From: Richard Pearson
To: Daniel Pearson
Subject: Re: Time for me to come out
Date: Thu, 10 Mar 2005 07:58:59 -0500
That was quite a letter. It evokes many emotions and reactions in me, but surprise isn't one of them. There are a million things I want to say, but I need some time to sort things out in my mind and my heart. For now, let me just tell you one thing that you probably already know: you've suffered enough shame and guilt for more than one lifetime, so leave that behind. Whatever choices you make concerning your life and your "life style," make them out of positive feelings and not negative ones. You definitely will be much happier, and other people will be much happier with you, when you can be honest and direct and open with them. Some people will not want to know the truth and therefore may turn away, but the hell with them. You're better off without them. You'll be able to make true connections with people (be they hetero or gay) when they know you for who you are; you won't have to try to guess your way through reading their minds and motives and feelings, and they won't be confused by the many layers and barriers of self-protection you've erected around yourself. You'll be able to find male friends and female friends, Orthodox Jewish friends, and others who can accept you and deal with you as you are, with your wonderful qualities and with your flaws.
For now, I'm not telling Mom anything, although I suspect she's not in quite as much denial as you may think. I'm sure I will tell her some part of your story later, but I need to sort that out too.
I will always love you infinitely, just the way you are (and so will Mom I'm sure).
From: Richard Pearson
To: Daniel Pearson
Subject: Welcome out
Date: Sun, 13 Mar 2005 04:26:28 -0500
I can't even begin to guess how much courage (and faith) it took you to write your letter to me. You're right, that I strongly suspected for a long time that you were gay, but I couldn't say for sure, and I didn't feel it would be right for me to just come out and ask you directly. Maybe if I had, it might have made it easier for you to answer directly, but I'm not sure you would have been able to answer the question totally honestly, because you were still trying to sort it all out in your own mind. And from what I read in your letter, the soul-searching process you've been going through was not just a question of how or when to tell your parents; more fundamentally, you were trying to figure out what to tell yourself and the world. And even more fundamentally, it seems to me that you've made the decision to be honest with yourself and with the world at large, to admit your sexuality and to be honest with others about it. You've made the decision that you cannot deny your basic sexual identity and urges. The only remaining question in your mind is whether you can still remain an Orthodox Jew and be a sexually active homosexual.
Before I get to that, I must say that I have harbored the view that you might be homosexual since you were a very little baby. I can't really recall just how young you were, but it was way before 7 or 8 years old, maybe 2 or 3. I can't even recall any more just what it was you did that prompted me to start wondering this. There was, of course, your attachment to your "footie." I had a blanket I loved to hold and sleep with when I was little, but you seemed even more attached to it, and you seemed to love soft and silky clothes. Still, that's a far cry from homosexuality, and I rationalized that that was nothing to draw conclusions from. But it was more than that. You have always been totally different from the stereotype of a boy, and in your letter you spoke yourself of loathing the manners and habits of most boys. I observed all that and had a feeling that this might be an indication of homosexuality, but then again nobody gave me a pamphlet listing the 10 telltale signs your 5-year old is homosexual. There are all sorts of stereotypes, some of which are accurate, some of which are totally inaccurate, and others are sometimes accurate. And frankly, I'm a babe in the woods in many aspects of sexuality, and I didn't know what conclusions to draw. While I may have grown up in the wild 1960's and the sexual revolution, I was not an active combatant in it, more of an envious onlooker. I'm sure I knew many homosexuals while in high school and as an adult, but I can think of extremely few whom I actually knew were gay. There was one guy who worked with me at the PBGC who seemed to have all the mannerisms and I was sure he was gay, until I found out he wasn't. But I do know that at many times during your childhood, I would seriously think that it would turn out later that you were gay, and I just sort of filed these thoughts away for future reference. I didn't let it affect the way I dealt with you in any way -- I didn't try to overcompensate and force you into "masculine" activities or behavior, and I don't think it changed at all the way I interacted with you. As you went through high school, the fact that you stayed away from dating (to our deep Orthodox parental relief, I must confess) reinforced my suspicions. And since you've left college and continued not to date much, I felt more strongly that this was the reason. But on the other hand, 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. 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. 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 was convinced enough about the possibility of your being gay that I finally discussed it with a rabbi in Chicago I respected. And since he didn't know any of my kids, I felt a little "safer" raising it with him rather than a Baltimore rabbi. At the time, I told him I didn't know for sure whether you were gay, and that I didn't even know if you were sure. I asked him if he could give me the name of a frum person, either a rabbi or a counselor, who was Orthodox but would be able to deal with the issue in a non-judgmental way; 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 not sure whether you ever followed up on that, altho maybe I should have asked you about that later. Then again, maybe I didn't want to know.
Reading your letter, the easiest part of it for me was learning you are gay. By far the hardest part, however, was learning how tortured emotionally you've been since adolescence, and particularly reading how you've considered suicide. It's hard for any parent to see his child suffering, but to think of the possibility that one of my kids might have killed himself without my ever having had the chance to help him deal with the problem that was torturing him, would have been unbearable to me. So please file this request in your memory and don't forget it: if you're have difficulty with something (anything, whatever it is), don't suffer alone, and please let me or mom or both of us help you deal with it before you do anything rash. I realize that everyone would like to resolve his own problems independently; I wouldn't want you looking for others to "bail you out" of every routine problem that comes up, but even for those routine problems, nobody should have to face them without having someone he trusts to discuss them with, to verbalize the alternatives and maybe come up with some ideas that you can't think of by yourself. Ideally, that role is best filled by a friend, someone roughly contemporary in age to yourself and someone who lives close enough to you to be able to consult easily, who can see what you're going through from close to your own perspective. But a trusted elder is also a very important person in those same situations, and that's where your parents come in. You may not feel as comfortable discussing personal things with mom (or me, for that matter), especially sexual things, but please don't let that stop you. Because the one thing you can always count on from either of us is that we will love you and accept you no matter what is happening to you, no matter what you've done. Even if -- G-d forbid -- one of my kids committed cold-blooded murder, I would still accept and love him/her and I would want the opportunity to help him through the situation as best as I could. Of course I hope I never need to do such a thing, but I would hate it much worse if my child insisted on dealing with such a situation without me. And certainly, I would want the opportunity to help my children with the more mundane problems of life, whether it's questions about jobs and careers, friendships, loves, or financial things. The unique thing about being a parent is the aspect of unconditional love: parents may be disappointed to learn that their children have done something wrong or are having problems with their finances or marriage or whateve, but most parents will love and accept their child just as much, regardless of what they've done. I used to think that was true of all parents, but sadly I've seen or heard of situations where some parents have given up on their child or renounced them when they've done something unacceptable, but I still think that's the exception and not the rule. I can absolutely say that I will love all my children infinitely and equally, whether they are frum parents making a million dollars a year or they are atheist, divorced criminals/drug addicts. I'd rather have 4 of the former than the latter, but that won't affect my love or affection or desire to help any of them. And I think it's true of Mom too. While she may be more judgmental than me, and while she may listen less and talk more, I think you would be pleasantly surprised at how understanding and forgiving and loving and wise she is too. But even if you don't feel comfortable talking to her about personal things, you can certainly talk to me and I hope you will. If you tell me you want me to keep something confidential, I will respect it and honor your wishes. But to hear you describe how you were agonizing over your sexuality and the moral/religious dimensions of the choices you were facing, to hear how you were dealing with these issues entirely on your own for many years and seriously considering suicide, that is almost too much for me to realize. It made me cry seriously, sitting at my office desk at work. I've read about other people's coming-out difficulties, and I often suspected that you were trying to come to grips with issues of your sexuality, but I still never dreamed that you were going through the type of torture that you describe. In retrospect, then, I wish that I had had the opportunity to help you with all of that 10 years ago, or 4 years ago. I probably wouldn't have had any snap answers for you, but I certainly wouldn't have advised you to keep silent to avoid problems making a shidduch. And at least you would have known that you weren't alone, and that you could talk to me without being judged. So file that away for now and for the future.
The second hardest thing about your letter was comprehending the moral dilemna that Mom and I have put on your shoulders by raising you Orthodox. Having been raised as a Conservative Jew and lived my adult life as an Orthodox Jew, I have found being Orthodox to be extremely satisfying and beautiful, and much more spiritually meaningful than being Conservative. You described some of the beautiful and comforting aspects of growing up in a torah-observant family, the warmth and structure of rituals and moral values. We wanted you to be understand that some things are just plain wrong, and you need to avoid them even when they seem desirable. On the other hand, there have always been some things about Orthodoxy that neither mom nor I have particularly admired, and we've usually expressed those reservations. Many times Orthodoxy (or at least some strains of Orthodoxy) have been too content to "just say no," to say that something is prohibited when it isn't necessarily so black-and-white under halacha The tendency of many Orthodox Jews to take on chumras and extend them to the general population. The isolation from the non-frum world, even those aspects of the non-frum world that are beautiful and useful. But none of those issues have the deep philosophical and ethical ramifications that the issue of homosexuality has. I understand perfectly the way you have boiled down the issue: does Hashem really demand that a person totally suppress something as fundamental as his sexuality in order to be a good Jew? Is this the same thing as asking a thief to suppress his desire to steal, or asking a pedophile to stay away from children? Those analogies are easy to distinguish, because in each case someone is being harmed by the person's desire. And while probably everyone is tempted to steal something occasionally, I don't think it is something hard-wired into a person's brain; moreover, precisely because the temptation to cheat or steal is universal, halacha places an equal demand on all people to avoid this sin that we all are occasionally tempted to commit. It is also easy to understand how the fabric of society will fall apart if people are not required to resist the urge to cheat or steal. But the vast majority of society isn't tempted toward homosexuality, so it's only a small minority that is required to suppress this urge. And sexuality is a function that is so fundamental to everyone's life and identity that it is impossible to minimize. Some people are deprived of the ability to have sex, perhaps by disease or an auto accident, and this is patently unfair, but the person at that point has no free will anymore. He's not being told that it's wrong to have sex, only that it's impossible. This certainly deprives him of a basic, important aspect and joy of life, but it's simply a difficult thing that he must accept. It may be extremely difficult for a pedophile to accept the wrongness of his desires, but he can still have a sex with a woman. A homosexual can similarly choose to get married and have a sex life with a woman, but this seems to me to be an utterly false choice that only a heterosexual could force upon someone else. If a gay male were to suppress his desires and choose to marry a woman and try to live a "straight" life (as many homosexual men and women have done), this seems to be to be a lose-lose proposition for everyone concerned. It is deceitful to the other spouse, and neither of them are going to be fulfilled. While many homosexuals have submitted to the pressures of society to do just this, I think this almost always has tragic consequences for both spouses as well as their children. Or the homosexual can simply choose to stay single and renounce sex entirely, but I cannot believe more than a few (if any) people will be able to endure such a choice for their adult lives without extreme unhappiness and psychological dysfunction. You could compare it to the vows of chastity of priests and nuns, but that's hardly an a praiseworthy comparison in my mind. After all, Judaism doesn't view voluntary renunciation of sex as a good thing, so the religion should hardly demand that a few people submit to such a life involuntarily. At least in Catholicism, the priest is openly declaring his vow of no sex, and everyone around him knows what he's chosen. A homosexual Jew who decides to live a single, chaste life is likely going to be forced to remain silent about his homosexuality. Were he to openly declare that he is homosexual but choosing to live without sex, he'd still likely be shunned by a large part of the Orthodox community that would never entirely trust him. If he keeps silent about his homosexuality while he renounces sex, he'd have to constantly endure a lifetime of questions and offers -- have I got a girl for you; why haven't you ever gotten married? etc. At least a priest isn't bombarded with blind date proposals, and he's actually respected within the Catholic community. Of course, the history of the Catholic church suggests that a significant percentage of priests and nuns have cheated on their vow and hurt a lot of other people. Which brings us back to the recognition that a sex life is a very basic aspect of being an adult, and finding a spiritually and physically and socially fulfilling sex life is a fundamental part of living. So does G-d really demand that homosexuals renounce this?
I know I've rambled an awful lot, but I'm trying to express the variety of my thoughts and feelings on all of this, and I haven't had the time to compose it all into a coherent essay. So instead I've been engaging in stream of consciousness moralizing. Sorry, but it's the best I can do for now. I have thought about all of this over the past several years. I'd heard and read about the film "Trembling Before G-d," and I'd wanted to go see it when it briefly showed here in town. 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? 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. Certainly as I watched you grow up, I've become more firmly convinced that you were hard-wired to be sexually attracted to men long before you had any idea what sex was. And from reading and listening to other people's life stories, it is absolutely clear to me that most homosexuals fought desperately against their sexual identity before accepting it. Everything in the culture around them, even if they didn't grow up in religious homes, pushed them toward a heterosexual life; if they had any free choice in the matter, most of them (if not all) would have gladly adopting the cultural norm of heterosexuality. I am also fairly certain that if I were homosexual, I could not accept the no-sex alternative.
So, what am I to do with the challenge you have dumped on my shouders? As you admitted, it is an incredible burden on me to know that I may be the only person who can keep you torah-observant, but I guess it's not an unfair one. As your father, I chose to raise you within Orthodoxy; I raised you in a system that tells you homosexual sex is absolutely forbidden. As I mentioned before, I chose Orthodoxy because as I learned more and more about it, I found it to be a beautiful and fulfilling way of life. I was initially opposed to becoming Orthodox when Mom started her conversion studies, but as I read and as I began practicing more, I came to appreciate torah more and more. As you mentioned, giving up pork and crabs and cheeseburgers was easy, and giving up working on shabbat was actually rewarding. Practicing the laws of niddah was difficult and incomprehensible at first, but as with shabbat, I began to enjoy the structure of having half a month with sex and the other half without sex. Most of the "disciplines" of Orthodoxy, things you have to give up, are only partial renunciations: you don't have to give most things up completely, but rather you just have to learn to appreciate and enjoy the structure of when and where and how you can do these things in an appropriate way. So I can't say there was anything that I had to give up that even remotely approaches what torah is asking you to give up. Even when I was a Conservative Jew, I pretty much always have believed in G-d, and as I've aged my belief in G-d has only solidified, not crumbled. The universe in general, and human life in particular, are simply too complex, too wonderful, too infinite and inexplicable for me to believe that they could have come about without a conscious loving Creator. And the system for living life that Torah represents is, in most respects, such a beautiful and satisfying system, that I find it strongly suggests to me that it could not have been fabricated by the Iron Age primitive mind of human beings 4000 years ago. But can I absolutely say with certainty that G-d exists? No. I doubt and question this all the time. Indeed, I don't think any human being can truly honestly say he doesn't sometimes doubt G-d's existence at times. Man is such an inherently questioning entity that I can't conceive that even the frummest of frum Jews of today or yesterday, the Hillels, the Lubavitcher rebbes, the Vilna Gaons, didn't at times question their faith in the existence of G-d. Of course, you can believe in G-d and even appreciate the beauty of Torah without accepting that it is the absolute, letter-for-letter Word of G-d. Then again, most of us don't face the stark moral/theological choice that you and other Orthodox homosexuals face. Frankly, I've copped out on this ultimate question: when I question the existence of G-d, or the absolute and divine accuracy of Torah, I can fall back on a comfortable rationalization: EVEN IF Torah isn't absolutely the exact word of G-d, it's a beautiful way of living life, and it provides me with meaning and satisfaction even if it was invented by some cave men. It is a tradition that offers meaning to me and to millions of other people, and by living my life under it and raising my children under it, I am part of a chain of tradition that gives my life greater meaning than living by some unique personal moral code. AND IF it turns out that G-d did hand down every letter of the Torah, I'll be morally safer having lived by Torah than if I take the opposite path. But again, I haven't been required by Torah to give up something as deep and fundamental as my sexual identity and the ability to find a sexually compatible life-partner. If I had, I doubt I could have complied with the sexual prohibitions. And as I have begun to grapple with this moral-theological issue in recent years, as I have begun to deal with Judaism's view of homosexuality, it does shake my own faith in the literal absolute divinity of Torah. I really do wonder whether G-d could require this type of voluntary choice of such a small minority of people. So I can't tell you with moral certainty that G-d requires you to give up all hope of sexual fulfillment.
On the other hand, I still believe in the wisdom and goodness and moral correctness of Torah, and I think it's a wonderful system for living. I'd love for you to be able to stay as much within Torah as possible, even if you were to become openly gay. But I have no idea whether that is possible, even if you wanted to. Clearly, a large part of Orthodoxy is absolutely rigid and unforgiving in its approach to homosexuality. Someone can walk into an Orthodox shul and openly declare that he speaks loshon horah, or that he doesn't observe the laws of niddah, and he'll still be welcomed and treated as a valuable member of the community; but if he declares that he has a boyfriend, he's likely to be shunned. It does appear that many homosexual Orthodox Jews are coming out openly with their desire to stay within the community, and at least some voices in Orthodoxy (mostly at the fringes) are trying to reach out and find some ways of accommodation. There are probably even some shuls (in America at least, like Beth Tefiloh, I don't know about Israel) where an openly gay man could be a functioning and valued member, but there certainly aren't many, and a person trying to find a warm welcome will probably experience a lot of rejection before finding something satisfactory. You could probably do some research and find informal groups of homosexual Orthodox Jews -- I know from scanning the Trembling With G-d website that they have outreach groups and the like in a variety of cities, including Israel I think. Steve Greenberg could also probably help you find people with common interests in parts of Israel. Meeting and talking with other people who've been through the things you're experiencing could help you deal with your situation and to help you decide what steps to take next. I also noticed that Rabbi Langer, the Chabad rabbi in San Francisco, was a side-character in Trembling Before G-d. One of the main characters in the movie is a guy who consulted with Rabbi Langer when he first tried to deal with his sexual identity, and Rabbi Langer apparently dealt with him pretty harshly (remember, I haven't seen the movie but that's what I read). On the website, they have a link to a showing of the film in San Francisco, and Rabbi Langer was one of the participants in discussing the film at the premiere, and he apparently had a very emotional reunion with the man he'd rejected several years earlier, and he expressed some regret at his earlier behavior. I don't know if you're aware, but Rabbi Langer is the father of a girl who Rebecca is very close with. I met her in Jerusalem before Rebecca's wedding, and I also stayed with her family at the San Francisco chabad house a few years ago when I was stuck there after a hearing over shabbat. He is a very warm and open-minded guy, a former hippie from the 1960's Haight Ashbury days, and he might be a person you could talk with and get a better reception than the other guy got years ago. 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.
Whatever you do about your religious beliefs and practices, I definitely don't advise that you keep your homosexuality a secret any longer. I am absolutely certain that you will begin to get "straight" with yourself and the people around you when you don't have to keep basic parts of you secret. Whether it's within Orthodoxy or not, you will definitely find people who like you, to whom you can confide and relax and be yourself and still be a moral, spiritual (even religious) person, if you allow yourself to grow in an honest and sincere way. You can't be constantly looking over your shoulder and wondering who knows what, and trying to decide what to tell which person; some people may be able to function that way, but you can't, as your last 13 years of misery have demonstrated. You don't need to take out an ad in the Jerusalem Post to declare your new self, and you don't need to flaunt your life in front of people who have no need to know the information. 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. Sexual relationships are inherently risky and emotionally difficult, even in the best of circumstances. Plenty of unconflicted heterosexual couples, who don't have all the cultural complications of being part of an oppressed minority, don't succeed together. And plenty of gays who have "come out" still play all sorts of psychological and sexul games that cause grief to themselves and others. If you get carried away and get promiscuous, as some people do in the first flush of coming out, you can get a variety of diseases and emotional wounds, including AIDS. 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. Maybe the people there are among the open-minded non-judgmental Orthodox Jews I referred to earlier, maybe not.
So I guess that's what I can tell you at this point in time. Forgive all the rambling, and hopefully you can sift out the wheat from the chaff and find some useful things to work with. I would hope that you will not go from one "extreme" to the other and abandon torah entirely, because there is a lot of beauty and fulfillment there, as you know. While Orthodoxy isn't really a pick-the-mitzvot-you-like religion, there should be some ways of observing torah as best as you can without being an outcast. I can't really speak from any position of knowledge on that point though, and you may be part of a social-religious vanguard, which is always a difficult place to be. In the end, only you can answer these questions for yourself. As you expressed in your letter, you already seem to have pretty much answered the questions you posed. But answering those questions still leaves many more questions to answer and unknown places to venture into. The main thing that I (and Mom) can offer you is not answers, but love and support, an understanding ear and a firm shoulder. I really want to be as helpful and supportive to you as possible, and I hope you will keep us "in the loop" about your concerns and needs, your successes and your disappointments.
As of now, I haven't told mom of your letter, but I probably will show it to her in the next day or two, unless you tell me not to. She will undoubtedly have plenty to say to you too, and you've always been respectful of letting her have her say. She does have a lot of wisdom to offer, so I hope you will actually consider the things she tells you, and not just listen with your mind closed.
I'm very proud of you for confronting the most difficult questions about life and trying to be honest with yourself and the world. I know you will find happiness and fulfillment as you move ahead, even if you also face obstacles and setbacks and disappointments too. But that is life, and it's always risky. So welcome to real life.