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.