Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Toughest Part

So I haven't written in a while. Not that I haven't had anything to say, I just haven't been able to put it into words.

I have discovered what is for me the toughest part about being gay and observant. It's not the attitude of Orthodox Rabbis. It's not the social stigma. Nor is it the verses in Leviticus. Yes, all of those things bother me, but the toughest part for me is not having a halachic framework to follow. After I say to myself: "I'm not going to marry a woman, and I'm not going to remain celibate," where do I go from there? I have come to terms with the fact that I will enter into a homosexual relationship, but what are the rules, boundaries, and limits of this relationship?

Do I try to translate bits and pieces of "heterosexual" halacha to homosexual situations, such as yichud (prohibition of being alone in the room with someone of the opposite sex), kol isha (hearing a woman's voice), or shomer negia (not touching at all until marriage)? Such a notion is absurd! Imagine not being able to being able to shake hands in shul or be alone with a male friend...

So I'm left to make my own rules. But what are they based on? My personal judgment, i.e. exactly what the Torah lambasts as faulty and subjective. The Torah is so special because it gives us objective, G-d-given laws. Left to our own judgment to decide right from wrong, how often would we "bend" our own rules? After all, we made them up, so we can change them. While this may sound liberating, as a gay observant Jew, it is incredibly frustrating. Is what I am doing right in G-d's eyes? Would G-d be okay with me adopting a more permissive stance? And perhaps G-d's not okay with what I'm doing at all. If it's all wrong, why implement limits at all? I recognize that this last question represents an extreme all-or-nothing viewpoint that I outright reject. Nevertheless, it's one of the many questions that plague me.

I have no answers, only thoughts.


Jeanne said...

I have no answers for you.
The only thing I can suggest is that you stop beating yourself up. All those cliches that they talk about, you know. One day at a time. Take baby steps. Don't try to be a perfect Jew. Try to be a good Jew. Approach each situation as it comes.
Here is what you wrote:
"Is what I am doing right in G-d's eyes?"
Do we know G-d's thoughts?
"What G-d be okay with me adopting a more permissive stance?"
Would G-d be okay with you adoting no stance at all?
"And perhaps G-d's not okay with what I'm doing at all."
Again, have you be struck by lightning? :~D
If it's all wrong, why implement limits at all? I recognize that this last question represents an extreme all-or-nothing viewpoint that I outright reject."
You answered your own question:
You reject outright an extreme all-or-nothing viewpoint.

So, I repeat: Be a good Jew. Don't worry about being perfect.

Anonymous said...

I am a frum married man with a family living in a very frum/yeshivish community. I cannot believe that you would walk towards observance when you want to live a gay life. I am struggling with every fiber of my being fighting an inner fight to push away the true desire and sexual calling for the life i am living. Its hell in this world. What is the reason you feel pulled into this world? Any advice for me?

capecodkwassa said...

Translating things like yichud into a gay-oriented context is almost impossible in a frum lifestyle, because Orthodoxy is overwhelmingly straight and even anti-gay. So I have an idea for you.

Why not accept the hetero-centric aspects of halakha as an awesome advantage to being gay?! Why not enjoy the company of men in shul in a way straight frum Jews cannot do with women?

Tony Kushner once wrote that he and his husband enjoyed attending Orthodox simchas because not only COULD they dance with each other, they pretty much HAD to dance with each other since men are not allowed to dance with women.

So my advice is to just enjoy it. It's no more a loophole than those countless Orthodox-designed products which help frum Jews outsmart halakah to enjoy all the comforts of home during shabbat.

As for being shomer negiah, I don't really see the problem with waiting until marriage or at least the best equivalent New York will allow. I mean, it's your choice to be frum, so I don't think you should have any special halachic rights that straight frum Jews don't have.

But either way, you should really stop being so hard on yourself. Being frum is a choice; being gay is not. Obey G-d the best you can. It's not your fault humans didn't have an understanding of gay orientation when the Torah was written.

jay said...

Thats really a tough situation. What do u do? I don't think making new rules up from a gay perspective is necessary beneficial. But whatever makes you feel comfortable.

Alex said...

I think you're absolutely right about the necessity to set up a halakhic framework for yourself, as a gay man. I don't think it is at all feasible, though, to transpose yihud or bal tik'r'vu ("Shomer" is an OU invention. There is no "shomer" in halacha. there IS lo tikrav l'galot erwah) onto your gay halakhic lifestyle. Indeed, to the extent that you accept that certain parts of the system simply were not designed for you (wayiqra 18:22, 20:13, and so on), you should be able to accept that their offshoots also inapplicable.

You can't very well refuse to shake hands in shul (not that this is necessary a violation of lo tikrav l'galot erwah... harambam defines the issur as "derekh hibah"), or constantly make sure there's a woman or two around when you enter a room. What you can do, is maintain Jewish sexual ethics in your lifestyle. You can view sex as an expression of love, not a savage, beastly urge to copulate. You can be monogamous, and avoid objectifying men the way sexual libertines have objectified women since the dawn of time. You can even set off an amount of time, monthly if you like, where your relationships do not include sex.

I think for someone like you, the ta'am underlying mitzvot related to sexual ethics is VERY important in order to transpose "straight halakha" to "gay halakha".

Anonymous said...

Alex says we should set off a monthly time to abstain from being "bo'el niddah?"

Get real.

If we fail, and falter, err and miss the mark, what matters is that we are honest and committed to try again. When the goal is perfection, nobody wins. But, to rewrite Halakhah in our image, to our satisfaction, proves that reform is a verb.

mmhmm said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Being a lesbian, being in a same-sex female relationship, and being a halachic Jew.... the most frustrating part of this is not having a halachic framework for me, when halacha is so important to me. Thank you for posting this!