Being a teenager is scary. Being a teenager in the process of discovering her sexuality is even scarier. Being Jewish, however, makes it all a little easier.
I was fortunate to grow up in a very open-minded and accepting family. My father is an activist for LGBTQ equality in our community and one of my mom’s best friends is gay. I was never worried that I wouldn’t be accepted for who I am, and for a long time I had no reason to.
It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that I realized something was up. I started to notice changes in the way that I looked at girls. It seemed weird to me that I was starting to see girls around me the same way I thought about boys. At the time, I thought it was a sudden change. Looking back, I remember times long before then when I had feelings that might have seemed out of place to someone with a different upbringing – but I was never under the impression that loving someone could be wrong, no matter their gender, and so it never struck me as odd.
When the hormones kicked in around 15, I realized what was going on. I had crushes on girls and guys – and no idea what I was supposed to do about it. The one thing that kept me grounded was the knowledge that I wouldn’t be turned away from the kehilla kedosha, holy community, that means so much to me. I had heard so many stories of people in the LGBTQ community who had been turned away by their faiths after coming out. It scared me to think of losing my Jewish community, but I knew that this wouldn’t happen.
The Reform Jewish community is more than just tolerant. The idea of “hate the sin, love the sinner” would never appear in a Reform setting, mainly because our faith does not view homosexuality as a sin. If anything is a sin, it’s homophobia. Loving someone isn’t wrong; hating someone is.
Through all the twists and turns of my personal journey, I kept returning to my Jewish community for support. The first people with whom I discussed my sexuality were my bunkmates at Jewish summer camp. I eventually reached out to another member of my youth group, NFTY, who had already come out, for advice on how I should go about doing it. The most support I received came from fellow Jewish teens I had met through camp and NFTY. Even when I eventually come out more publicly, it was those in my Jewish community who were the most accepting and quickest to offer support.
Before I go any further, I should probably go into a little more detail on my sexuality – or, at least, my sexuality at this exact point in time. I believe sexuality is fluid and always changing; currently, I’m not a big fan of labels. When I came out, I did so in a fairly dramatic fashion, writing on a T-shirt, “I’m a girl who likes guys and girls. I fall for people, not what’s in their pants.” I proceeded to wear this shirt to school on GLSEN’s Day of Silence. Unable to speak aloud, I spent the day writing answers to people’s questions about my shirt as best as I could. I also posted a photo of myself in the shirt on social media sites, officially sharing the news with the world. To most people, this might seem like I was coming out as bisexual. But I don’t like labels, remember? I was just coming out as someone who likes guys and girls, falling for people instead of what’s in their pants – just like my shirt says.
Though I received a great deal of support from my Jewish community upon coming out, the most significant effect Judaism has had on my experience was not the support I received from others; rather, it was my belief in myself. I’d like to say I’m currently doing fairly well for a recently out, 16-year-old girl – and this is largely due to my relationship with Judaism.
I’d like to think that my Jewish background is at least partly responsible for my ability to be so accepting of myself and my inability – or unwillingness – to choose a label. The concept of b'tzelem Elohim, the idea that we’re all made in God’s image, struck me as particularly fitting for this type of situation. Many people in the LGBTQ community worry that there is something wrong with them, but I know that I am exactly how I’m supposed to be. I’m not a mistake because of who I love. I know this because of what I have been taught growing up Jewish. I hope that this wonderful community will continue to create an accepting environment for young, Jewish, LGBTQ people like me.