At the last JQY meeting (Jewish Queer Youth - jqyouth.org), someone introduced the term Kiddush HaGay. Just as a Kiddush Hashem signifies sanctifying G-d's name by demonstrating to the world the goodness and holiness of the Jewish people, Kiddush HaGay connotes depicting homosexuals in a positive light. I was provided an opportunity to do just that on my ride home from work today.
The South Bronx used to be a vibrant Jewish community. However, the current Jewish population of the neighborhood is roughly comparable to that of Iraq. The frum Jewish community is completely non-existent. Thus, when I saw an elderly man with a white shirt and velvet yarmulke sitting in the 182nd-183rd Street D Train Subway Station, I felt compelled to say "shalom aleichem." He responded in kind, introduced himself as Sholom, and explained that he was a landlord of a building in the area. We hit up a conversation -- in a mix of English, Hebrew, and Yiddish -- as he headed to Boro Park and I to the Upper West Side.
When I mentioned that I learned in yeshiva in Israel, Sholom asked me if I had heard about the scandal in which the Rosh Yeshiva of a prominent Yeshiva was accused of having sexual relations with his students. He remarked that this Rabbi must have a "machalah" -- a sickness. While I agree that a Rabbi must be sick to prey on vulnerable students, I had a feeling that Sholom's comment was a reference to homosexuality in general. So as the train hurdled toward Yankee Stadium, I probed further.
Without revealing my sexual orientation, I explained that homosexuality was no more of a sickness than being right or left handed. True, homosexuals cannot reproduce through traditional means, but they do not have any inherent deficiencies. Sholom nodded in agreement, as we both cited the blessing "m'shaneh habriot" (He who diversifies His creations). Sholom astutely distinguished homosexuality from other prohibitions in the Torah such as idolatry, whereby even the thought is forbidden. He even said that he had heard of some men who engaged in sexual relations but avoided "mishkav mamash," i.e. anal sex.
Inevitably, the conversation turned to my personal life, and I came out to Sholom. By this point, he was not even so surprised. When I told him that I knew I was gay as a teenager, he asked me how I could know so young. I replied, just as a man has attraction for women in his teenage years, hacha nami! (So too in my case.)
Sholom then became perturbed. "Why did the Ribono Shel Olam create you this way? You should raise a complaint against Him!" I replied that it is not for us to question how we were created. Kach notzarti. There are reasons for all of Hashem's creations, even if we can't figure out what they are. When Sholom pressed me for one of these reasons, I replied that perhaps I was created gay in order to be more sensitive to other minority groups. He seemed to like this answer.
Our conversation was abruptly ended when I transferred trains at 125th Street. I could tell that Sholom wanted to discuss more.
A gmarra in Avoda Zara compares our performance of mitzvos to the peckings of a hen, using a play on the Hebrew word for peck. All mitzvos, even ones seemingly as small as the peckings of a hen, are bundled together in Heaven into a great sum. This comparison could not be more relevant here. Engaging the frum community on the issue of homosexuality cannot be done through sermons, responsa, or other large scale forms of communication (at least not yet). The Yeshiva University Panel on Homosexuality in December was groundbreaking and incredible, but the most effective way of engaging people -- of any community -- is through a one-on-one conversation. This is clearly a very slow process, but a necessary and worthwhile one. Perhaps Sholom will meet a homosexual one day in Boro Park -- or the father, teacher, or cousin of one -- and perhaps the resultant conversation will be affected by the conversation he had today. And perhaps that small "peck" will change a life.