The Pain of Silence

I knew that converting through an Orthodox community would be a challenge, I knew it would turn upside-down everything I thought I knew. I’d have to study hard, I’d have to change all kinds of things in my life. I’d have to give up my phone on Shabbos, give up the convenience of treyf take-out, I’d have to learn how to explain my choices to my family over and over again. With absolutely no doubt, no uncertainty, I knew it was what I needed to do and that in return for all the changes I was making in my life, I could enter this amazing, beautiful world of Yiddishkeit.

For some reason I didn’t think about what it would mean for my sexuality. For some reason, I assumed that just like I was able to stop eating treyf, stop doing melachot on Shabbos, stop shaking hands with men, I could just stop being gay.

As a teenager, it was a huge part of my identity. I was the first one to come out of the closet at my school, I was able to help others navigate the challenges of queer life in a small town. Coming out to my family was, at the time, the hardest thing I had ever had to do. But by the time college started, it became less and less foundational to my identity. I wasn’t interested in dating, so it just wasn’t on my mind. When I started becoming frum, I convinced myself that it wouldn’t be a problem. I’d dated men before, I could make it work. I went back into the closet, told my family that it must have just been a phase, stopped talking about it to my friends, made my support for LGBT friends and family less public lest people get the wrong (right) idea.

I underestimated how my understanding of Judaism, my internalization of halacha, my view of myself, would change. And change they did, drastically. I’ve always been hard on myself, but when your actions suddenly have cosmic consequences, when they can either lead to the redemption of the world or delay moshiach, well…

I love Hashem. I know my soul is meant to be Jewish and to deny it would be the most painful possible thing. I know that this conversion means accepting the entirety of halacha. I don’t get to pick and choose. Knowing I won’t get to marry a woman and raise a family with her hurts, but not as much as it would hurt to not be Jewish. I know I’m choosing this and I have no hesitations about that, but I didn’t choose the silence.

Nobody talks about it. Conversion is isolating but at least I know a handful of other converts even within my community. There are groups, resources, other people struggling through their conversion, struggling to be accepted by their community. Nobody talks about this – it’s shameful, it’s hidden, it’s a secret. My friends can joke about how hard it was to give up cheeseburgers and clubbing, but I can’t joke about this. To even discuss these feelings is to make them real. Acting on them isn’t the only problem – as I learned from Tanya it’s thinking and talking about them as well.

It’s incredible that in just three years I went from the most vocal supporter of LGBT rights, breaking closet doors, to truly, genuinely hating myself for being gay. I hate that I have these feelings, desires for something that pull me away from Hashem. I’ve tried to ask the handful of friends who know I’m struggling with this for help but they have no answers. I’ve tried to find conversion therapy, unsuccessfully. The one therapist I brought this up with spent the next several sessions bashing orthodoxy until I stopped showing up for appointments.

There is no solution. I try to just let these feelings pass over me, I tell myself there’s nothing I can do about them, that I’m just not going to act on them but it’s okay to be feeling them. I don’t believe it, so instead I do anything I can to kill the feelings. I spend as much time drunk and high as I can get away with, anything to make me numb. I can’t convince myself that it’s okay, that I’m not a horrible person. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough, maybe I’m not davening enough, studying enough Torah…

Maybe one day, the silence won’t be so loud and our community leaders will know what to tell us when we feel terrified and alone and full of self-hatred. Maybe one day they will learn to react with compassion, with understanding, with love, instead of discomfort and pity. I pray that when that time comes, I won’t have lost my voice completely.

 

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7 Comments

  1. Dalia Yellin August 14, 2017 at 9:28 am

    Dear author, you are most definitely not alone. Please feel free to contact us.

    Reply
  2. Betsy Glass August 14, 2017 at 10:27 am

    You – all the multitudinous facets of you – were created in the image, in the resonance, of HaShem. The mirror image of yud-hay-vov-hay is he/she. You are perfect. Please love yourself as HaShem loves you, completely, just the way you are.

    Reply
  3. Jacqueline August 14, 2017 at 11:44 am

    You are brave for sharing your honesty. I hope getting these thoughts out there took some weight off of your shoulders. You are meant to be, who you are, Hashem makes no mistakes. To be queer is okay, and just because we don’t understand everything in this cosmic universe doesn’t make us less-than, it makes us human. I hope you find peace with yourself soon.

    Reply
  4. Zahava Busse August 14, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Dear Author,

    You are so incredibly brave to have written this and to have come out at all. The fear and stress involved in that process cannot be easy to deal with. Though I do not know you personally, I can definitely relate to having strong impulses come from my Evil Inclination. The best way I’ve found to deal with these impulses is to have self compassion. I really try to remind myself, through positive affirmation and Tefila, that I am only human and that though neither I nor others are perfect, Hashem still loves me unconditionally. Hashem loves me more than I can possibly imagine. Hashem loves me just the way I am. I try to model that love for myself and others. I try to love myself and others, including flaws and imperfections. I try to remind myself that to accept Hashem’s will is to accept how He made me, evil impulses and all. It is normal to have an evil inclination; as long as I don’t act on it, it isn’t bad or dangerous. I remind myself that I deserve love, that my essence is love, and that I will allow that essence to direct my life and choices, not my fearful addictive side. I am never alone, because Hashem is always with me. A big, big one is that no matter how minor my victories may seem, each has infinitie importance. Hashem loves me, my strengths as well as my weaknesses. I am a success simply because I make the effort to love. When ain’t feel frightened or depressed, it is a sign that I need to feel His love and it shows me where I can develop compassion for myself and others, as trust in Hashem. I am never alone; I am being guided at all times, and am given everything I need at all times, though it may not be what I want. These affirmations have really helped me get through a lot of things in life, and I hope they can help you too. Most of them are from the book Awareness by Miriam Adahan. Lastly, as I learned it in seminary, only the act itself of homosexuality is forbidden, and only for males. Like the commandment to honor your parents, Hashem did not command us to change our feelings, because He knows we can’t in such intimate relationships. Also, though I realize it is a very controversial subject, I firmly believe that this is 1 negative commandment, out of the entire Torah of 613 positive and negative commandments. It says in Pirkei Avot that we should run after a minor mitzvah as much as a major one, for you do not know the reward each one brings. I try to focus on the things I do well more than on the ways I slip up by keeping a self-discipline/kindness journal and writing down 10 acts of self disciple or love each day. This can be Tefila, working out, eating well, learning Torah, getting to work on time, etc. This helps a lot because self discipline builds self respect and self love, which is part of the command of ואהבת לרעך כמוך – to love your fellow as you love yourself, which means you are also commanded to love yourself. I know that you are struggling, and I think you’ve already taken some huge steps in your battle with the Yetzer Hara by coming out and being honest about your particular evil inclination. That is so huge. Please know you are not alone. I am here if you would ever want to talk and if you just wanted someone to listen. My number is 058-499-2013.

    Reply
  5. Talya August 14, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Please don’t think that G-d hates you. He doesn’t and never will. He understands you and your motivations better than you yourself. By being happy or being what you are you don’t turn away from G-d. G-d is everywhere. I wish you courage to find your path and please try again to find someone to talk to.

    Reply
  6. Viktoria August 15, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing and reaching out. I do not know where on the globe you live, but I can tell you, in my community alone, I can think of 5 people already who I want you to meet to talk with. And that’s just in the first 30 seconds of reading your words. There are so many girls (and guys), who are gay and religious (myself included) who are walking this journey. There comes a time when you don’t have to live in silence anymore. Feel free to contact me if you would like for me to make those connections. All the best to you.

    Reply
  7. Bob March 23, 2018 at 3:59 pm

    There is one sentence in your essay that jumped out at me: “There is no solution.” When I became frum (born of secular Jewish family), I also thought I could simply will away the gay feelings. After 11 years I realized it wasn’t possible and I found myself thinking “there is no solution” and that I might as well give up being frum.

    There’s a passage in gemara that articulates a similar predicament — and in tune with Hevria ethos of spirituality wandering in a secular context (really Soloveitchik’s Ish halacha), that very same argument is at the climax of the film Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan: If you find yourself in a situation where you think there is no solution, the solution is to change the question.

    Think for a bit at how you’ve concretized your situation. Now try to think of it from a different perspective, such as “how MIGHT it be possible for these so-called impossibilities to co-exist?” Perhaps aiming for a *solution* is not the best way to approach things; instead think of aiming for a direction, a path.

    Where I live (the Upper West Side of Manhattan, NYC), it is impossible to walk into any shul on Shabbos and not see gay people. Of course, almost none of them are wearing anything that would identify them as gay – we just know each other. At my weekday minyan, one morning we were waiting for the 10th person — and 5 of the people present were gay men. There are literally hundreds of gay frum men living their existence. Perhaps some struggle the same as you struggle, perhaps others have made their peace and live with it. Perhaps it’s a path that we’re all traveling in search of some answer (which might very well be unanswerable).

    Perhaps an answer is not to aim for a solution but to just travel the path.

    Reply

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