to someone a more scary process now than it used to be, because I have suffered significant losses. Now I am scared, because I know what I can lose.
Even though I am out and some of my patients know I am gay, the sh*t has not hit the fan yet. I think once it does, my practice is going to be significantly affected. I think I will lose patients and referral sources. I don’t worry too much about it, because I think that being out is the right thing to do. I believe that G-d will take care of me. When I am in a good head space, that’s what I believe. Not when I am in a roaring panic head space.
Can you talk about some of the losses you have experienced?
I am going to cry if I talk about this.
I had the kind of childhood and life that never felt like I had a home until four years ago, where I was living in a yeshivish community surrounded by friends of twenty years. It was like a womb. Even though hashkofically I was to the left, everyone was very warm and loving and accepting and I had hundred of meals to go to, invitations all the time. The most important people were my best friends and their kids, who I was like an aunt to. And every day was the same and it was good. It was my first real home ever. Every shabbos morning, walking to my best friend's house for coffee before lunch, I would pause for a minute and thank H-shem for where I lived. And all of that’s gone now.
My best friend got a psak from her Rov that I am no longer allowed to have contact with her children as soon as I move to live with my partner and we haven’t talked since that psak. Her choice, not mine. I don’t know how to ever talk to her after that. A couple of my other close friends got similar piskei halacha about never being able to meet my partner. So, it was like four years of being surrounded and told about this loving accepting G-d and seeing all of this work that they were willing to do on themselves and all of the mussar that they listened to, but in the end, they only meant that their version of a loving and accepting G-d was only for people who aren’t gay. That’s what it feels like. Even if that’s black and white thinking, that’s where I am at right now. And I know that this has nothing to do with H-shem, but I do feel like most of the reason I ever wanted to be frum was the sense of community. The best and only good part of being frum, for me, was community, and now my community just booted me out. I’m not sure what’s going to keep me frum now, as I walk right into Yom Kippur.
Did you or your partner do something that might have been construed as unpleasant by the frum community where you lived?
No way. My partner is more frum than me. I think she is intrinsically more respectful. She angers less easily than me. She’s naturally tznius, inside and outside, while I have always struggled with tznius, even before I came out. 
That can’t be what pushed them over the edge. I think our relationship becoming serious was what pushed them over the edge. That’s what was considered “unpleasant.”
The frum community knew that we were very close. They knew we wanted some form of commitment. They never saw untznius behaviour from us. They never heard untznius words. We both grew up in strictly frum communities. We don’t act differently than any other frum couple in the street. We relate modestly to each other and we are as tznius as we were raised to be. That’s natural for us.
So, you weren’t rejected by your friends until you were in a relationship that began to mimic, in some ways, a straight marriage. Why do you think that is triggering for the frum community?
When I was on the phone with my best friend before Shabbos, I would be cleaning the house, or washing the dishes or peeling or cooking and at first, she laughed, because I'd never done those things before. Now I began to look like a frum mother. 
                                    Just kidding. 
My friends began to learn about my relationship and the home I was moving into, a busy frum home, with normal frum expectations and work levels. Before yontiff, I was doing the same thing my friends were doing. I think that was scary for my friends because they want to think about the gay part of me as being “other” but, instead, the gay part of me integrates me into the frum community more strongly. That makes being gay both real and very very scary, because I am more like them as a result of being in a relationship.
But for them, it’s all about the aveirah (sin). How I am dealing with the aveirah part. They just can’t reconcile the part that I am doing all these mitzvos, all of these beautiful things that I couldn’t before, making shabbos, having a lot of guests, lighting candles with my partner, going to shul, davening (praying), all of these things as part of this relationship which is, they think, an aveirah. They would rather reject the whole thing.  I barely understand this myself.
So, ironically, when you are finally able, after all these years, to have a Jewish family and to live a full Jewish life like your friends, you are rejected by the Jewish community. How insane is that!
You know what’s insane? How black and white people think about kefirah…because, in my relationship with H-shem, I am not flaunting the fact that I am doing an aveirah. I am not proud that I am defying His will in this area. 
I am proud that I doing the best that I can to be healthy with what I have, for my life, for the me that G-d made. And I believe that He knows that. I think that people think that making shabbos with my partner means I am a kofer (heretic), and then they kick me out of the community, when ALL I WANT is to be part of the frum community. Why would a kofer want, so badly, to be part of a chareidi community? I'm not hurting anyone else. They have a childlike view of these concepts. They haven’t been forced by life to see the grey.
                                Did you say GRAY again? 
Can you explain what you mean by “forced out of the Jewish community”?
I am most comfortable in a chariedi community. That’s where I grew up, and feel most comfortable. But there’s no way that any Yeshivish community will ever accept me and I am not comfortable in the modern orthodox community. Most, even many modern Orthodox communities wouldn’t accept me, but I am not comfortable in them anyway. Right now, I stay in a chariedi community where, when I wish people good shabbos in shul, they straight out ignore me and snub me. Where I do not have a shabbos table or an invitation to eat with my partner. But I’m not leaving.
I’m stubborn. This is the only place I feel comfortable. Because I believe in the good of people and it has to get better than this. I believe that people want to do good. They want to do right. And maybe, if I hold on and do the right thing for myself, it’s going to get better not just for me but for everyone. Or maybe they will wear me down. I don’t know.
If you could ask the frum community for one thing, what would it be?
For me, being selfish, since I want acceptance in the chariedi world, (I know it is beyond idealistic!) it’s not enough to ask for compassion. No one in the chareidi world does anything without a psak, without a Rov telling them that halachically, they have to do it, or at least how to do it. What I would want…well, I don’t know if we have a Gadol who is large enough, a real Gadol Hador, …but I would want a few chareidi Gedolim, or as Gadol as you get these days, to start dealing with the reality of frum gay Jews, and start looking at the piskei halacha with more of an inclusive, loving attitude.