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Wednesday, 11 September 2013

MARRY AWAY THE GAY

Hi Y. I'm so happy you agreed to do this interview. Thank you! Can you tell us something about yourself?
I’m forty-six years old, female, and I identify as soft butch, or androgynous, although, over time, I’ve embraced my feminine side. I work as a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist within the LGBT community, and with a lot of Jewish people and it’s very rewarding and exciting work. I have a lot of friends and family. I’m settled and "out". I’ve come a long way from when I lived in the closet in the Chabad community and I was scared and didn’t know what was going on with me. My life is good now.
 What was your childhood like?
I remember when I was little, I wanted to be exactly like my father. I wore my pants below my stomach and wore a tie like he did and a belt and I wanted to be a lawyer, like him. I identified strongly with him.

My mother died when I was ten and my father remarried a few months later. We were sent away and I never went home again. My father doesn’t want a relationship with me. I got sent away to frum schools because they didn’t want us around. I have a younger sister who is still frum.
My sister is very pro-gay. Her favourite show is Glee. She’s part of the fan club! And she’s very supportive of me. She was friends with a frum lesbian couple and she was very close with them. She’s pretty open minded.
Some frum people have been okay. There are some people who accepted me for who I am, and then there were some people who distanced themselves from me. I had some homophobic incidences and I had one very close friend who rejected me absolutely. People used to say they would “daven for me”.
What’s your connection with yiddishkeit?
I go to a gay shul. I just went to tashlich for Rosh Hashana, and I’ve been an active part of that shul.  When I was younger, I was part of the Chabad community. I went to frum schools and seminary and then I got married shidduch-style, at the end of my second year of seminary. It was the thing to do. I went out with a few guys and then I met my ex-husband. He seemed like a lovely person.
 I didn’t know what gay was back then. I knew I was different, but we were so segregated, the girls never talked with boys at all. I didn’t know I wasn’t going to be attracted to men. But right away, after I got married, I knew there was something off. I missed being with the girls a lot.
I was married for over twenty years, but four years into the marriage, I had a major crush on a woman, and only then was I able to figure out what gay was. 
But I was so horrified and mortified that I was gay that I didn’t say a word to anyone for the next seven years. During that time, I was super depressed and felt suicidal. In 1998, I came out, first to my best friend and then to my therapist, and then to my ex-husband.
 My ex-husband was kind of relieved to find out that the problem was not him, and he was quite supportive.
He said, “We need to find you someone.” We still stayed married for another ten years, and we had four kids together. He’s a good dad, a good person.
 I tried to be straight, but I definitely felt like I wanted to find a female partner. I also craved those deep female friendships I’d had earlier, but within the Chabad community, as a married woman, it was very challenging. When I came out as a lesbian, it was much easier to find close female friends. It’s been very very nice.
I got divorced at the end of 2007, and since then, I got my Masters degree in psychology and became licensed and developed some dear female friendships. My life now is much more rich than it was, and I am much healthier.
                               The tea is all kosher AND organic!
 Do you miss anything about frum life?
The sense of community in the general community is not as strong in the secular world. I really wish I was going to synagogue and seeing the same people all the time, and experiencing that warmth. I miss the close family unit. Some of my kids live with my ex and some live with me. 
 don’t miss experiencing many of the people in the frum community making me feel different.
Nobody put two firecrackers up my nose and exploded them. This is just how I am.
After I came out, I had already moved away from yiddishkeit a lot, but in the past year, I’ve begun, again, to reconnect with Jewish friends and now I am more aware of my need for a Jewish partner. I have a lot more in common with Jewish people. They understand my culture and me. It would be nice to have a partner with whom I could share Shabbos dinner and other holidays and Jewish events. I’m aware of my strong connection to Judaism.
Recently, I met someone Jewish. She goes to shul and her kids are in Jewish schools. Having a Jewish partner would be so nice. I am feeling hopeful. I’ve been looking for a long time.
                                Girl, you think YOU'VE been looking for a long time?
What was it like, being married to a man but knowing you were gay?
It was very challenging. I tried to be straight, I tried to see if I could “fix” myself. I tried that for years, and it just doesn’t work. 
I wasn’t attracted to my ex-husband and I didn’t feel a strong emotional bond. It felt like I was married to my brother, or to a good friend. I cared about him and he is a good person. I didn’t want to leave him because we were such good friends, but I still felt something was painfully lacking between us. The good thing about being divorced is that I still have a good friendship with my ex and he has a new wife, so we both have what we needed. It’s a much better situation now.
 Do you think you can have a good marriage if one of the partners is gay?
For me, some very significant things are lacking in such a marriage. It was painful, and it’s hard, having to resign yourself to that lack. You want to be attracted to your partner. You want to feel a bond, feel that your partner is into you. But with one of the partners gay, it’s not that fulfilling. I suppose you could do it, but it would be difficult. The issues would include loneliness, feeling like you aren’t able to meet your full potential, the sense that you aren’t meeting expectations, not feeling like you are with someone who enlarges you and connects with your deepest self. I didn’t feel like I was in a real marriage. I felt like I had a friend, rather than a life partner. I think it was very hard for him as well. He deserved to be with someone who was attracted to him. I don’t think it was fair on him. It certainly didn’t work for us.
 You’d been married for twenty years. What led up to your divorce?
I had promised myself when I turned thirty that I would stay married for another ten years, and then, when I turned forty, I allowed myself to get divorced. I said, “It’s my time.” We tried two years earlier, but my ex couldn’t handle it emotionally and I stayed to support him and then, two years later, I tried again.
 I basically waited until he gave the green light, that he could handle it. It was something we had discussed for a long time. We had gone back to visit our former home in Sydney, Australia, because we were living in Miami at the time and on the way, we stopped in Los Angeles for a five day visit, and my ex-husband said, “If you agree to move here, then I think I could handle getting divorced.”
                                              Parked outside the shul...
The idea was that we would buy a duplex, and he would live upstairs and I would live downstairs, but when he got remarried, he bought himself a different house, and now I own the duplex. I have tenants upstairs and in the back house. It definitely helps. He has a much larger house, but at least I have income.

Right now, my ex is putting my license plates on my car. He just helped me buy a car. He didn’t want me to get ripped off. We are still very close. In fact, I was just helping him with something he is working on.
In what way did your frum ex-husband change his views about homosexuality?
He sees how much I have struggled with being gay, how I tried and tried to be straight and how it didn’t work. For years! He’s seen how hard it is. He’s seen my whole journey. He knows I had a really hard time and it’s hard to be closed and not be compassionate when you really are a caring person. Part of that was that I was so open with him and I let him know how I felt, all along the way. It makes a difference, because, after everything, he really cares.
It sounds like you really have a good relationship with your ex. Do you have any advice on how to negotiate a peaceful co-existence with ex-partners?
My situation is good because I learned about communication and basic empathy. I tried not to get defensive, and own my own part in the demise on our marriage. I tried to think about the impact on my ex. You have to really try to look at the other person’s situation and think about how they are feeling. It’s painful! I tried to see how upsetting everything must be from his perspective, and then I asked him how I could help him and make him feel better. I think one of the most important things is not to be defensive. I tried to avoid criticism and attacking. It takes a certain level of maturity to be able to do that.
Just kidding! Can you tell us about your experiences with therapy, especially within the frum community?
I had a therapist who gave me a book called “Coming Out Straight” to help me to be straight. It was such a bullshit book. It talked about “same sex attraction disorder” and it talked about how to cure something that isn’t a disorder but just part of life. I didn’t even return the book to her. I threw it in the garbage. It was one of the worst books I’ve ever read. She was a frum therapist and she thought there was something wrong with me. She was part of the reason I became a therapist, so that there would be good and knowledgeable therapists for LGBT people in the frum community.
Don't even THINK of reading that book!
There was a different therapist who said I can’t be gay if I’ve never had a relationship with a woman because I’d never had any experiences. At the time, I didn’t realize how heterosexist she was being. I did tell her that I am definitely a lesbian. What I said to her was, “How does a 16 year old boy know that he is straight?” She was also not so respectful about my Jewish life, about my Chabad beliefs. With therapists, you need to find people who are culturally sensitive, both with Judaism and gay life.
Women's support group (NY area)
Frum support group for parents of LGBT individuals
Bruce Aaron (midwest LGBT and frum affirmative therapist)
                                What can I tell you? I love quiche!
What was the best day of your life?
When I got licensed as a marriage and family therapist, it was a really great day. It was an accumulation of many years of work. It had been such a long road and it was a big accomplishment, and it came at the end of a whole journey, becoming okay with myself and feeling comfortable with myself. To me, it’s not just a piece of paper, but it’s a symbol of being in an emotionally healthy place.
If you could ask the frum community anything, what would you ask?
Please find a way to include people who are frum and gay. Sexuality is at the core of who we are. It’s really essential to find a way that people can have both identities, and not find themselves excluded. People end up giving up being frum because of the intense rejection, and because being gay is where they find love. People can’t live without being loved. Find ways to make people feel at home, loved, accepted, part of the community. Help people feel that they aren’t just tolerated, but are a wonderful and blessed part of the community, so they can reach their potential.
Y, thank you for being such a good sport about letting us do this interview and add goofy pictures to what is otherwise, a serious and mature discussion.
For anyone interested in finding LGBT affirmative therapy in Los Angeles, Y is a great resource:
Yisraela Hayman Therapy