I’m 21 yrs old. I live in New York. I grew up in an Orthodox community in the midwest and consider myself Orthodox, though I struggle religiously. I work as a makeup artist and I am openly gay.
Growing up, gay wasn’t a thing, but I went through a lot of bullying in middle school. There was one kid who targeted me and later on, when I made a blog, I wrote about him but didn’t mention his name. He was a bad seed. None of the teachers liked him. He would torture me. He got into my head, psychologically, and he also hurt me physically, and he’d get other kids to hurt me too, or he’d hurt them. The school didn’t do much about it. And then, in 7th grade, his father became my principal. That kid used to call me a girl, gay, faggot. He said those things, and I would go home crying every single night. I was worried that he had somehow embedded the idea of being gay in my mind, just through the constant name-calling. That was my first experience with “gay”. I thought being gay wasn’t a real thing. Just a product of the bullying.
That cruelty made it harder growing up in orthodox community. And I was always told you marry a woman and have kids, and that’s the way it is. When we went through the posukim having to do with gay people in school, it was very casual. They didn’t stop to discuss it. It was black and white, a condemnation. And if it was in the Torah as wrong, surely there couldn’t be real people who were gay. I thought something was psychologically wrong with me. I didn’t know any other gay people either, just Jack and Will from Will and Grace. My first experience seeing two men kissing was weird for me. I’d never seen anything like that in my life and it was strange. I saw a whole different side in Tel Aviv. I got over that weirdness.
In high school, the bullying got worse. I went out of town for yeshiva in 9th and 10th grade, but the principal and mashpia guessed I was gay and they decided to make me their project. They caused a lot of emotional damage that still affects me. High school was terrible. It made me feel worse about myself, depressed, self-conscious. For 11th and 12th grade, I wanted to go back home, and I ended up in a local yeshiva. I never discussed being gay, but it was something I struggled with. I began to do research online, and found JONAH, and I thought that would be my way out, a fixing, a magic way out. I got in touch with them and I started therapy with them. It was a horrible experience, and the only good thing that came out of it, was that I was able to come out as gay. The only reason I even told my mother I was gay was because I thought they would be able to cure me. I told her, thinking it was all over and I would be straight. They made me believe I could change.
I left the yeshiva before my final year, and I was homeschooled. I was able to sort out my life and move on. The yeshiva didn’t kick me out. I just didn’t want to put anyone in an uncomfortable position.
I have two older sisters and one younger brother. My sisters knew I was gay, but maybe my brother didn’t. It wasn’t a surprise to them. I was just confirming it to them. It was a shock but they all handled it really well. When people asked my sister about it, she said, “It would be selfish for me to say that it’s hard for me, since it’s S who is going through this thing.” I have a better relationship with my family than I ever did.
My mother and my siblings thought I was gay because I have stereotypical qualities. I was different. My mother had a good intuition because I was very flamboyant. It made it easier for me later on. If I wasn’t so flamboyant, it would have been harder to come out, harder to get accepted.
I’m not uncomfortable with who I am. It’s who I am. It’s not me shoving it in their face…I am just being me, the way I have always been. I don’t carry a sign, but this is just how I am. It’s nice that I have so much support these days and from my family. I feel lucky to be born in this generation.
My dad and I had an interesting relationship. We are very different. We didn’t connect so much, but ever since I came out, he’s tried really hard to be there for me as a parent. He struggled with not understanding it, but he never had a problem with me actually being gay.
I was always a good kid. So that made it easy. I was good at home and good in school. One good thing is that my parents don’t care about other people’s opinions. All Jews are Jews. They don’t like those labels. They accept all Jews. In my father’s mind, me being gay was our family’s thing, and everyone else’s opinions are irrelevant. He is a big baal tzedoka and he gives to many places, but he stopped giving money to the organizations and rabbis who signed the [homophobic] Torah Declaration. Family first! He has my back, and that improved our relationship.
It’s surprising, but I didn’t have any issues from the community, because everyone kind of guessed already. I left to Israel after 12th grade, and that also gave everyone in the community time to absorb it. It was shocking because I was so young and my family was so prominent. Everyone offered opinions, but we were already at a very strong point by the time that was happening.
In Israel, I went to Bar Ilan’s American program. The dean knew I was gay, and he seemed cool with it, but he told me to keep it on the down-low. I thought he was just being cool, but actually, he didn’t want anyone to know. Then, when everyone did know, the dean started to have an issue with it. I hadn’t realized that not being out [being on the down-low] was my condition for being in the program. One of the teachers told me that the program was considering kicking me out. I went to the dean and said, “My family and I will be pressing charges of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation if you continue with your plan to kick me out. We’ve already spoken to a lawyer.“ I managed to finish out that year there.
There were a few boys in the program who wrote mean things on my door, I spoke with someone in the administration every single day for six months until it was finally taken down. The program wasn’t good about me being gay. At the end of the program I spoke with the dean in front of my father. I said the only reason I am talking about this now is because there will be other boys who come after me who are gay, and may be not as strong as me, and you could cause them to have a serious issue [suicide]. You could have a major problem on your hands if you treat them the way you treated me.
When I returned to my hometown, people weren’t so surprised about me being gay anymore. It was what it was. No one talked about it. Some people were overly friendly towards me who had never spoken to me before. “Oh my gosh! How are you?” They talked to me like I was some kind of cancer patient. I preferred the people who were talking about me behind my back!
One person who helped a lot was Rabbi Litwack, my rabbi in 7th and 8th grade. He’s the one who said it’s not so black and white. He doesn’t believe it’s something I can change, and he told me that though I can’t do every single mitzvah, I can still be a good Jew. He told me, if you are in an accident, how can you put on tefillin? A kid who is autistic can’t do a lot of the mitzvos. He told me a lot of supportive things. I go out to dinner with him or out for shalosh seudos. He’s a really big influence and role model for me. He is part of the reason I am still connected.
Certain situations make you realize who your real friends are. The people who really care about me, have stayed my friends. The only person I had a really negative reaction from is also someone I think might be in the closet.
It’s difficult to be out and Jewish. I’m not going to say it’s not. When you are finally out, you make a lot of friends who have been through similar experiences. My mother and father can’t completely relate to my situation. But finding people who can relate is amazing. But still, I am tied to a community that rejects me. That is the experience of many of my friends, too. Your belief system is in a different community, the Jewish community, and that poses a big challenge as a person. I am confident and comfortable as a gay man who is Jewish, but as an orthodox Jew, every day is a struggle. I always told my parents, I want to keep Shabbat because I feel a connection rather than out of habit. Now, it’s on and off for me, because I struggle to reconcile these two worlds. That’s the hardest thing for me. It’s a purgatory. You don’t know where to go because you are in-between two communities and you’d like them to be intertwined, but for me, I just can’t make it happen.
I have friends who claim they are successfully both gay and Jewish, but to me it doesn’t feel fully possible. It’s a big struggle and it’s difficult. There are no official answers, just vague opinions from Rabbis. I don’t believe it’s fully possible to be completely comfortable with both, completely content. I think you can, but the connection is challenging, like water and oil.
It’s interesting, because I took AP psychology, and they say that when you go through something traumatic, it’s hard to remember. It goes in your subconscious. The majority of my life, I was in the closet, and I barely remember a thing about it. Now, I am just out and about. Now, my earlier life feels like I am telling an old story. It feels so far away and sad. It feels like I am a different person now. I used to be miserable and alone and sad and depressed, and I had to pretend I was happy. It makes me sad.
Now, though I struggle with being religious, I am completely happy and feel so good and so deserving to live my life without having to adjust myself to please others. I lived like that for a long time. Im ein ani li, mi li?…”If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”.
I have goals but I don’t plan. Man plans and G-d laughs. I’m so young. I want a relationship because I feel like I am at that point now. Because of my circumstances, I had to grow up real fast. Most people my age are still in the closet. But I am past that. I want to find someone to be in a relationship with. I want to continue growing my business too. In the beginning it was hard, but now I am busy.
I don’t know about having kids. I always thought that I wanted kids, and now I am an uncle and I love that. Eventually, I’d like to start a family with someone. I’d like to find someone Jewish, someone who I could relate to and be able to open up to. I’m a very guarded person. I build up walls because of everything I’ve been through. In a relationship, I’d like to be myself and be comfortable and to feel like I don’t have to be defensive.
I want to go to the Eshel shabbaton this year, and I want my friends to go with me. All my friends aren’t sure what they are going to do, but I really love going.
Everybody has their struggles and obstacles in life, even though we can’t see everyone else’s struggles. Something I think is crucial is respect. Just because you might not agree with the way I am, it’s not your business. You don’t need to have an opinion on it. Have respect for me even if you don’t agree with me. I am tznius, and you don’t even know what, if anything I am doing behind closed doors. I am not going to damage your children. I am not recruiting. Please accept me for who I am, not reject me, based on a small part of who I am.
The first few years after she was married, my sister had a hard time having children. Imagine if everyone in shul looked at you, and gave you dirty looks and talked about you because you couldn’t have children. Imagine if that happened to you. That’s what it’s like for me, walking into shul, an immediate bad feeling, based on something I have no control over. Please just find it inside yourselves to be respectful.