Learning Me

I grew up in a conservadox household with an untraditional affiliation. We bounced from synagogue to synagogue where I received mixed messages about what I should and should not be and do. Eventually my parents decided to sent me to the only Jewish high school in my state, which was pluralistic with an orthodox overtone. I dressed according to our school dress code like a nice orthodox girl should, and davened each morning on the women’s side of the mehitza.

My senior year I learned what gay meant when an underclassman came out and was sent away to be “fixed.” This shook my world. I had never felt a sexual attraction toward men, and hadn’t fathomed other orientations existed. These thoughts haunted me all year, and came to a peak during our graduation party when a girl in the junior class pulled me outside and without explanation kissed me passionately. I was electrified and as we pulled away we stared at each other for a brief moment before I ran inside. We never spoke of the incident.

I went to college the next year and threw myself into orthodoxy. Looking back, I realize my religious practices at the time were a coping mechanism to deal with my sexual confusion, but it felt good to have a solid community I could count on while away from home for the first time. I met an amazing man who became my best friend, eventually we were engaged to be kallah and chosen. The community celebrated as I struggled internally with my decision to marry him. I loved him, but not the way I should and not the way he deserved to be loved.

He and I had discussions about my sexuality, and his as well. We both identified as bisexual at the time, but neither openly. I found comfort knowing I was not alone in my pain. He graduated and moved away for a new job opportunity and I was to follow him to his new home after the wedding. 3 months prior to our impending matrimony I learned about gender identity in a college course and realized I didn’t know what I was, but I wasn’t a girl.

I asked my Rebbitson if we could meet to talk. I vaguely explained that I didn’t know if getting married was the right decision because I did not know what kind of life I wanted. She sweetly replied “sometimes our lives change in ways we can’t control and we just have to make the best of it.” Two days later I called my fiancee and told him I could not marry him. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done, and hearing his sniffles and choked up voice broke me in a way I will never forgive myself for. However, I had no choice. I had a deep need to explore who I was and he had not signed up for that adventure.

I started dating girls and nonbinary people. I had not come out to my family and had long left the orthodox community behind for fear of their reactions. I met an amazing person who is now my wife and the mother of our child. She also identified as nonbinary, and helped me explore this unfamiliar side of myself. She bought me a binder and helped me pick out masculine clothes which made me feel more comfortable than I ever had. She encouraged me to be whoever I wanted and loved me through each self discovery.

When I came out to my Mother she asked me if I would feel more attractive and want to date men if I lost weight. I was devastated and lost 80lb almost purely out of spite. I still loved this girl, despite my mother’s prediction, and we married.

My wife brought me back to Judaism. She experienced Jewish holidays with my family (who came around to my gayness after meeting her and seeing how healthy and happy I was) and I talked about Yiddish ideas from time to time. When she told me she wanted convert I was floored, and admittedly unsupportive. Throughout her conversion process I started to see my heritage through her eyes and it was much more beautiful this way. We began attending a reformed shul regularly, and celebrating Shabbos in our home each week with our son. I came to realize that Judaism and queerness, which I had been polarizing in my mind since high school, could coexist in my home and heart.

I am a queer nonbinary wife and mother, and Judaism has room for my identity.

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4 Comments

  1. Anonymous January 1, 2019 at 4:40 pm

    Im in a similar position but still closeted. Knowing it works for you is incredibly comforting.
    If I may ask (comments are anon if you want to reply), what kind of Judaism do you follow/practise? Because I cant see that the orthodoxy/community I grew up in has room for me.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous writer of this story January 2, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    Hello there. My wife and I are a part of a reform Jewish congregation. Even though the services are different than I’m used to, it is nice to have a community that embraces my family. At home we are more observant, and follow more closely to conservative Judaism. It’s very difficult to find an accepting orthodox community, and I know none exist where I live. My desire to be around Jews and still truely be apart of the community brought me to realize that I can practice however I want in my home, and celebrate simchas with the community that excepts me even if they dont observe Judaism the way I do. I wish you mazel in your search for your identity and community!

    Reply
    1. Anonymous January 3, 2019 at 8:15 pm

      thank you! I’m struggling with this ingrained belief from Orthodoxy that other forms of Judaism aren’t ‘legitimate’. I do want to try out Reform or Conservative though. Really appreciate the answer.

      Reply
  3. The anonymous writer of this story January 6, 2019 at 8:50 pm

    Of course! I completely get where you are coming from. It took me a long time to be comfortable with the idea that Judaism is what you make it. All of the conditions orthodoxy puts on being a legitimate practicing Jew can really hinder people from practicing in a way that is meaningful to them, but it is hard to accept this when it has been engraned in you that there is a right way and a wrong way to be Jewish. Once I saw reform Jews praying in synnagogue with kavanah as strong as any orthodox shul, I realized that worship this sincere is as powerful and legitimate as anyone elses. I was able to see that my Judaism is mine and Hashem’s only and came to terms with the ideations I had struggled with. I encourage you to try new shuls and see what feels right to you, and keep seeking supportive circles. They are out there.

    Reply

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