In Response to “Coming Out, Causing Change”

The following blog post is in response to “Coming Out, Causing Change,” a blog post on Gabriel Goldstein’s blog, The Thoughts of a Jewish Teenager.

 

Dear Gabriel,

I feel like we already know each other in an odd way — not in the sense that we’ve ever met before (because I’m pretty sure that we haven’t), but because you’re the same type of supportive friend that I was fortunate enough to find over the two years since I’ve come out of the closet.

Coming out of the closet is never an easy thing — and is even less so when you’re doing it in an Orthodox high school. When I came out during March of my sophomore year of high school to my best friends, I had no idea they would respond. I was welcomed with an overwhelming support that pushed me further out of the closet, and led me to come out to other friends and the rest of my school. It was these closest friends — the ones to whom I came out first — that led me to begin writing about my experiences coming out of the closet on widely-read blogs, like MyJewishLearning and the Huffington Post.

Even after being out of the closet for almost two years, part of me is still that scared, lonely 16-year-old who had just come out to his best friends, and was too incredibly scared to even think of coming out to anyone else, let alone my parents and family and the rest of my grade. You talked about in your blog post about the fear, rejection, and seclusion that you postulate a queer student would have to endure should he or she come out of the closet. For me — as I’m sure it was for your friend — those fears of losing friends were real, everyday concerns. Every time I was about to come out to someone, my hands would go cold, and I would ask myself: what if they think less of me because of it?

And that did happen: to be sure, I did have friends who couldn’t wrap their heads around the notion that I, contrary to once-popular belief, was attracted to members of the same gender. At the same time, though, coming out made my close friends closer. I wasn’t a fraction of a person around them; I was a whole person. I wasn’t afraid to act stereotypical; I wasn’t afraid to act differently. I became a different person because I came out. That wouldn’t have been possible without my friends.

So, Gabriel, thank you, thank you, thank you for being the amazing friend that you are. I’m sure that I’ve been asked all of the silly questions that you say you asked your friend — and thank you for asking those questions. On behalf of all of the queer kids out there who came out, on behalf of all of them who lost a friend because of it, and on behalf of all of them whose friendships became closer because of their coming out: thank you for being more than just a supportive ally. Thank you for being a supportive friend. It is people like you who  are the drivers of change.

Amram

An Update & Some Thoughts on the Torah Portion

I sincerely apologize for not keeping this blog updated. I have, however, been writing. If you want to keep up with my writing, you can read my pieces on the Huffington Post Teen, or follow me on Twitter find out when I post pieces on other sites. In the meantime, here are some musics on this week’s Torah portion that we will read in synagogue tomorrow:

 

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, we see the introduction of Sabbath, immediately followed by the listing of all of the materials used to build the Tabernacle. The two are read continuously, and the implication seems to be that one idea flows right into the other. What does one have to do with the other?

To me, Biblical Judaism seems to place a large emphasis on location. We read extensively about the land of Israel and the commandments that pertain to it. We read about the Tabernacle and how it stood at the metaphorical and literal heart of the Jewish encampment in the desert, and then about the role that the Holy Temple played once it was constructed several hundred years later. The discussion of the construction of the Tabernacle occupies several full portions, and what the priests and the Levites are supposed to do inside the Tabernacle (and, later, the Holy Temple) occupy the majority of Leviticus, the book that we will begin next week. The Tabernacle and the Holy Temple were not just communal gathering places, but were also places were religion was at integral.

Today, however, Judaism looks remarkably different. In an age where we do not have the Holy Temple or the Tabernacle at the center of our religious lives, something else has replaced sacred places: sacred time. Today, practices such as the Sabbath seem to be at the center of our observance, as do other, more ritualistic practices. Tefilin (phylacteries) is laid at a certain point every day, and there are certain times by which we have to pray every day — Shacharit (the morning service) can only be said until midday, Minchah (the afternoon service) until the late afternoon, and so on. Our practices, as opposed to being relegated to a specific place that is central the Jewish community, have been adapted to relegated to certain times, but can be performed virtually anywhere. While it might be seen as better to pray with a minyan, it is certainly not required. In a world where the Jewish community is far less concentrated than it was during its encampment in the desert or its settlement in the land of Israel, times have taken on much more important roles in religion. Now, instead of gathering together in central locations to perform religious rites, we all perform them at the same, regardless of where we are.

This brings us back to this week’s parashah. I think that Moses is trying to incorporate both sacred times and places. The Torah is meant to be a timeless document: even though it was written at a specific time, and given to a specific group of people with very specific circumstances, we are challenged with finding meaning in it today, as Jews living in the twenty-first century.

Here, it seems, the Torah is helping us find the balance between the generation that received the Torah and today, and it seems to be showing us that our connection with Judaism and the Jewish people is no less because we do not have the Tabernacle or the Holy Temple, and practice Judaism in a way that would be foreign to the Dor Ha’Midbar, the Generation of the Desert that received the Torah. How we connect to religion may be different, but the strength of that connection is not. Perhaps the Torah, more than being a book of laws or history or a historical document, is meant to act as a connection between a time when Judaism was a religion of sacred place and a religion of sacred time.

A Defense of Political Animals’s Portrayal of the Gay Son

Blogger Rich Dweck, author of the blog Jewish Gay Elephant, wrote a blog post the other day about the portrayal of the gay son in USA’s mini-series Political Animals, who, in the show, is portrayed as a recovering alcoholic, drug addict, and suicidal. Dweck criticizes the show, and asks why the gay son is portrayed this way, as opposed to his older, straight brother, who is beginning his career in politics and engaged.

Although the mini-series just premiered this week and is expected to run for, I believe, five more episodes, I think I can see why. The central character in the show — the former First Lady and current Secretary of State, played really well by Sigourney Weaver — briefly mentions the hardships and tribulations that her younger son had to go through as a result of being the first openly gay First Son. While it might be nice, on the outset, to have the gay son to endure whatever he had to endure to come out of the closet in a environment which certainly wasn’t conducive to doing so and emerging from that with a burgeoning career as a civil servant, I think this gives the younger son much more room to develop as a character.

Whether or not a six-episode mini-series provides enough time to develop a character  that much is up for debate, and I’m not sure if it is — but that’s a different issue entirely.

From a writer’s standpoint, being gay is an easy segue into being a drug addict and lost, whereas having the gay son succeed while his straight brother is failing would require the writers of the show to produce a completely new storyline for the straight brothers. However, I think this goes a little deeper Dweck points out that now, when queer people are becoming increasingly vocal and are afforded more opportunities than ever before, it is imperative to portray queer characters on television as equally successful.

To me, though, this seems to be strikingly similar to many of the complaints about Chris Colfer’s portrayal of Kurt on the television show Glee before he was joined by a host of queer characters. Colfer, many said, was portraying the only gay character on the show as “too gay,” and was painting the LGBT+ community, and in particular gay men, as a certain group of stereotypes that — let’s face it here — many gay men do perpetuate. Instead, many said, Colfer should be portraying a gay character that was less stereotypically gay to show that the LGBT+ community is really no different than the heterosexual community.

One of the issues I took up with this at the time, though, was the fact that while there is a time and place to show that we of the LGBT+ community is no different than our straight counterparts, television shows are not necessarily the place to do it, least of all in a show like Glee, where originality and deviation from the norm is actively encouraged (just look at The Glee Project). Additionally, Colfer’s portrayal of Kurt as actively perpetuating just about  every gay stereotype that I can think of put him in the unique position to show the world the types of problems that gay teenagers face in the process of accepting their sexuality, coming out of the closet, and dealing with bullying. In doing so, I believe, Glee helped highlight the problem that is bullying and the fact that it needs to be stopped.

I think the gay son in Political Animals is in a similar position. Today, Dweck’s right: there are successful members of the LGBT+ community out there, making names for themselves and showing the world that you can be queer and successful. People like Barney Frank, Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, and David Levithan are all prime examples of that.

However, it’s equally important to note that coming out of the closet — and certainly not in the public way that the fictional gay son in Political Animals seems to have done — can drive people down a very different road that the aforementioned famous queer politicians, actors, and authors and the success that they built up to. In making the gay son the drug-addicted, suicidal, and recovering alcoholic person he is, the show is highlighting the fact that not every gay person ends up the same way as Ellen DeGeneres. For some, the troubles they face as a result of coming out of the closet does lead them down the path to drugs and suicide, as has been pointed out by the numerous and tragic suicides of queer teens in the past year. Depressing though it may be, Political Animals is showing the darker and still prevalent side to coming out of the closet. In doing so, it might highlight the fact that, although it is getting better and easier to come out of the closet, there is still this aspect to it, and that aspect needs to change. Or, rather, we need to change to make sure that queer people coming out of the closet do not end up the same way the gay son in Political Animals did.

Hello Blogoshere!

Hey everyone!

Welcome to kosherqueer. My name is Amram, and I’m a 16-year-old gay Conservadox Jewish teenager living in the greater New York City metro area. I started this blog because of the apparent lack of other blogs and organizations dedicated specifically to LGBTQ-Jewish high schoolers.

I wrote more about myself in the ‘About Me’ section of the blog, so feel free to hop right on over to there to check that out.

Also, I am now on twitter. Follow @kosherqueer for more updates and tweets.

Happy blogging!

Amram