F: I'm in my early twenties. I grew up in a frum chassidish home. I went to a Yiddish speaking school and didn’t learn science. Until a year ago, I hadn’t even heard about evolution. My whole family was and is very frum. Still, when I was 14, my friend and I used to sit in the park and imagine what it would be like to be married. Her husband would be a basketball player and mine would be a guitar player. That was a very innocent time.
SLAM DUNK! or....
When I was 14, I was really into the spiritual aspects of Judaism. I loved learning chassidus and I loved talking about it and thinking about it. I loved shabbos. I was always the one who asked a lot of questions, which my teachers simultaneously loved and hated. My questions were thought of as troublemaking, but at least I took an interest.
My little sister recently wrote in my phone, “Chana Miryam is the best. But really H-shem is the best.” I thought this was really interesting, because she’s having this sassy moment but then she’s like, “Oh no! G-d is watching!” I think I was like that as a kid. I was sassy, and questioned, but I worried about the consequences of H-shem watching.
But when I was 14, I was sexually assaulted. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t understand what had happened to me. I didn't have the words to describe what had happened. I thought I would get in trouble. If people knew, I would never get married! It would get around! That girl! The one who asked questions and sat in the park! Stupid reasons.
When I was 15, I was hospitalized. My parents tried to hide that from the family and from my school. They were afraid of ruining the family name, didn’t want people talking about me, wanted to protect me from what people would say, wanted to keep my reputation clean. It was something that wasn’t talked about. I still don’t know anyone who went to a psychiatric unit in the frum community, even though I’m sure people have gone.
When we finally told the school, they asked why I was in that facility. My parents had to talk to them about the rape and the principal responded really coldly. She didn’t hug me. She wouldn’t even look at me. No one knew how to respond. I felt like an outcast. Like everything about me was weird and I didn’t fit in anymore.
My friends were freaked out and scared of me. They went to the principal crying about me, and the principal told me I had to be silent, that I was a bad influence and was scaring the other girls. I wasn’t allowed to speak out about my experience at all. I started getting resentful. I felt hurt about the way the community was dealing with me. I felt like sh-t.
The whole experience was made worse for me because I didn’t know that Jewish people had sex. We didn’t have sex ed in school. Rape isn’t sex, of course. It’s violence. But I didn’t understand anything about it, and it made me angry at the community, cheated.
I still hate the principal of my school. One day, I was crying to her because I wasn’t a virgin anymore. And she was so technical with me and cold. She said, “It’s like you ate bad food and now you need to vomit it out,” and the implication was: Move on. Get over it. At the hospital no one treated me that way. I felt accepted and supported.
After a year, when I came back to the frum high school, it was no longer my world. I didn’t feel safe. I knew too much. I couldn’t transition back.
What connection do you have with the gay world?
F: My best friend is queer, and a good portion of my friends identify as queer and/or gay. I had an argument with my father on Shabbos and I panicked. I thought, “My dad thinks I’m a lesbian!” This is scary because he is an Orthodox Jew who is extremely homophobic. I’m afraid my dad will read my diary and see that my first kiss was with a girl. That would cause a big fight, and our relationship would be ruined. Or whatever relationship we have now.
That’s worrisome because if I am a lesbian, everyone will point at me, and treat me differently. There’s a stigma in the secular world about being queer, but in the Orthodox world, it’s amplified and much much worse.
To tell the truth, my first kiss was with a girl. After that, everyone said, “Now you are a lesbian! I knew you were all along!” I said, “No. I’m not.” I think I’m really afraid of ever being categorized under any term, since I don’t think I fall into any category. I like boys. I like girls. I like people! Those categorizing words are so scary where I come from.
Where I come from, tv watching was so looked down on, so now I don’t like to watch tv. The same thing with words like LESBIAN. It’s very big and very scary. I’ve been with a girl, but I’m against labels or calling myself a lesbian. I’m afraid of the Chassidic world getting freaked out and I don’t want to do something that will make my father and my community mad at me.
Do you know anyone who is both frum and gay?
F: Yes. But from what I’ve seen, it’s very difficult to do. It’s the most difficult thing. Keeping Judaism relevant while living a different lifestyle is 100 times more challenging. And the community talks all the time about those frum gay Jews. Everyone is homophobic, even people you wouldn’t expect. Even my best friend from high school openly admits being homophobic and doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with it. The other day, she said, “I can’t deal with that! I’m so homophobic!”
Why did she think that was okay?
F: When she heard my first kiss was with a girl, she was really weirded out.
She did that really narcissistic thing that straight people do, which is, she immediately thought, “Oh no! F’s in love with me!” She thought I wanted HER. I wanted to say, “You aren’t indiscriminately in love with all of the men in the world. You are selective and I am too. In fact, the last person I’d be interested in was you!”
It’s hard to hate her for this, though, because I didn’t know how to be respectful either when I was younger. She doesn’t know anything other than being homophobic.
What is it about your connection with your father that makes you afraid to tell him about your sexual identity?
F: Sometimes, people shave their beards but no one excommunicates them, right? Bacon and non-kosher meat are exactly the same al pi halacha and yet, chazer seems so much worse, to the point that it seems like the evil of all evil. Gay has the same kind of stigma, an extra negative connotation, as if it’s extra sinful and extra scary within the frum community. I wouldn’t tell my father because even modern, non religious Jews are afraid of the gay, let alone my conservative, republican, orthodox, Chassidic father.
My father keeps on sending me articles about getting married young! He’d like me to have children, and this is what my body is built for, to bear fruit. I do want to have kids. But not right now. I can’t help but worry that I’m getting less fertile by the second, and that’s silly, but it’s the way I grew up and all my friends are getting engaged and having babies, making families. Other peoples’ thoughts live in my head.
I am scared to connect myself with “sexual deviance”, because it’s a scary idea in our community. I don’t think my father would be able to hear it. He couldn’t hear that I’m not as frum as him. He couldn’t hear that I was dating. He could never hear that my sexuality is fluid. He just doesn’t want to know.
What do you see as the attitudes of the community towards frum gay people?
F: I was babysitting my sister and helped her to make girl power pamphlets. She wrote “I like girls sooo much”. She’s five.
My father made a face, and said, “I hope that’s not from hanging around at [name of frum gay family]”. Now the gay is contagious! He laughed as he said it, which was frustrating, because that laugh indicated he thinks the whole lifestyle is silly.
At school, when everyone thought I was a lesbian, people said, “Oh, that’s that dyke girl.” At yeshiva, boys think someone is gay and they say, “He’s super gay” and not in a good way, as in “He’s a weirdo. Don’t hang out with him.”
Have you experienced many frum Jews who are tolerant?
When I was talking about men objectifying women, my father said, “The halacha set up a system to prevent that. You deny the system/rules, but then you get mad when you are a victim of objectification. That system is set up to protect you. You get mad when you aren’t protected.” That’s really skewed.
When I was 16, my mother said, “You should be careful how you dress. Especially given what happened to you.” That is so messed up. This is the understanding of women, promiscuous, deserving of whatever happens because they aren’t aligning themselves with the system designed to protect them. I consider that illogical, irrational and self-righteous. That’s the same tone I hear whenever I hear people talking about someone who is gay. A complete misunderstanding of the issue.
What would you like to tell the frum community?
F: I’ve always been really afraid to leave the community . When I was younger they said once someone has tasted chassidus they can never leave the lifestyle and be truly happy again without it. I believed this. I was scared that I would leave and that my life would be shallow and meaningless. We used to talk about people who had left and were unhappy. But really, I was unhappy. I wasn’t happy or confident or supported as a person. I always felt like I needed to repress myself.
But now, I really am happy and I am not fooling myself. It’s really offensive when you write off my choices as not really mine, but just an influence of my yetzer hara, as giving in, rather than actively choosing life and health. Living a frum lifestyle is a beautiful thing, and I highly respect people who live that life, but I would ask for the same respect for my own choices.
I’m happy for people who make a frum lifestyle work for them. I want all the frum people to be happy for me too. I hate how I feel silly and shallow when I say I am applying to colleges. My friends are making humans and I am going to school. I love what I am doing and I want them to see that I am happy and healthy and have made good choices for me. I want them to give me the respect that I give them.