My Response To Dad's Response

From: Daniel Pearson
To: Richard Pearson
Subject: Re: Welcome out
Date: Wed, 16 Mar 2005 15:49:13 +0200

Sorry for taking so long to reply to this, but I wanted to do it right, and I've been a little distracted by more mundane concerns. I'll start by underscoring how relieved I am to realize how well you understand me. For once, my trust hasn't been misplaced.

After reading what you have to say and after having had a good long chat together with Becca and Seth, I've made my decision. I'm going to live my life as a gay man, unashamed of what I am and I'm doing, letting everyone in my life know whenever the time is ripe, seeking another man to love and build a life together with. I'm going to slowly start meeting with groups of other gay people for support and start to date. However, I'm not going to let go of any bit of the religion I was raised in that I don't have to give up. I'm going to remain shomer shabbos and shomer kashrus and attending shul and everthing else. I even still believe in monogamy and modesty and will probably wait for "marriage" before having sex. And as I think I mentioned before, my belief in G-d was never in any danger.

I suppose I can't strictly call myself Orthodox anymore after a decision like that. It might be easy for me to naively assert that it's only a matter of denying a couple of short verses. But those short sentences cast a long shadow on the Rabbinic tradition and all of world history. Like a house of cards, remove just a couple pieces, and the whole Torah threatens to disintegrate. I always thought the other extant sects of Judaism were intellectually dishonest. Like I recently said in a discussion with one of my non-Jewish friends, "What's Judaism without trust in the chain of biblical transmission?" But now I'm in the same position.

In any case, I'm not going to let the remaining intellectual difficulty deter me. I've outgrown the fanatic rationalism that I've been infatuated with for most of my life. Now that my heart is finally at peace, I'm not going to let my life be ruined by a loose thread that tickles just my brain. It's the emotional and spiritual machinery inside of us that really makes us tick, not the conscious reasoning. Maybe I'll eventually fall in line with something like Conservative Judaism. Or maybe I'll join those who are trying reinterpret the halachos of homosexual acts while somehow remaining within Orthodoxy. For now, I guess I'm on my own path.

It's easier than I thought, now that I know that you sympathize with and support me in my decision.

Just because I've made a decision, it doesn't mean that I'm closed to any advice or arguments that anyone might have to offer me. Anyone is still welcome to attempt to persuade me otherwise if they disagree with me. But, like you said, anyone rigid and unforgiving can go to hell. The double standard of the Orthodox community's quiet bigotry against gays while tolerating arguably "worse" violations of the Torah is unjustified. And I've never had any trouble steeling my heart against those who would cause unjustified suffering, whether they're literal schoolyard bullies or their grown-up equivalents. I don't think it's an accident that no one ever dared to physically harm a hair on my head during my entire grade-school career or beyond. I know how to command respect when I have to, even though I frequently like to hide the fact, and even though I sometimes doubt myself.

Now I'll respond to a few points of your letter individually:

I had spoken to Rebecca about you several years ago (it may have been around the time that she had that conversation with you in the car) and asked her if she thought you were gay. She said something to the effect that she had wondered herself but wasn't sure; that she'd tried to raise the subject with you and gotten a sort-of denial from you, in which among other things you'd told her you wanted to raise a family or have kids or something like that. That alleviated my concerns somewhat, but not completely.

That wasn't a lie at all, and still isn't. I still want to have kids and a family and maybe even a white picket fence. I suppose doing that as a gay man means being part of a social vanguard. A bit scary for someone as inwardly oriented as myself, but the price seems right.

Anyway, all I'm really trying to say is that I've certainly considered the possibility of your being gay since very early childhood, but I just didn't think it would be constructive to discuss it with you directly until you raised the subject.

Heaving a great sigh, I myself don't know if it would have been better or worse had you not waited for me to take the first step. On the one hand, so much of the silence and secrecy may have been avoided. But maybe not. My home life as a teen and young adult wasn't always pleasant. I might have just recoiled, curling up like a hedgehog rather than letting anyone in. There were many times that I longed for a knight in shining armor to yank me out of my snail shell, but I also resented not being strong enough to do it myself.

I think I did raise the subject with you in general terms at least once, though. While I was living in Chicago, and while you were in college, I believe I gave you the name of a rabbi or frum psychologist who had experience in counseling gays.

I don't really remember that at all. I certainly didn't contact such a person. Knowing myself at the time, I was probably too emotionally paralyzed to take the initiative myself. I imagine that I became ashamed of not having the courage to take a first step, and thus promptly lost the number and conveniently forgot all about it.

I didn't want someone who was going to try to "cure" you, but someone who would help you come to terms with the psychological and religious issues.

I'm glad to hear that. The idea of being "cured" had always disturbed me in a deep, partially unconscious way that I've always had a hard time defining explicitly. It seemed that even if something like that could work, it would mean destroying something that made me special and unique. It would be like killing the ability to appreciate the beauty of a flower because the flower was poisonous. In Jerusalem, seeking such treatment would have been very easy, had I been willing. One of the biggest proponents and practictioners of homosexuality conversion therapy in the Jewish world lives in Jerusalem and was only a phone call and a doctor's bill away.

I think what finally made me write my letter to you was realizing the stark, bare nature of the choice that faced me: either commit such an act of self-sacrifice, putting my soul on the altar of G-d, or admit to myself that I didn't really believe in it all as much as I had thought. If I really believed it was what G-d wanted, why would I hesitate so much to even speak to such a therapist?

You referred to having read some things by Rabbi Steven Greenberg (Greenburg?), and I know he was one of the people in that film. What have you learned from his stuff?

The only really important thing I got from what I've read is the reassurance that there's someone out there who not only feels what I feel and faces the same issues as I do, but who can express this to the public intelligibly.

For awhile, I tried to accept the idea that sexual identity is something you learn, not something you're born with, but I've long abandoned any confidence in the truth of that principle.

I guess I'll chime in and say that I think the whole nature-nurture question is almost completely irrelevant. No matter what causes homosexuality, it's there, and it's not something a person has any choice about. Free will determines sexual behavior, but is not a factor at all in sexual preference. The question of whether it can be changed is relevant, but only given the assumption that it should be changed, taking into account whatever the cost of changing might be. Since I have no desire to change, that question is also irrelevant to me for all practical purposes.

I don't know if you're aware, but Rabbi Langer is the father of a girl who Rebecca is very close with.

Yes, I'm well acquainted with Nechama Shayna. I knew that her father was a big figure in the San Francisco community, but I hadn't known that he'd had a role in "Trembling". I really have to dig up a copy of the DVD.

I think there are probably a number of other people, rabbis and non-rabbis, within the Orthodox community whom you could befefit from talking to, so you can get a better idea of the landscape you're entering.

Frankly, I can't think of anything I'd want to ask a rabbi at this point, but I'll keep it in mind.

Whatever you do about your religious beliefs and practices, I definitely don't advise that you keep your homosexuality a secret any longer.

As I mentioned, I've agreed with that sentiment for many, many years. The only problem was "easier said than done". I never knew how to come out of the closet when I was internally complying with the homosexual prohibitions. It's still not so clear in all cases, but I think it will be a lot easier now that I've stopped rejecting myself. It's just matter of taking it one step at a time, one person at a time, and only when it will be a benefit.

And you definitely need to be cautious about what you do if you decide to explore your sexual identity. There is an awful lot of immoral or amoral stuff that goes on in the gay community, and there are plenty of unhappy unfulfilled open homosexuals too. Coming out doesn't ensure happiness or sexual fulfillment.

Thanks. I agree that there are aspects of the gay community that I'm not interested in being a part of, and I like to think that I don't have too many illusions about microwave-ready, instant fulfillment. I'm well educated about safe sex, and I want to assure you that I'll continue to act safely.

You might be best off trying to find some emotional comfort from other Orthodox Jews who've "come out" and deal with that before you jump into sexual activity. I'm not sure what possibilities there are for your exploring these things while living in a tiny frum community like Tsfat.

Even if there's not much happening in Tsfat, it's not so far away to Haifa where I know there's more available. (As usual, I've done my homework and researched the landscape pretty thoroughly.)

Maybe the people there are among the open-minded non-judgmental Orthodox Jews I referred to earlier, maybe not.

I still don't know, myself, but there's definitely a lot diversity in Tsfat, especially in the English-speaking community.

I'm very proud of you for confronting the most difficult questions about life and trying to be honest with yourself and the world.

Thank you.