Think of the Children [A Guest Post by Rochel]
This is our first guest post, written by Rochel, a member of Tirtzah.
When I started coming out at shul, I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t naïve enough to hope that everyone would be supportive or understanding but at the same time I did try to be optimistic. After attending this shul for over four years, I had developed many close friendships and in fact considered many of the members more like family than friends. These were the people who had celebrated with me when I finished grad school, cried with me when my father was battling cancer, opened their homes to me week after week so that I could experience what it is like to have shabbos with family… this community taught me about the value of chesed (loving kindness) and I desperately hoped that they would respond to me with kindness when I opened up to them about my sexuality.
I chose different approaches to coming out to the people that I was closest with at shul. Some people I spoke with in person or on the phone, and cases where I was most nervous I wrote an email. While in the end, people have had different responses and offered varying degrees of support, initially there did seem to be one theme.
“Think of the children!”, everyone seemed to be saying…
One of the first couples that I told assured me that they loved and supported me and that of course they would continue to have me over for shabbos along with my partner. They asked questions about the bombshell that I dropped, some of which I had anticipated such as “are you sure it isn’t just a phase?” After I was able to convince them that phases generally don’t last over 17 years, they asked a more poignant question: “How will we explain this to our children?” They went on to explain that when their children ask about something that is not consistent with their values or religious beliefs, they say something to the effect of “that is what the non-Jews do”, but they knew that that answer wouldn’t fly in this case because their children would know that my partner and I are observant Jews. I felt for the difficult position that this put my friends in. On the one hand, they love me and they don’t feel that it is their place to judge who I am or how I live my life. On the other hand, they want to raise their children to believe that some choices are not theirs to make, that observant Jews just don’t do certain things. I didn’t answer these friends when they said “think of the children” because I believe that it is every parent’s right to explain things to their kids in whatever way they wish. My hope is that by the time that these children are old enough to ask these difficult questions, my friends have found an answer that reflects their values and explains my relationship in an honest and unapologetic manner.
I came out to another friend by email because I knew that I had a great deal invested emotionally and it would be too hard for me if she responded negatively in person. I also knew it was unlikely that this friend would be supportive. Her initial response was surprising in that just as the previous couple had, she affirmed her love for me. She then took what could be considered a loving/concerned response. “Think of the children,” she begged me. “Where will you send them for school? How will they feel to be the only frum kids with two mothers?” I read her emails to my partner and we laughed together about the absurdity of these questions. We had been dating just a few months, and this woman was talking about our children. The laughter helped me to take pause from all the tears that I was shedding as I realized that this friendship would never be the same. The friend and I exchanged a few emails back and forth and I know that it was an emotionally difficult time for both of us. I know that this woman cared about me and that she was expressing genuine concern. She felt that I was making a mistake and that it was her duty to discourage me. While her “think of the children” made me laugh, it also meant that she “got it”. By talking about our unborn children, she was validating the relationship between my partner and I. she understood that being queer is not just a phase in my life.
As I think back on the emotional process of coming out to my entire religious community, I am glad that the first couple asked about how they would explain my relationship to their children. Asking this question showed me that they intended to maintain our friendship, and this comforted me. I was afraid that in choosing to come out, I was choosing to alienate myself from my community. I am happy to say that over the past months, my partner and I have spent many beautiful shabbos meals with this family and others.
Posted by tirtzah.