Sunday, July 3rd | 4 Tammuz 5782

June 28, 2016 11:21 am

For Many Jews, Being Gay Means Learning to Love Yourself

avatar by Yitzi Tuvel

Last year's Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade. Photo: Wikipedia

Last year’s Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade. Photo: Wikipedia

Imagine this. When you were four, you realized that there was something different about you. On Thursdays, your kindergarten held pretend Shabbats, where the children would dress up nicely, eat challah, and sing. It seemed like everyone else was having a good time. Home was worse. Every Friday night, you had to force yourself to stay in the dining room and follow all the customs, singing the Shabbat tunes with as much gusto as you could muster.

When you were six, the fantasies started. You’d find yourself daydreaming about secretly breaking Shabbat. In math class, while the teacher droned on about apples and oranges, you’d lustfully doodle pictures in your notebook of people boarding buses on Saturday mornings.

When you were 11, you found an illustrated guide to the laws of Shabbat, complete with full-color pictures of people breaking every one. You hid it under your mattress. When no one else was home, you’d take it out and read it. In the playground, bullies would call their victims “ploughman” — a rude word used for someone who broke Shabbat. Once, someone called you a ploughman, and you felt so sick you almost threw up.

When you were 13, you started thinking about suicide. At night you’d cry. Sometimes you’d stand at the edge of a cliff, searching for the courage to jump.

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When you were 14, you met someone beautiful and somehow, somehow, you knew. One Shabbat afternoon, the two of you ended up hiding in a back alley, drawing on each other’s skin in pink marker. You took care only to draw on body parts that were usually covered by clothes — under the shirt, along the legs. Afterwards you walked home singing. The whole world felt like a happier place.

When you were 17, you finally told your mother. You made her promise not to tell your father, but she did, and he was furious. You were sure you’d be beaten. A week later, they sent you to Shemira camp, a place for Shabbat desecrators. The rabbis lectured you for hours each day. They said that everyone had temptations, but that being Jewish required us to fight them for the sake of His glory. Not everyone had temptations, you thought. Not like yours.

They tried many therapies. They made you confess your sins before your fellow campers. They gave you a rubber band to wear around your wrist, with orders to snap yourself with it every time you thought of desecrating Shabbat. They hugged you firmly and sang Lecha Dodi into your ear over and over.

At night, you’d converse with your roommates. You learned that others felt the same things — the desires, the shame. You became especially close to one camper, and the two of you decided to run away. You moved to a big city and started life again in a suburb that you’d heard was friendly towards Shabbat desecrators.

It was bliss. For the first time you weren’t treated like a freak. You felt comfortable in your own skin. Your religious practices fell away. Sometimes you were nostalgic, but mostly you were just grateful for being accepted.

After the thrill wore off, you noticed that you were living in a tiny haven amidst a sea of hate. There were still so many who despised you. You learned to keep your head up when venturing out of your neighborhood, but being strong takes its toll.

One day your friends told you that they were planning to join a pride march. You went with them. Walking there, among thousands of people who accepted you, something began to heal.

Of course, your religious friends and family didn’t understand any of this. They saw you in the newspaper, swathed in rainbow colors, marching joyfully with your friends. And they were angry, indignant on behalf of the God of Abraham, the God who taught them piety and temperance. They think that you, and those like you, march through Sydney or Seattle or Tel Aviv because you hate God. Perhaps they will always think this. Or perhaps one day they will understand that you do not march because you hate God, but because you are have finally learned to love yourself.

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