Call me arrogant. Call me blind. Call me careless, defiant, or egregious. But don’t call me stupid. Don’t call me unprepared. And definitely don’t call me out on coming out.
Today was the Triad Health Project’s Winter Walk for AIDS (and on a side note, my team raised $99! Go GTCC Gay-Straight Alliance!) and ergo, I wanted to dress appropriately. Okay. Got my gloves, my winter hat, the green camo one that took me a year to knit, not because I’m a slow knitter, but because I got busy in the spring and it took till the summer to finish it. I grabbed my jacket and my iPod (in case I should need it) and put on some warm socks and tied my shoes tight.
Then got to topic of torsos. More importantly, my torso, and what I should wear on it. I argued with myself for quite some time: Do I want to wear long-sleeves? It’ll be warmer, but it won’t show any pride or any connection to the walk or my team. Or do I wear my GSA shirt, that’s short-sleeved? And colder? And a touch too thin for freezing temperatures? And if I wear my GSA shirt–the awesome one that I designed with intensive input from my group, one that reads “GTCC Gay-Straight Alliance” across the top and “Coming Together for Equality” across the bottom–and if I take off my jacket at work, then I’d have to deal with the questioning gaze of children and parents and other people at work. Would I be able to handle that?
In the end, I made a compromise: I wore a long-sleeved shirt and my GSA shirt over it, and since I got up late, and ergo left late, it wasn’t on my mind till it was too late the damage that could be done. But thinking of it then, I was able to draw forth all my prior arguments, and was therefore able to convince myself it was time to do it. No matter the consequences.
You ask: prior arguments? I answer: Indeed. Ever since I knew I was gay, I’ve taken special care at my synagogue. None of my friends ever knew–and certainly no one from the religious school knew about it. There was no word anywhere–whether in modern Conservative Jewish law or in federal legislation–preventing my termination should someone find out I’m gay. So when my students asked if I had a girlfriend, I kindly answered that it wasn’t a topic to be discussed at Hebrew school. And when that failed to satisfy them, I simply said no.
Then, over the years, as I began to get to know the children better, as I began to get to know the parents a bit as well, I began to amass a list in my head of who would support me should I be fired for being gay. I suspected a couple of my coworkers, based upon past unrelated comments that were quite suggestive of acceptance, and I determined those parents that I should be especially careful of, such as the one whose daughter flat-out told me one day that “gay” was a bad word when she got to it in a book, where in context it meant “happy,” and stopped reading.
However, it never became an issue. Granted, it never became widely known. By the time my friends learned, they were no longer there. And since those two coworkers of mine were the ones who printed my GSA shirt, they know–and they commented on it highly when they saw me wearing it today! And my boss? I’m certain he knows, though he hasn’t said anything of it directly, and my rabbi? Certainly he knows! We’ve emailed a few times, when I finally got the tick enough to finally do it. And since then he’s asked me to write a few words for our monthly bulletin on the issue, so I know he’s very accepting and very supportive. So in all honestly, when I wore my shirt this morning, I knew I had nothing to worry about.
And yet, I still found it necessary to pore over some possible responses. Should a child ask what the GSA was, I’d explain it simply, “It’s a group that I’m a part of at my college.” Should they ask for some reason about the AIDS Walk, I’d say, “AIDS is a very dangerous disease and the walk is to help raise awareness about it and support AIDS patients.” Very simple, very polite. Very sincere.
Not a single child said a single thing about my shirt.
After the walk, we went to Panera Bread. I love Panera Bread. The man there who served me there…seemed a little off for a moment–so much so that he dropped my cup of hot chocolate and had to start over–and I didn’t think anything of it till his coworker came up and complimented my shirt. Then I thought, was that why he was acting so strangely? I doubted he was discriminatory. In fact, I almost got the impression he was staring a bit much. Maybe it was a good thing.
In any case, after that, there was a Chanukah party at my synagogue. Of course, the turn-out was tremendous. Again no children said a thing of my shirt, but one woman said she liked it, and a few others held their eyes wide as they walked past. But I didn’t care. Or rather, it didn’t bother me. I’m the same now as I’ve always been and I’ve been there six years now. Nothing has changed. Later, during minyan, my rabbi even gave me the honor of lighting the Chanukiah. That was incredibly moving and I was so thankful. I love my rabbi–I don’t think I’d love my synagogue nearly as much if not for him. He inspires and motivates so easily, and he calms simply by being present. If any one person could make me want to be a rabbi, he could.
In any case, it’s what happened in the car on the way home that made me think twice of all of this. Rather, I hadn’t been thinking of any of this before–I was simply being me, genuine and just as I always am. So it’s what happened in the car that made me think of any of this. Period.
We weren’t even to the main road out of my synagogue when my dad asked if my boss knew of my…lifestyle. First strike: Do not call it a lifestyle. My lifestyle is no different than your lifestyle. In fact, let’s get this straight. Let’s look at the dictionary and see exactly what a lifestyle is:
“The habits, attitudes, tastes, moral standards, economic level, etc., that together constitute the mode of living of an individual or group.” (Dictionary.com)
My habits include effective leadership and intensive study. I might be lacking in personal timeliness on occasion, and I might have some poor sleeping habits, but on the majority, my habits are helpful and diligent. My attitude is fairly consistent: I’m happy and make the best of everything, and I want the best for everyone, and nothing bothers me more than injustice and hypocrisy. I have good taste, but taste as it stands is such a hard thing to describe, and incredible subjective. My taste in clothes? My taste in food? My taste in interests? Similar to most, I would suppose. My moral standards are in line with my Jewish upbringing, albeit with a bit of modern refinement, but still, I’m a pretty moral guy, don’t get me wrong. And although my economic standing might be short of economic flying for the time being, it’s not to say I don’t live richly, whether it’s because of money or not that I do.
And–tell me, please–did I mention my sexual orientation at all in that paragraph? Did I once mention that I’d like to go to bed at night with a man, not a woman? Did I mention I’ll have to adopt or find a surrogate to ever have a child? Did I mention any of that, any of that at all?
No. I did not. My being gay is not a part of my lifestyle. My being gay is simply a part of who I am. My lifestyle is how I live–my being gay is not about how I live, but about who I am and how that shapes me. Gay is not a lifestyle. Gay is just another part of my life. Period.
Strike two: My father told me that there were some upper-ups in my synagogue with wide eyes, and he was concerned. And let’s just put it out there right now: That’s strike number three, too.
I’ve argued this with myself before. I’ve planned for this, should the backlash come strong. I’ve prepared myself. I’ve built walls and I’ve finally torn them down. I don’t need to be afraid anymore. I refuse to be afraid. I’ve made a conscious decision to be fearless, to not let anyone hold me back or let anyone hold me down.
There’s a lovely and catchy song by Sara Bareilles that played on the radio on the way home that summed up perfectly how I was feeling:
“All my life / I’ve tried / To make everybody happy while I / Just hurt and hide / Waiting for someone to tell me it’s my turn / To decide // Who cares if you disagree? / You are not me / Who made you king of anything / So you dare tell me who to be / Who died and made you king of anything?”
And that’s the naked truth. I’m twenty-one years old, an honor student, a math tutor, a student leader in two organizations–one in which I’m merely the recording secretary, but another in which I’m the president himself. I’m a student ambassador and a future graduate of the Student Leadership Institute. I’m a writer, with over thirty pieces published on Neopets, a poem in a book my synagogue printed, a short story in my school’s literary magazine, and a blog that’s had almost thirty-five hundred views in eleven months. I’m successful. I’ve got credibility. And I’ve got six years behind me working at my synagogue. I’m no different now than I was then–I was gay six years ago, I’m gay today, and in another six years, well, I’ll still be gay.
I’m not out to start a fight, but if anyone wants to start one with me, I’ll be ready for it. And trust me, I’ll win it, too. It’s not a matter of being fearless anymore. It’s a matter of standing up for what’s right and standing up for my own rights. And I’m not alone in this fight, either; there’s people behind me, and there’s people before me.
I might not be the bravest of them all–and trust me, I’m not–but sometimes, sometimes I can be fearless. And right now, that’s all that’s needed.