Thursday, December 30, 2010

Another Song

Now that Christmas has passed, I'm feeling a little better...I still have a lot on my mind, but the big, emotional moment is over. Thank you all for your support and kind words! I really appreciated everything you all had to say.

If you haven't already figured out, I LOVE musicals. I know how much of a stereotype that makes me, and I don't care! I don't quite fit anyone's perfect image of who they think I am ever anyway. Now, as this is a blog dealing with being gay and Jewish, the moment I found this song, I knew I had to post it. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have! (Perhaps this will redeem me to anyone who didn't like my posting Judy's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" the other day.)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow...

I am distinctly, unavoidably American.  Add to that the fact that I grew up in a mixed marriage, and Christmas is still one of those times when my thoughts turn to family and togetherness and the like.  Its not a religious holiday for me, just a time to be with the people you love.  And so being away from my family today is difficult.  This song is looping in my head, and therefore is being looped on iTunes and on YouTube.  I've never related to this song so much as I do this year.  I've lost more than I ever expected or thought.  I'm alone in a city I hardly know with only a very small handful of brand new friends.  I'm struggling to make ends meet.  I'm still not out to my family, and with the looming fear that I may have to return to their home, I realize that if I come out to them I might not have a home to return to.  And in spite of that fear, it hurts me deeply that I can't be with them today.  I do hope that "next year all my troubles will be miles away," because this year has been a living hell.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DADT Done, Don't Hold Your Breath...

Like most other gays in this country, today I am celebrating Obama's signing of the DADT repeal bill.  It is a beautiful moment.  Todays bill will allow several of my friends to serve openly, and at least one more to enter military work without having to go in the closet.  We have joined the sophisticated nations of the world in a policy which reflects modern knowledge of human behavior.  It is a step in the right direction.  But we are far from through the worst part.  We've got bigger issues ahead on the horizon.

The social conservatives in our country are reeling at this blow to their sensibilities.  They fear this moment marks some dangerous turning point in American history.  Standing on the losing side of both this and the current court case over Prop. 8, they are desperate for a victory.  Now, when America is collectively working to make sense of the new, more open national policy regarding gays in the armed forces, Conservatives have the opportunity to jump into the interim and work to pass new laws which will further discriminate.  Now is a great moment to toss away anti-discrimination laws which include members of the GLBT community or to put up for vote a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on a more permanent basis.  We have to stay on guard over the next months and years; this bill is amazing, but its going to be the beginning of some even harder fights than the one it came out of.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hurts to be Healed

Today, I’m sharing with you a minor reworking of a comment I posted to The Skeptitcher Rebbe’s post “Five stages of Mourning Orthodoxy.”  I have worked hard to make this a stand-alone piece, but I recommend reading his original post to help clear up any confusion I may have accidentally left in (and to support another WONDERFUL blogger!!!).

According to the K├╝bler-Ross model, there are five stages of grief an individual experiences when suffering a loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  These stages do not describe a chronology, save that acceptance typically comes at or near the end of grieving and one hopes to make it pervasive.  Throughout the slow process of coming out to myself and then stepping out of Orthodox Judaism, I indeed grieved; the image I’d created of myself and my future as an Orthodox man with a wife and kids was a palpable loss.

At age 16, I came out of the closet to my parents, apparently socially accepting Reform Jews. Before then, I had made a move toward more traditional Judaism in an effort to reexamine the faith I had abandoned briefly several years earlier, and was keeping an elementary form of Kashrus. After telling my parents about this new self discovery, they began throwing out reasons for why me being gay was a shanda for myself, for them, and for my newly found religiosity and observance.  They told me they loved and respected me no matter what, but they weren’t going to march in a Pride Parade with me (fine, not my thing anyway), that I was stealing their grandchildren from them (I still want kids), that for weeks after coming out to them my father cried himself to sleep every night, that they weren’t sure they wanted me to bring my “…partners” over or be around their grandchildren, and that my life was going to be terrible now and they were so sad for me (ignoring the years of extreme, near physical abuse I’d already suffered as the only Jew in the school they forced me to go to). While none of what they had to say holds any water or was at all fair, at that point in my life, it was very convincing, and I decided I must be mistaken.

I strengthened my commitment to tradition, and when I arrived at college, gravitated towards Chabad and began observing the Mitzvos quite diligently. I never accepted the young earth concept or the flood story as told, and while I believed the concept of TMS, never felt it was central to my faith (remember I was brought up Reform, and to me that was just a nice idea, but not terribly important).  As such, where others, in slowly moving away from Orthodoxy might experience the denial stage when dealing with these aspects of Judaism, they were not important to me. My denial was primarily about my own orientation, and it persisted even as the other stages ebbed and flowed through my psyche.

I moved sporadically through the various stages, but the central denial never left. Around the end of my sophomore year, I accepted that I had homosexual desires, though believed they were merely a test and that my job was to overcome them. I believed (because I learned on several frumishe web sites) that if I were to pray and learn more, the feelings would go away. I would get angry when nothing helped and would sometimes look for more radical methods, one of which involved burning myself with a lighter every time I’d had a sexual thought about another man. I would bargain that if HaSham would remove from me even some of the feelings, either about specific individuals or overall, I would take on new chumras. I even took upon myself SN as an attempt at bargaining. I became very depressed at the thought that nothing was helping and that I was doomed to eventually falter and that there would be no help for me then. By the end of college, I had accepted that I would not be able to get rid of my sexual desires, and by the end of a period in Yeshiva, I had accepted that I would eventually have to let them play out, but still denied that I was gay.

It wasn't until a year after leaving Yeshiva that I finally came to accept myself as gay, but took several more months before I accepted that I would have to share this with anyone. Once I had finally come to accept both that I was gay and that I couldn't go on hiding the fact from everyone for the rest of my life, I began an extreme and rapid move through the stages, though this time the pervasive one was depression. Finally, after the support and acceptance of numerous friends, I finally came to full acceptance of myself, and that was when everything fell through. I had to first grieve my sexuality, and only later, upon accepting that, my orthodoxy.  While I’m still occasionally dealing with depression as a result of the above, I have very definitely come to a level of self acceptance and I couldn’t be happier about it.  Now, when I see an attractive man walk by, I can look and not be afraid of who sees or ashamed that I’m doing some massive sin.  I am finally comfortable in my own skin, and that has made all the difference.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It Gets Bitter/Better: Matt Siegel

I wasn't intending to post anything big again until next week, but I saw this video and just had to share! Next week, I'll be sharing my coming-out story as related to my Jewish experience, a slightly edited reposting of a comment I left anonymously on another blog a little while back. I give you this as a bit of a preview; my original experience was quite a bit like the one described in this video. It does get...bitter.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Brief Side-note

Thanks for everyone who's reading my blog!  Its a pleasure to see a spike in my readership.  And to all of you who have come over the past 24 hours, thank you in particular for creating something beautiful.  I felt I had to share your collective creation with you.
Look!  Its a kitty!

Seeing Old Friends

Please forgive the long lull in posts over the past month.  I have had quite the eventful few weeks which have brought some unexpected challenges into my life, and as such, I couldn't quite find the time or emotional energy to write anything, let alone material for a blog such as this.  I have returned for the moment, and upon the recommendation of a friend of mine, quite the experienced blogger, I shall attempt to post at least once a week from here on out.  And now for some substance!

The wedding of an old Yeshiva friend leaves me receiving my former Chevrusa this upcoming weekend, and with that comes the realization that I must explain to him my current lack of observance in the face of the recent developments in my life.  A dear friend to me, he was the first of my Yeshiva acquaintances to whom I came out.  He was quite predictably accepting, and our friendship has actually grown since.  While he is aware that I no longer observe Shabbos or Kashrus, he has yet to experience me in my new, secular state.  I was the most Charadi among our friend base with peyos and a black hat.  Being that he has moved more in that direction, I fear it may be overwhelming to him, and I have put much thought into how to explain to him clearly how to understand my newly found (perhaps revisited) secularism.  Following is the resultant.

At present, I have quite a chore ahead of me in learning how to realize life as a gay Jew.  Jewish values have been a core of my existence for the bulk of my life, and for many years, those values were Orthodox ones.  Every Orthodox Jew seeks to obtain, grow, and maintain his place in the world to come by doing mitzvos and generally being a mentch.  He is taught to follow halacha to the best of his abilities, make teshuva when he falters, and work to avoid future transgressions.  Since admitting my sexual orientation, I have indeed transgressed the toieva of lo tishkav zachar, I intend to continue committing this transgression, and I have no intention to make teshuva for this action.  (Having fought my sexual urges for nearly twenty-five years, it was only a matter of time before I had a gay sexual encounter, and I am blessed that it happened before I made the mistake of marrying a woman and, God forbid, having children by her that they should suffer the consequences of an affair.)  As such, it would seem from my learning that I have lost my place in olam habah.  Following this reasoning, I have no impetus for following any of the Torah's precepts nor even living a moral life outside yiras hamelech, needing only to avoid legal and social consequences.  This idea is repugnant to me.  I find much intrinsic value in observing some moral code, if only for objective reasons (perhaps I shall further delve into Randian thinking and Objectivism in future postings), as well as in preserving religious and family traditions.  I must come to a new understanding of Judaism within my current circumstances, and until then, observing chukim is a futile endeavor.  Perhaps as I settle into a new outlook, I will reexamine the value of these customs.  Presently, however, I have far more fundamental questions to ponder.  Anything beyond base morality and overarching Jewish values must be tabled until further notice.

Monday, November 15, 2010

But a Speck

The following is a rough essay I wrote after some heavy listening to This American Life.  I'd spent the summer before at a camp in the mountains, and sat for hours staring at the stars and discussing the wonders of the universe with a close friend.  During our talks, she and I mused about the wonders and horrors of life.  It is out of all this that the essay below evolved.

When the moon is new or only a sliver in the sky and no city stands to white wash the view, I frequently find myself gazing heavenward and marveling at the simultaneous futility and miracle of my existence. The Milky-way, the opposite side of our galaxy, stretching from the horizon and countless galaxies hiding behind each point of light, some so distant their image has yet to reach us, stars born and dying every moment, spewing from them the building blocks of the future, eons passing before a cloud of dust and gasses form into anything corporeal, and here I sit on my porch smoking cigarettes and listening to music, one of billions of specks on a tiny blue planet in a small solar system around a small yellow sun in one of a billion galaxies, many much larger, in an ever-expanding universe whose edges we will likely never know. And yet, nowhere in this vast expanse is there any creature exactly like me. None shares my exact combination of acids and proteins and synapses and memories and emotions and talents and skills and relationships and hopes and fears and dreams. Science tells us to respect tiny specks, because within them lies the potential for boundless wonders. We don't always know exactly why, but they tend to explode and rapidly expand until they are so great that their origins are infinitesimal, incomprehensible, and it is anyone's guess as to their true origin. By the time we are cognizant of the sheer magnitude of that former singularity, we are left grasping at our incomplete understanding of its nature to try and guess its origin. Right now, I am 25, single and barely scraping by on the meager wages of three part-time jobs in a city thousands of miles from the place I used to call home. Each day brings new fears and challenges. But I know it is only a matter of time before I will reach my critical mass and begin my own expansion. Its anyone's guess what will happen, and just as it is impossible to understand the true nature of the beginning looking back from a point so distant, so too, one cannot imagine the outcome while still sitting as a solitary speck. One day, I will look back and wonder how I ever came to be the world famous actor or the brilliant politician or the influential scientist or the beloved father and teacher, and this cramped little moment of my existence will seem impossible to reconstruct. Those who come after me, whose lives have been shaped by the precedent set at this primordial state, will never know for certain how they came to be the marvelous, singular specks they are. So for now, I smoke another cigarette, play another song, sit back and stare off into the night sky.

In Introduction

Welcome to the first post on my first blog ever.  I am bringing it to you as a long line of events in my life have finally come full circle to a point of deep introversion.  My life has been filled with many interesting experiences, some painful, some uplifting, some thought provoking, and I am finally capable of reflecting on them in concert, rather than as disjointed moments, taking me to my current station.

The name of my blog comes from a RadioLab podcast short by the same title.  The podcast is a D'var Torah discussing the Binding of Issac, using science, history, and politics as fodder for examination.  As much of my life has been spent silently suffering numerous painful experiences, hoping that one day I might see order in the chaos of existence, it seemed an appropriate title.

Much like the podcast namesake for my blog, the subject matter I will be utilizing in examination of my current circumstances will be quite broad.  Physics, biology, mathematics, psychology, political science and international relations theory, game theory, history, sociology, emergence theory, theology, and traditional Jewish sources have all had a part in my understanding of the world, and I intend to reference them as necessary during my discussions.  They are not, however, the focus of my blog, and while I intend to be as accurate as possible in my use of these disciplines, I am not an expert in any of them and I hope you will forgive any errors in my presentation.

My first posts will come in rather quick succession.  I already have some material prepared which will give some background and offer a window into my chaotic mind.  After two previously drafted statements have been published, I will spend some time writing a response to the RadioLab section referenced earlier.  Subsequent posts will come as thoughts fully materialize, and will not be on any periodic schedule, though I will do my best to make them relatively regular.

I will leave you with a very brief introduction to my life.  This is an anonymous blog, and I will be limiting personal details for my own anonymity, but I will share as much as I feel appropriate.  I was raised in a small township in the Midwest wrought with KKK members and Evangelical Christians.  The child of a mixed marriage, my father was raised in a conservative Christian family and my mother in a Conservative Jewish one.  I was brought up in a Reform synagogue.  As the only Jew in my very anti-Semitic school, I spent some time looking into religions outside Judaism during my early teen years before reaffirming my faith and taking on new stringencies in an effort to reevaluate the religion of my upbringing.  While still in high school, I came out to my parents as gay, and in response to their pressure and lack of support, I went back into the closet until recently.  During my time at university, I became quite involved in Jewish life and began exclusively attending Orthodox services and living an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.  After graduation, I spent some time in Yeshiva, where I slowly came to terms with the fact, though not the reality, of my sexuality.  Over a year after leaving Yeshiva, I finally came back out to myself as a gay man, and have slowly shared this information with a handful of friends.  Since then, I have abandoned the religious practices which guided my life for nearly seven years.  I am now slowly recreating my Jewish identity and my relationship to the Jewish community.

I hope you enjoy my posts and find them interesting, insightful, useful, thought provoking, or at least worth consideration.  Please be respectful.  Know that some of my posts will be dealing with difficult material; I will do my best to warn you at the beginning of such posts in case the material might be too charged for you.

All the best.