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Sunday, 27 October 2013

THE LESBIAN PROFESSOR: NOT OUT TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS



I’m not out in the community where I live in England. I’m Israeli. I grew up in a religious family and we are Ashkenazim. I was married for a very short time to a man, but I had no children. We didn’t get divorced because I was gay but for different reasons. I was about thirty-eight when I realized I was gay. I was reading a book and only halfway into the book, I realized it was about more than “friendship” between two women. One of the heroines in the book had a life much like mine, and I started to look back on my own life and learn a bit about what it means to be a lesbian. It was a revelation. This is who I am!
In a way, it was a relief. It was hard, too, because at that time I was the only Orthodox woman who was gay that I knew. Besides, you know the stories about the woman who has so many cats and lives all by herself on the other side of the community? I didn’t see myself like that, a crazy cat lady. I’m allergic to cats! I’d never met a lesbian in my life. I thought I’ll probably live by myself for the rest of my life. I thought that’s okay. I still think so.

Back then, in the 90’s, I thought I am different from everyone else in the Orthodox world.  I had this feeling that I don’t want to get married to a man. Now what? Where do I go from here? I found out a very important detail about myself and then there’s nowhere to go!

Well, I got older and nothing happened. I kept it to myself. I got my masters in Jewish Studies and I started to do research. I didn’t even know how to get on the internet at that time, the web was in diapers, but I still started to look for a forum within the Jewish world. I knew I wasn’t going to become non-frum because of being gay. My question really was: How will I live now? I even thought about doing my dissertation about it. I did research, and I realized I can live by myself. It’s not such a big deal in halacha, and worse comes to worst, someone will slap me! Someone will try to shame me! But if someone hits me, I will hit them back! (I’m a tough Israeli).
Ultimately, I knew I’d have to go back to Israel to find out more about being gay. I returned to Israel and I started to look around and I started learning about LGBT life, mainly through the internet. The first time I went out to do something with my knowledge, there had been an ad in paper, The Pink Times. Someone put an ad in there, that they were looking for educators to help youth. I thought, ‘I am an educator and a counselor, so maybe I could help youth.’ I went to the first meeting and there was a famous woman there, and some other people, all gay, all looking gay. I told them I was frum. And they said, “We do not want of your sort. Because you try to make us frum.”
I left that meeting thinking I was definitely the only person like me. I felt I had to leave, but the next time I wanted to explore, I went online, and there was IOL, (Israel on Line) and I found a forum, and on the forum was the first openly gay, young frum lesbian, and she said to me, “You’re frum!” I was so shocked! I realized I wasn’t by myself! There was more than just me.

The community was very very small at that time, but a year later, a group of women started a frum lesbian forum and slowly, it grew. Then I left again for England, and that group created Bat Kol. I kept in touch with everyone through that group, and I was as supportive as I could be. I couldn’t always get to the meetings, because I worked overseas.
I am in my sixties now. I live as a single person in a Noah’s ark of people, because everyone surrounding me is coupled, all heterosexual. I have no gay friends in this town. I don’t know any one. Plus, my gaydar is bad.
                                Gay or just very very happy?
I met my last girlfriend thirteen years ago, online. We were together for seven years. I had one other girlfriend, but she was my first girlfriend and it didn’t last. With a same gender partner, there is warmth and wit and intelligence.  You don’t have to say too much to be understood.
One member of my community is a shadchanit [matchmaker], and she tried once to set me up, and I asked her not to anymore. I told her that where I am, please don’t bother. And at my age, it’s a little more complicated anyway. So then, the shadchanit got off my back. I’m closeted, but on the other hand, sometimes people do understand things without needing to be told. I don’t need to have a sign on my nose.

My family don’t know I am gay, but I did come out to my niece. She told me her mother (my sister) thinks that I am gay. And my cousin called me one day, after looking at my Facebook page and asked me if I’m gay, and I said yes! I won’t lie. I’m not a liar. But as long as I don’t have a partner, there’s no reason for me to come out.
    But, if you don't look at Facebook, you won't know I'm gay...
My mother, I think, A”H, did not like my ex-girlfriend. Maybe she knew but didn’t ask. Just like in the American army. My father is in his 90’s and I don’t feel the need to come out to him. If he asks me, I would not lie, but there’s no reason for me to come out. I don’t ask myself a question like that, what would happen if I came out to my family, because I would be completely utterly alone and lonely if they rejected me.

I do not have close friends in the community where I live now. I do have close friends but they don’t live here. They live in Israel and I am out to them. It doesn’t work that easily to meet people here. I can’t always be running back to Israel. I work here now. 

I used to work in Jewish education for the Jewish Agency but now I am the head of the Hebrew department at an English university. There are a lot of gay people in academia. At university, I have no problem if someone knows I am gay. I’m me. That’s all.

There are two sides of me and they live very peacefully together. I don’t see any problem. The only thing that is hard is that I am by myself. I don’t even wish for a partner, but just someone that I can be completely me with. And she should live nearby! I do have a non-Jewish friend who I met through my ex. She’s not gay but we are good friends. One of the things I like to do is go to estate sales, and she knows the area very well, and I get to see unusual places. There’s wonderful things to see and find in these old houses in England. Her husband sleeps in on Sunday and she is happy to go out with me. And I can talk with her about everything, because she knows that I am gay. That loneliness is the hardest part of my life. I have no conflict with being frum and gay.
In Israel, I belong to a group, not Bat Kol, that are gay. Some are married to men, some are ultra-orthodox, and it’s a very eclectic group. We meet twice a year, at least one Shabbat a year, and it’s a wonderful group! Thank G-d for all these smart phone apps and skype, so we can talk as much as we want. That’s something that didn’t exist before. The people in my group don’t see any problem with being frum and gay and neither do I.

I don’t know what is the best part of being frum and gay! I have no idea how to answer. At least I know who I am and I am not confused. I don’t see the contradiction between these parts of myself. I have grey hair and blue-grey eyes. What’s hard about that? That’s who I am. No contradiction but different parts of myself.

I did all the confronting when I was eighteen, and I was a student. I had to ask myself then, ‘Why am I frum?’ and then, when I realized I was gay, I had to confront the gayness, and from that moment on I just live my life, as I am.

If a young woman would come to me and say I feel I am gay and I want to stay frum, then I would help her find a way to do it. I try to be the best D I can be and it’s not a conflict in my life. I try to do the best I can, combining all elements of my life, but it’s not a constant plaything for me. My mind gets to rest.
I don’t have the need to belong to a group but it’s nice to know there are other people beating with the same feelings and expressions. At some point, my group did talk about what’s okay, what’s not okay. We all read the same books and articles and the gemarah. We had many talks on the subject of lesbian women. I wonder if anyone can get to the pages where we did that discussion online? Maybe that information is buried after all these years? Well, it was nice to be able to talk with people about these subjects. I was really really closeted back then, and during those online chats, it was like being able to be all the parts of myself, and yet still a bit secretly because we used screen names. And then, when we finally met the actual people in the group, not under a screen name, that was very nice. It was suddenly true that we had known each other secretly for 15 years, but under nicknames!
I think the integration of frum gay people is happening already. In many communities. I would still like to see that if two women walk down the street and go to shul and they are a couple, it would be exactly like a man and wife going to shul for holidays and Shabbat and no one would think it is a strange thing. They would see them as a family. Here in England, once in a while, there’s a gay minyan, but it’s not in walking distance, so I can’t go. I wish that whoever wants to live openly, can live openly just like anyone else. If they think they need to break a glass to live together, then so be it. Anyway, that’s what I am seeing - in some communities, gay couples are accepted just like any other family.
There’s an Israeli group on Facebook called (translated) “I’m a Frum Feminist and I Have No Sense of Humour.” It’s not even a year old, but in the last seven months, almost five thousand women and men have joined. In the last few months, the changes they have brought on have been incredible! Even fully Orthodox shuls have allowed women to dance with Torah, and many other things too, and suddenly it’s become, why not? That’s the attitude I want to see towards the frum gay community. Normalcy. If two women in Satmar want to go into the shul with their little boy or girl, it should be normal. My grandparents were Satmar.
Yehuda Meshi Zahav, he is the head of Zaka. Twenty years ago, he was the leader of all the anti-zionist guys that gave the Israeli police the worst time ever. They demonstrated all over Yerushalayim. He was horrible. But suddenly, after a terrorist attack that happened right in front of him, he realized that Israel was not such a bad country. He was completely anti-zionist, but he changed his perspective and now helps the country.
It should be just okay to be yourself. Young girls who suffer from their families because they are gay, should just find acceptance. I can feel the change. I can see change in the frum community. In less than a generation, the change will be there.