Of the many interesting and intelligent questions, I received the following message on Facebook from someone whom, out of respect for his privacy, I will not name. Although his questions are straightforward and rather personal, I think these are important to address. In doing so, I hope to broaden people's knowledge on the apparently new hot topic: homosexuality and Judaism.
I'm a straight yeshiva student who is involved in dialogue with many issues. I've heard a lot about you, read your blog, etc. I came across all your stuff in the course of me exploring and attempting to deal with, the issues of bigotry, stereotypes and other issues in the orthodox community. Let me just first say I'm a big fan of your unprecedented work which one would not even conceive in his mind five years ago would be happening today.
First of all, I would like to thank you for reaching out, as well as your kind words about my blog and the work that I've been doing. I'm glad that you're thinking about these issues. As I and others have said, all we hope to accomplish is the dialogue pertaining to these issues; the lack of discussion regarding these, along with the deafening silence, pushes people into a very unfortunate, uncomfortable and difficult position that I and other people have faced while growing up orthodox (frum) and gay.
With all that said and done, I had a few questions I figured a person like yourself would be able to answer most insightfully. First off, what would you advise a person who grew up in an orthodox home, strongly values God, but is gay? Should he follow his desires for what makes him truly happy (having a boyfriend and homosexual intercourse) or follow Halacha? What words of encouragement would you give him?
I'd start by saying that I can relate to the human aspect that lies behind this question; I grew up in a Chasidic home, strongly valued God and believed that God wouldn't accept me because I am gay. Your question — "should he follow what he desires?" — is very different from the decision to come out (to himself, to others) and be truthful to who he is. The question — “does being true to yourself automatically mean that you're going to have a boyfriend and practice "homosexual intercourse?” — is difficult for me to answer because everyone has differing experiences and, while some people have sex, some don't; one should not assume that everyone does. Coming out is really revolves around the question of whether should this person be true to himself and other? Can he be true to himself and still be Orthodox? I think so. Like I've said in almost every interview and article related to the matter, if one considers himself Orthodox, then his sexuality should have no bearing if he adheres to the standards of Orthodox Judaism. It's easy to try and boil it down to a simple question of private behaviors — things one may or not do behind closed doors (i.e. homosexual intercourse, as you put it) — but identity, who we are as gay people is far more complex than a question of whether one can, will or won't act on desires to connect to another human being. Just as I would not ask my parents or friends about what they do or don't do behind closed doors, I don't feel it's right to ask or make assumptions about gay peoples' sex lives. This might also serve to answer the next part of your question:
Secondly, do you engage in homosexual sex and still consider yourself an orthodox Jew? Or do you not engage in relations at all? Or do you not consider yourself orthodox? I know that question is personal, but I'm studying different people’s opinions on the subject, and their practices have a tremendous bearing on their opinions as you can imagine.
Thank you for emphasizing the sensitivity to both of those questions as they are indeed very personal. As I stated above, I refuse to answer questions about my private life especially the sensitive issue of my sex life. As I you can understand that being gay, talking about identity, sexual identity and ones life experience is distinct from a discussion about of sexual activities or lack thereof.
I consider myself a Jew. I don't know whether I would call myself Orthodox. Having journeyed through attempting to change myself for the sake of Orthodox Judaism, as well as encountered the rejection and stumbling blocks that were placed before me by many Orthodox people, I prefer to identify simply as Jewish and gay.
Furthermore, it is not clear how my current level religious observance is relevant to the story that I'm telling. My story about growing up within the folds of a very Orthodox community — in my case the Chabad community — is similar to many other stories. Although my personal story speaks for itself to how difficult such experiences are, I'm only one of thousands of gay Jews who have gone through similar ordeals, the outcomes of which are sometimes intense and painful. The point that I, along with other brave heroes of the Jewish gay community, am making is that you don't have to not be Jewish, Orthodox or frum nor stop enjoying and participating in the culture that you were raised with. Although, today, I might not viewed as good of a Jew as people in the frum community may have considered me five or ten years ago, I am still deeply in touch with my identity as a Jew and the culture I was raised with. Ultimately, your Judaism is something you grow into and shape over the years, regardless of what personal issues you may have; at the end of the day, it is your personal avodah (spiritual work) that matters to God. As I stated in an interview with Jaques Berlinerblau of Georgetown University, I wouldn't want to be discriminated against for being Jewish nor for being gay, and I think that that rings true for every Jewish gay person I know.
I hope that this serves to address your questions and gives you some insight you were looking for. I hope you don't find my refusal to answer questions about my sex life defensive or evasive; that is not my intent at all. I simply firmly believe that certain elements of ones private life need not be part of the greater discussion on sexual identity because what one does (or not) behind closed doors does not alter the experiences and realities that do occur in our communities.