Curveballs and Time Outs

I was talking to someone recently about how even though the journey of being the Orthodox parent of an LGBTQ child gets much easier over time, curveballs can still get thrown your way. Sometimes they’re large curveballs, sometimes they’re smaller ones.  I had a very small one thrown my way over Succot, but it gave me some food for thought so I thought I’d share.

We were eating with several families for a meal over the Chag and the casual conversation came up about whether a couple needs to be married in 2019 in order for one to be considered medical power of attorney over the other.  Anyway, the tragic story of a gay couple who was unable to make medical decisions for one another that one of the men at the table knew years ago was told, and we continued talking about how nowadays, couples don’t necessarily need to be married legally for medical power of attorney to be enacted.

This was a very comfortable discussion. The host couple are pretty good friends of ours. I am pretty sure that at least one of the couple and I don’t fully agree on the practical halachic ramifications of LGBTQ Jews; however, they know our son is gay and they know we are completely comfortable with it and they are accepting of him and us.  They wouldn’t shy away from a discussion about the subject of gay people and they’d know we’d be cool with it. They had another couple there who we know more casually. That husband started to say something that wasn’t necessarily relevant to the conversation and not even necessarily offensive but while we were talking about the gay couple and their rights, he began to mention how while in 2019 this isn’t an issue legally, this might still be a halachic issue. And that’s when the classic Zach Morris, Saved By the Bell  “Time Out” happened.  At least in my mind it did.

But right after the time out happened,  everything happened at once but in slow motion (for me).  I felt the man’s wife, who was sitting next to me physically turn 180 degrees to physically block me from him and so he could only see her  and say something to him without me hearing her.  I heard him say, “I know!” I heard her say, “I’m just…” and then him saying “I know exactly what you’re trying to tell me and I know and don’t worry, it’s fine.” (translation, she reminded him that we have a gay son) Meanwhile, the host is still talking about whether it makes sense for men and women to even get married secularly nowadays and meanwhile  I’m turning to the hostess and loudly saying, “So, have you read ‘Where the Crawdads Sing?’ (NOTE: EVERYONE, READ THIS. IT IS AN AMAZING BOOK),  so that I don’t have to listen to the woman next to me or embarrass her while she tries to “protect me” from her husband.  All of this took maybe a minute (if that).  And luckily we had a lovely shiraz or two at the beginning of the meal, a lot of really good food and we are all in our forties so we all have some amount of age related ADD anyway, so we moved on to the next conversation quite quickly and I don’t even think it made an impression on anyone else.

And here’s the thing.  Literally  nothing offensive happened during this conversation. The husband who started talking about the possible halachic ramifications did not say anything offensive.  The wife who tried to “protect” me did nothing offensive- she was trying to be kind. But it still threw me for a loop.  Why? I guess because I felt like someone who needed protection. We’ve worked so hard over the past 6 years to get to the point where we are totally ok and comfortable with the fact that we have a gay son and we are part of the Orthodox community. It didn’t feel good to know that there are people who still view this as something that can be viewed as a topic that has to be quashed in case something insensitive is said that may offend us. We are quite capable of holding really great conversations about really sensitive realities of this subject, and we do it all the time.  And sometimes I leave the conversations feeling worse than when they started, sometimes I feel no different and sometimes I feel better.  But it’s part of our reality.  What hasn’t been part of our reality recently is feeling like we should be pitied and I guess that is how I felt.  At the start of the conversation I felt the exact opposite.   In fact, my radar went up at the beginning of the conversation, not because I was nervous for myself but because I was nervous for the husband who didn’t know we had a gay son. I didn’t want him to feel embarrassed just in case the topic came up and I would have to “put him in his place” in case he said something that might have been deemed offensive (whether it was or wasn’t).  Over the years, I’ve developed a pretty decent arsenal of verbal weaponry to be used when necessary. I didn’t expect it to be needed this night, but I always stand at the ready.

Finally, I also got thrown because I’ve done what this wife did so many times.  Not about this topic per se, but about other things.  I’ve tried to subtlety “protect” people in this exact way and now I realize just how unsubtle I was and how uncomfortable that might have made the people who I was trying to protect feel. It’s probably better to not try to control the conversation and let the chips fall where they may. It is always hard to see a flaw in yourself (that you didn’t even realize was a flaw) broadcast in a way that makes you realize can be problematic.

So…in the scheme of things, this curve ball was tiny.  I mean it pretty much went straight into the glove the way it should have. Nevertheless, it did veer slightly. And it gave me a lot to think about.

Explanation Episode

When I was a kid I didn’t understand how TV worked. I didn’t know about the concept of syndication so to me, shows that were both on the air and on in syndication played every day and again once a  week but that once a week episode was always way newer than the every day episodes and the story didn’t fit in with the rest of the show.  What’s worse is that my shows sometimes got new actors to replace old actors playing the same characters  but didn’t tell the audience, or at least I didn’t know why (I’m sure TV Guide and Entertainment Tonight told the adults). Anyway, I’m trying to make an analogy here.  I really bad one. Nevertheless, it is one.  I may not post for a long time (as I haven’t), but I don’t need to explain why or what’s new when I come back after several years. In fact, part of the reason I haven’t posted in a long time is that every time I have wanted to post, I was like “shoot, I haven’t posted in a so long, I probably have to write an update post, blah blah blah….”. Anyway, all is good.  And if I don’t post for a while, I reserve the right to come back and just post like nothing changed. Like a a favorite character was replaced by a different actor without telling the audience.  ok? Thanks.

Get it out there

I got together today with my oldest friend in the world.  I have years of history with this woman and we don’t see or speak nearly enough.  This woman grew up Orthodox like I did and is definitely living in a more yeshivish Orthodox world than I am. I’m not saying this to try to make any value judgments, just to set the stage for the rest of this post.  This woman has kids who go to single sex school yeshivas and Bais Yaakovs for primary and high school.  They will go to mainstream yeshivas and seminaries in Israel, will go through the shidduch process, and would not consider going to a secular university that requires a student to live on campus. My friend and her husband are well educated, have  good jobs and are thinkers.  I don’t know how much experience with LGBT issues she has had in her life, but I think it is fair to say that although she is worldy (meaning she watches TV, movies, keeps up with current events), she probably does not know many comfortably out LGBT people or their family members in her Orthodox world.

I made a decision before I met her that I wasn’t going to avoid the subject of my son’s sexuality if it was relevant to our conversation. There are some people who don’t matter enough to me to bring it up or discuss. She is not one of those people. Early into our conversation, my friend asked how my son is doing at college and told me it seems (based on my Facebook posts, etc) that he is very happy there.  And I jumped right in.  I said, “I’m sure you know about him…” and unsurprisingly, she responded, “Yes”.  (Lesson: people talk about you as much as you talk about them). I went on to explain that my son has found an amazing school for himself and that he is happy socially, academically, religiously– you name it.  And my friend was happy to hear this.  The subject of our kids and expectations came up several times throughout our time together and I comfortably spoke about him being gay and she appeared to be fine with it.

To be honest, I don’t know if she was. I’m assuming she was because she is an open-minded person who doesn’t tend to judge others. But, for all I know she was shocked.  Not because she is homophobic but because this isn’t something she normally has to deal with .  She may have gone home and told her husband that she can’t believe how open and accepting I am or how OK with this I am. I will never know.  But that isn’t why I’m writing this post.  I’m writing about this because I think these encounters are important.  Because if I’m correct and I am the first parent she has come across who is open and honest about being an Orthodox person with an LGBT child, then maybe the next time it happens she’ll be less surprised.  And maybe when someone close to her, who isn’t quite as ok with it tells her about their LGBT kid, she’ll be able to use this experience as a springboard to be there for that friend or relative.  Maybe she’ll even send them in my direction for support.

Here’s the thing.  There was a time when the Orthodox community could not deal with the LGBT issue because people literally didn’t think that  there were LGBT Jews who came from Orthodox homes because it was not something that was discussed.  Times have changed.  I literally hear about another LGBT person in the Orthodox (or former Orthodox) world several times a month. We need to get it out that there ARE LGBT people in our world.  Only then will we be able to deal with it in a real way and not treat it as the stigma it so often (unfortunately) was treated as in years past. In some ways I can’t believe I have to write this. It is 2018, COME ON. But in other ways, I realize the greater Orthodox community still has a a long way to come and the only way that will happen is if the community stops thinking this is something they can continue to ignore and pretend doesn’t exist.  And the way this will happen is if people like me continue to share and speak openly about our LGBT kids.  Onward.

Un-mazel tov

Apparently, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR), a prominent liberal Modern Orthodox Synagogue reversed its recent decision to include same-sex wedding announcements at the shul.  According to the Times of Israel Article which wrote about this: 

The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx will no longer announce the weddings of its LGBT members in its newsletters in accordance with a policy dictated by the OU, the largest association of Orthodox synagogues in the United States. The policy was set out this month in response to complaints from other member synagogues, which take a harder line on opposing same-sex marriage.

The article quoted the OU’s position:

“It is the OU’s unequivocal position that support for, or celebration of, halachically proscribed conduct is fundamentally inappropriate,” the OU statement reads, according to the Five Towns Jewish Times. “Accordingly, the institutional endorsement or encouragement (implicit or explicit) of any conduct that is contrary to halacha is activity that no Orthodox synagogue should allow.”  From what I understand the Five Towns Jewish Times went off on this issue and Open Orthodoxy in general as well.

Aside from a discussion about whether saying Mazel Tov constitutes endorsing “conduct contrary to Halacha”, as an Orthodox parent of an LGBT person I have obvious issues with this.  My biggest one is this: “The policy was set out this month in response to complaints from other member synagogues, which take a harder line on opposing same-sex marriage.”  So, you’re telling me that some other guy had an issue with it, tattled to the OU and the OU took a hard stance deciding to call into question one (actually two from my understanding) of its member synagogues???

I am so tired of people or groups who are seemingly unaffected by this issue stirring up problems for those of us who are actually affected by it.  If another shul wants to include LGBT couples, why should the first shul be bothered?  Jewish LGBT people are pretty adept at figuring out which shuls are ones they are accepted at or not, and in the cases where the answer isn’t as clear cut there is an entire project dedicated to this concept.  Trust me when I say that in most cases, LGBT people don’t want to go to the shuls that don’t want them there.  Let alone be wished Mazel Tov to in those places of worship.

A friend of mine told me the following story. She was recently visiting a community where one of the Rabbis addressed the issue others shuls that allow mazel tovs to gay people in his sermon.  She didn’t hear the speech, but it was a hot topic where she was visiting and she said this bothered her mostly because she didn’t feel that the Rabbi needed to get up and address this to his shul.  He can do what he wants with his own shul, but why did he feel the need to drag another synagogue through the mud to his congregants?  Besides the fact that it is almost impossible to assume that there are no LGBT or parents of LGBT people in his shul (that he either knows about or doesn’t), what exactly is the point? Why couldn’t he bring this up with the original Rabbis in question? Have a private dialogue. Include the OU if need be, but don’t drag HIS congregation into it.  All it does is feed the flames of intolerance in his shul.  Maybe that was his point, but why the need to have such a public fight? I’m piecing things together and I realize that his sermon started the conversation going with the OU and the subsequent reversal of the  decision at HIR.

Now, I want to make it clear, at this point I am not faulting HIR.  I don’t know what sort of pressure they are getting from the OU and what the ramifications are as well as big picture issues that I am not aware of.  But I am blaming the OU and these other member synagogues.  It is so easy for people to monday-night quarterback this issue.  If you don’t have to confront the reality of being an LGBT person in the Orthodox world or being Orthodox and having an LGBT loved one. It is so easy for the mainstream Orthodox world to rally against this and Open Orthodoxy when LGBT people are hanging by a thread to Judaism.  Open Orthodoxy has offered LGBT people hope whereas mainstream Orthodoxy has made it clear that there is little to no place for LGBT people there.  Those of us who care about our LGBT loved ones and their connection to Judaism (if that is what they want) are thankful that Open Orthodoxy has a big tent approach that has thus far not completely alienated them.

And here’s the thing, mainstream Orthodoxy laments the OTD phenomenon.  They hate seeing people leave Orthodoxy.  Well, it is very likely that behavior exhibited by its other member shuls will not only alienate LGBT people but their family members as well.  Why should my other children feel comfortable in a religion that excludes their brother? Why should I?

Speaking of my other children, I’ve made a decision.  I belong to an OU shul. It is a relatively liberal one, but thus far announcements about same-sex marriages have not made it to the shul bulletin and I imagine that the OU’s recent proclamation won’t help that in the future.  So, here’s my decision. As long I cannot announce my gay son’s engagement or wedding at our shul (when the time comes), I will not announce my heterosexual children’s engagements or weddings either.  I refuse to even let one person assume that the happiness and joy of one of my children is more appropriate than the other.   This makes me sad because I like to embrace happiness wherever I can find it.  But sometimes a statement must be made.  Even without saying anything.

Baltimore LGBTQ People and Family Members: Please Help!

The folks at JQ Baltimore asked me to post this and your participation is really important/:

YOUR CHANCE TO BE HEARD!
JQ Baltimore is sponsoring focus groups in mid-November and we are looking for Baltimore-based LGBTQ people and family members to share your experiences, opinions and ideas. Groups will be led by a 3rd party facilitator who is working with our team. There will be multiple sessions (each approximately 60-90 minutes long) and family members will meet in a separate group.
If interested in participating, please send an email with the subject: “FOCUS GROUPS” to Mindy (jqbaltimore@gmail.com).
In the body of the email please include your:
• first name
• age
• email address
• cell phone number
• whether you identify as LGBTQ or are a family member of one.
Gift card raffle before and after each group!
More details to follow.
PLEASE NOTE THAT STRICT CONFIDENTIALITY WILL BE MAINTAINED!

National Coming Out Day Version 2.0

You know it’s been a while since I blogged when I couldn’t remember how to log in to this site.  Weird.

Here’s the short version of what’s been going on with this Orthodox Mom of Gay Kid (After almost 4 years, I completely regret the title of this blog.  Oh well.  A life without regrets is a life not lived.):

My son is now 18.  That seemed to happen very quickly in hindsight. He was 14 when he came out and when I started this blog.  He started college in August and by all measures it seems like he is in the perfect place for him and we are thrilled. I haven’t blogged in a while because honestly, I used to use this blog more for thinking about heavier things with regard to my son being gay/living in the Orthodox community/etc. and truthfully over the past year it has pretty much been a non-issue for us personally.   I didn’t have much to think or write about.  To quote my favorite book series “All was well.”

And all is still well, to be quite honest.  The fact that my son is gay is still a non-issue. That might change for me over the next few years- as he brings home significant others, as we try to figure out how we continue to fit in the Orthodox community after that, etc.  But right now, all is well.

So why am I writing? ? Well, Today is National Coming Out Day.  And last week my son came out.  Again.  No, not as a gay man. Not as trans or anything on the LGBTQ spectrum.  He came out as a Conservative Jew.  This followed a very meaningful Yom Kippur and a long time of religious soul searching for him.  He stated that he feels most comfortable in Conservative settings. He wrote a beautiful note  about this and explained how he values his  Orthodox upbringing and schools,  but at this point this is where he is Jewishly. He expressed that his pluralistic high school and current University which has a very large Jewish presence (of all denominations) helped him to figure out where he truly belongs.  I can write more about his message but suffice it to say, I was and am proud to be the mother of such a mature, thoughtful and appreciative young man.

Which isn’t to say that this was a completely neutral experience for me. My immediate emotion after reading his note felt bittersweet.  On one hand, I was so happy that he had been searching and found a place where he feels he belongs.  On the other hand, I reacted the way parents often do.  I felt a bit of remorse.  For the life I lead and tried to raise him in that he now won’t be an active part of.   Now, I’m not here to defend that feeling.  I do not believe that children should be carbon copies of their parents.  To quote Khaled Hosseini in the Kite Runner, “Children aren’t coloring books.  You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors.” I firmly believe this.  But I also believe (maybe erroneously) that it is natural for a parent to feel some remorse, sadness, regret or other  emotion when their child rejects something that the parent holds dear.  Of course, the parent must then make a conscious effort to get past this feeling and be able to look at the big picture and realize that their child’s happiness and growth are more important than the parent’s hurt feelings.  But I think it would be intellectually dishonest not to acknowledge the emotion that a parent might feel in this situation.

Since that initial reaction, I’ve had some time to think about this and ruminate (as I tend to do) and here is where I am currently.  As indicated my blog pseudonym (Proud Mom), I continue to be SO proud of my son.  To know I have raised a deep thinking individual, someone who won’t stop searching for his truth, someone who recognizes the good of where he came from even though it might not be where he ultimately ends up, someone who despite making this announcement about  who he is today acknowledged that he is not done searching makes my heart so incredibly happy.

I am so heartened that my son founds a group with which he feels completely comfortable.  It would have been disingenuous of me to ask him to continue to identify with Orthodoxy when let’s face it, Orthodoxy has yet to fully identify with him.  Yes, strides have been made in some communities and groups, but at the end of the day is it fair to expect our kids to  remain members of a “club” that most of the time doesn’t accept them?  It’s an uphill battle that I can’t expect him to take.

When my son came out he was angry.  At the world. At us.  At Judaism.  One time he said, “I’m not Jewish.”  He didn’t identify at all.  It was painful, but understandable.  At the time, I wrote the following on this blog:

“And I realized that no matter what, I want my son to have a Jewish identity.  I know that he will probably not practice his Judaism the way I do, but I want him to feel something.”

His recent “coming out” has shown me that he feels more than something.  He cares. He’s connected.  He’s Jewish.  And indulge me for a bit, I’m kvelling.

2017 Eshel Parent Retreat

Registration for the 2017 Eshel Retreat for Traditional and Orthodox parents of LGBT people is open! The retreat will take place the weekend of May 5-7, 2017 at the Berkshire Hills Eisenberg Camp.    I’m on the planning committee and I can tell you, it is going to be a fantastic weekend.  Here are some of the sessions/programming planned:

  • It Takes Two to Tango: The Dance of the Parent-Child Relationship
  • When You and Your Spouse are Not on the Same Page at the Same Time about your LGBT Child – or at different stages of acceptance
  • The Child I Gave Birth To and the Person You’ve Become: exploring the experience of having a child who is transgender
  • Learning the Ropes: practical pointers for helping your trans child navigate the legal and medical systems
  • “Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First”: Taking Care of Ourselves So We Can Take Care of Our Kids
  • Keeping Our Kids Healthy and Safe: Mental Health Resources
  • Finding the Right Words: How and What to Say?
  • What’s So Funny about Having an LGBT Child? Well, did I tell you about the time… Sharing humorous anecdotes.
  • Red Flags – What to Look Out For: Warning Signs that We Might Need to Consult with A Mental Health Professional
  • From Pieces to a New Whole: Helping our Child be the Best He or She Can Be and the Many Different Ways of Being Kadosh

If you have any questions, leave a comment or message me and I’ll be happy to answer your questions.

In the meantime, feel free to check out some of my thoughts on past retreats:

Eshel Meetup in Baltimore

If you are in the Baltimore/DC/Philly area next week and are an Eshel member (or potential member) or parent (or potential Eshel parent), consider attending a wonderful Eshel event that will take place. It is amazing that the Eshel Directors, Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Miryam Kabakov will be running the event.

Details on the location will be given after RSVP to: info@eshelonline.org

A Call for Jewish Schools to support LGBT Students

In an article published in his school’s newspaper, Rabbi Ari Segal, headmaster of Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles called for Orthodox leaders and specifically schools to create safer spaces for LGBT Jews in our communities.  The article is titled, “The biggest challenge to “Emunah” of our time.” In this article, Rabbi Segal writes about the crisis of faith that many young Orthodox people are having nowadays because either they or people close to them are LGBT.

“This may surprise many adults, but the reconciliation of the Torah’s discussion of homosexuality represents the single most formidable religious challenge for our young people today. More young people are “coming out” than ever before, and that repeatedly puts a face to this theological challenge. These weighty issues do not live in the abstract; they powerfully and emotionally impact genuine individuals living in our Orthodox community, with real life families and friends. What may seem like an interesting sociological debate in truth is creating crushing pain, anxiety, and general turmoil for people about whom we care deeply.”

He continues on to state that it is not educators’ and Rabbis’ jobs to determine the cause of someone’s sexual orientation or gender difference.  He writes “I think we should stop discussing the “why” of it and leave that to God. The more we try to understand this, the more harm we do. Simply stated, my shoulders are not broad enough to reconcile the totality of this issue.”

Rabbi Segal goes on to explain that our LGBT children are suffering, regardless of how we may try to make them feel accepted when we speak to them on a one to one basis.  “Young people in the LGBT community have told me that they feel invisible when we counsel them in private; they feel somewhat loved, but only unofficially, “tolerated,” but not embraced.”  

So how can schools embrace their LGBT students? Rabbi Segal offers some thoughts:

  • Allow, or even sponsor, a support group for our LGBT students.
  • Find ways to celebrate those individuals choosing to live an Orthodox life while struggling with their sexuality. These brave students are responding to this powerful test of their emunah. Let us not relegate them to second-class status.
  • Encourage – and indeed expect – that our straight students support their gay peers in our school. Gay students deserve the same friendship and solidarity as anyone else, especially as Jews trying under the most challenging of circumstances to navigate the Torah and observe its commandments.
  • Implement anti-discrimination human resources policies and create a safe working environment for all employees.
  • Modify our educational plans and curricula to focus on discrimination against LGBT communities.
  • Provide our teachers with professional development in this area through organizations such as Eshel.
  • Find a way to assure our LGBT students that they belong and have a place at school and in our community. (We’ve already set this process in motion at Shalhevet, stay tuned for an important announcement.)

I am so appreciative of this article and thankful that Rabbi Segal wrote it.  I hope that his suggestions get disseminated to all of the Orthodox Day Schools in this country and that the discussion continues.

 

Links of Interest

Some great pieces this week:

  • How Israel’s Modern Orthodox Jews Came Out Of The Closet: A brother writes about how and why his sister  (and others) chose to come out publicly in the wake of very strong LGBT statements made by several Rabbis in Israel.
  • What Can You Do For the LGBT Jew in Your Community?  Shlomit’s latest TOI Post.  This is a great resource for allies who really want to help and welcome LGBT Jew’s into their communities with real action and not just in name only.
  • Some Thoughts On Social Transitions  “The Story of a Birl” blog published an amazingly educational and informative post about social transitions.  It’s a great piece for those who are starting to learn about gender non-conforming children and gender dysphoria.