Jerusalem Getaway, part 3: What to say, what to say

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On the following Friday morning, I took a break between my shifts at work to have breakfast with my friend Alex Margolin. Since I last saw him (almost a year ago), he had gotten engaged to a British comedienne, and I wanted to hear whatever I could about her. But I made the mistake of letting slip that I had my own news to share, so I only got the basic details before Alex's curiousity got the better of me. I keep expecting people to at least blink in surprise when I tell them that I'm gay, but I should know better than that when talking to someone who lived so may years in LA. Alex had plenty to ask me about the topic, though, having never been much involved with the issue in the Jewish world before. It was a good experience for me to explain in person the position at which I've arrived. The thorny question to debate was whether and how to tell our mutual friend, Dov, about me being gay. I was going to be eating Shabbos lunch at Dov's house the next day, and I wanted to figure what I was going to say, if anything. The big deal is that Dov is probably the most Charedi friend that I have. Unlike all the people I'd come out to so far (excepting my mother), he's not virtually guaranteed to accept my decision to seek my bashert from among the menfolk.

Alex took the role of debating against me saying anything, mainly because my natural bent was toward revealing the issue. The main question that Alex posed was why I wanted to tell Dov. What good was I trying to achieve? We acknowledged that this question is a close corollary to the query that is commonly directed at gay people by very diverse segments of the straight community: "Why do you have air your laundry out in public? Do you really need to flaunt what you're doing? Can't you just keep quiet about it?" On a certain level, that question is grossly unfair because it ignores the fact that heterosexuality is flaunted so profusely and flamboyantly by our culture on every street corner, from virtually every advertisement, from art, music, and literature, and especially from the simple everyday actions like remarking on the attractiveness of a member of the opposite sex or holding your arm around your spouse's shoulder. But life's not fair, so a witty retort of "why can't you quit rubbing your straightness in everyone's face?" isn't going to change the world's mind about anything. So I had to find some better answers than that.

On a personal level, one reason why I wanted to tell Dov was so that our friendship could be more real to me. It is very nerve-wracking to spend time with a person with any regularity when you never know when the conversation is going to touch on one of the thousand topics about which you have to dodge or engage in passive deception just to maintain the illusion of your straightness which exists in the other person's mind by default. My friendship with Dov was one of the few that I made during my years of living in Jersualem that wasn't just a superficial dance of pleasantry rituals. The friendship would be cheapened for me if I were to continue to omit a huge aspect of myself from it. Alex warned me, however, that coming out to Dov could quite possibly kill the friendship off, whether with a bang or with a whimper. While that possibility might not be the most likely, it's significant enough to demand consideration. Since I responded that I was willing to risk losing my friendship to Dov, there had to more behind why I wanted to tell him.

A few moments of thought made me realize that I also had a more global agenda. The near-total, suffocating silence that has been the traditional response of the Orthodox Jewish world to homosexuality through most of history is just starting to break in very recent years, but there is still a very long way to go before this world will have woken up enough to achieve an acceptable response. Since this frustrates me, of course, I want to do any small thing I can to pinch people hard enough to pull their heads out of the sand. If a member of one of these mostly-closed-off segments of the Jewish world were confronted with the reality of a homosexual friend, it would be a drop in the bucket toward where I want the world to go; a drop that could potentially cause some ripples. It's very hard for a person to respond with the unfeeling rhetoric that dominates most of the dialog on this topic when a familiar human face is attached to the issue. Alex replied with the caveat that it is quite possible that being confronted so close to home might merely spur someone like Dov into active negativity toward gay women and men and the needs that they might claim. Alex sensibly presumed that inducing opposition to my opinions on gayness would be the opposite of what I wanted. But although I'm not sure I was so good at communicating this to him, I tried express to Alex that even an active hatred of gays didn't seem as bad to me as the stifling, willful denial of our existence that currently dominates the scene. Still, Alex made an emotionally compelling point: it's ostensibly safer to do nothing rather than actively cause damage.

There was also another personal factor which inevitably had to color my arguments in favor of revealing: namely, my own feelings for Dov. I knew he was my type as soon as I first met him at the weekly class that he used to teach and which would I attend, so it came as no surprise when I started to fall for him. After a while, I started learning with him in a different group on a daily basis, and later still, that transitioned into me learning privately with him every night at his house, where I could get closely acquainted with his sweet wife and adorable sons. If you have any imagination at all, you should be able to picture the bubbling cauldron of emotions involved with a crush that is not only unrequited but has to be kept top secret from everyone involved. Moving away from Jerusalem was my way of extracting myself from that mess. Coming back after several months of cultivating a much saner emotional space and directly confronting a situation which use to cause me so much anxiety would be a way of proving to myself that I'd put the past behind me. Further still, successfully facing a situation where I'd likely face resistance to my decisions would prove to myself that I have the strength to stand by my decisions.

After talking so thoroughly with Alex, I was probably less sure about what to do, but I certainly had a more concrete grasp of the issues and a lot more caution. Alex and I parted with the agreement that telling would have to be done very carefully if any good result was to be expected. So what did I do? I went to lunch the next day, where the other guests were a couple of Dov's wife's female cousins. I played with the boys, who bounced off the walls as usual. The table conversation stayed pretty pareve. I had no desire to drop a cannonball into the pool right in front of people I hardly knew, so I hoped that I would be able to catch Dov in a one-on-one conversation after the meal when he wasn't so distracted by the kids. However, I wasn't able to snatch an opportunity to do this. In the process of putting his youngest to sleep, Dov wound up falling into a nap himself. I'd hung around long enough for one afternoon, so I made my farewells and thanks for the lovely meal and took my leave.

So, all that fuss and it comes out to nothing? Maybe not such a bad thing. I certainly had my motivating reasons to come out of the closet to Dov, but there's nothing that can't wait. Anyway, everybody that matters will find out pretty soon after I've got a boyfriend to introduce to them.