I knew I was Jewish before I knew I was queer. However, I only really began to care about being Jewish around the time I realized I was queer. I accepted myself as a spiritual, Teva-wearing Jewish woman. And I also embraced the fact that I am a radical, rainbow-flag-waving queer woman. Both communities helped me figure out my own identity, and both communities have been supportive of one another. This isn’t true all the time, but I personally found myself in a cozy, rare intersection that not everyone is lucky enough to land in.
I didn’t feel the clash between my Judaism and my queerness the way other gay Jews have. Instead, I found that my Judaism informed my queerness, and vice versa. Here are some of the reasons why being a Jew helped me to come out as gay:
1. My Family and Friends
I am one of the lucky ones. Before I even told anyone in my immediate circle that I wasn’t straight, I anticipated a positive reaction. In fact, my mom was the first person I ever came out to. Family and friends showed support, asked questions, and tried their best to understand. I know that Judaism wasn’t the only reason the people in my life were supportive of me. But in some cases, it was a crucial element. I came out to some of my friends in Jewish spaces, which automatically made the process less scary, and the people more open. The bonds I have with my family members and friends are Jewish ones. We’re tied together through common values, experiences, and through the intense emphasis on love and respect that our religion teaches us.
2. The Teachings
If you’ve done any research on what it means to be gay in the Jewish community, you’re probably familiar with the two verses from Leviticus about how a man lying with another man is an “abomination.” While this belief has resonated with some Jews throughout history, people have come to favor different teachings instead. One of which lies between the two: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (Leviticus 19:18.) According to Rabbi Harold Schulweis, “Morality comes from reading the tradition in its entirety – not singling out particular verses or particular laws. It comes from highlighting the ethical rationale behind the laws, including the many interpretations of law, and it comes from wisdom, Jewish experience and history.”
Growing up Jewish, I learned that it is of the utmost importance to care about the world around us. One of the most important tenets is tikkun olam – repairing the world. Jews have been persecuted throughout history, and we’ve made it our mission to ensure that no one else gets treated unfairly. This attitude made it so much easier to accept myself when the time came, as I knew my tradition would be behind me.
3. The Community
Today, it is estimated that 100,000 Reform Jews are part of the LGBTQ+ community. When I came out, I knew I wasn’t going to be alone. It was helpful that organizations I was part of, such as NFTY-MAR, led the way in creating accepting spaces for queer teens. We created our own subcommunities, where I found some of my closest friends. In my experience, communities that are deeply Jewish also tend to be deeply queer, as progressive Judaism fosters commitments to authenticity, diversity, curiosity, and love.
4. The Similarities
As one of these wise queer Jews said, “a warm community, a long history of discrimination, a beautiful culture full of light and love, and an endless variety of ways to be a part,” are some of the main similarities between the worlds of Jewishness and queerness. Coming into my own in both communities wasn’t hard because they resemble each other in so many ways. Both communities are rich with people of different backgrounds, races, and gender identities. Both communities center themselves and their gatherings around food. And both communities welcome all with open arms.
Have You Had Similar Experiences?
For some, my experience might sound alien. For others, who may have found the same type of support system in the Jewish community, my story might resonate in a familiar way. I’ve found my own specific niche situated within my Jewish peers, and helping others find their niche has become part of how I give back to my community. Has your experience been similar to mine? Completely different? I’m always interested to hear what you think. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know!