Coming Out, One Person At A Time

20 Sivan 5774

Coming out is one of those fraught processes. You can never be sure, beforehand, who will shrug and say “okay,” and who will be excited for you (or perhaps come out to you themselves), and who will freak out and attack you, and who will smile uncomfortably and begin to back away, later distancing themselves from you and disappearing from your life. Sometimes you get pleasantly surprised; sometimes, the surprise is less than pleasant.

As a queer man, I’ve had to come out a lot in the past, and continue to have to do so. Once you come out, you can’t go back in, either – it’s a one-way street. Every new person has to be told, because it’s not usually immediately obvious that I’m queer. (Unless I deliberately flame up, for example, I have to be pretty drunk for my innate flaminess to come out and play. I don’t ping most people’s gay-dar.) And just coming out is only the first step. After that, you get the Question Period, with questions and comments that can range from startled (“But you don’t seem gay – are you sure?”) to compassionate (“That makes sense – what can I do to make this easier for you?”) to outright intrusive or ridiculous (“But… but… how do two men… you know… uh…?” or “You know you’re going to go to hell, right?”).

I think I’ve heard them all, when it comes to being gay.  I’ve heard quite a few when it comes to being autistic, too (I am not obviously or immediately autistic to most people, because their image of “autism” looks like Rain Man, not like me). And some of the things I’ve read from other bloggers who’ve come out to their friends about converting to Judaism have made me insanely anxious about coming out to my friends, because some people are as closed-minded about religious shifts as they are about sexual orientation or even neurodiversity. In the past, I’ve had people refuse to believe I’m autistic, reject me because I’m queer, and tell me that they just can’t handle me being out and to keep those differences to myself. Every time you come out, you risk being attacked or rejected (or both). So coming out can be a dicey process.

However, I am happy to report that so far, of the thirty-odd people I’ve come out to about my conversion, I haven’t had a single negative response. Many have asked intelligent questions: how did I get to the point where I could believe in G-d again after being an atheist? how does the conversion process happen? and even something as simple as Why Judaism? But nobody has been hostile yet. In fact, one of the things that’s confused more people than anything has been the idea that I’ll have a new name. I’ve had to explain that the bestowal of a Hebrew name is more “something that is important inside the Tribe,” and that none of them will have to call me by the new name – that it’s for me to use with other Jews.

My youngest brother and I talked about it last Thursday night on the phone, and he was completely cool with it. We talked about my dad and how he might have reacted; my brother said he thought that if Dad was still alive, he’d approve of this change on my part. That’s a real relief, because I admit I was worried about losing my family over this.  I’ve talked to long-term friends, former grad school classmates, and several folks from my medieval group. One friend who’s a weaver has offered to hand-weave me a tallit (without being asked!), and another one agreed to weave the atarah for it. A third friend, on hearing the news, said “I’m going to crochet you a kippah.” This blew me away, and made me realize just how blessed and rich in friends I am.

I am still stressing about this pretty badly at times, though, because this is only thirty-odd folks so far, and just on my Facebook I have over 500 friends and acquaintances. I found myself making a list of people and rank-ordering them on how close I felt to them and whether they needed to know. That list came out to over 50 people that I feel I needed to talk to one-on-one, whether through FB chat, Skype, or in person, before I make the general announcement on my Facebook page.  And that’s just my friends on Facebook! I also have at least three other social-media sites that I have to comb through and determine “who is close enough to me that I need to tell them one-on-one about this?” That’s a lot of people, and a lot of questions, and a lot of possible rejections. Is it any wonder that I’m stressed?

And yet, this is something I need to do. My plan is to message people on Facebook and give a pretty standard explanation, and then let them ask me questions. The explanation starts with the helicopters joke, continues with the wish to sit shiva after my Dad’s death, goes on with the Spong deconstruction of the Jesus-as-G-d idea, and then gets into my mother’s NPD and the abuse that made me have trouble trusting my feelings which led to my insistence on empirical/literal evidence for a long time. After that, I talk about the different spiritual helicopters that I’ve been seeing: the fact that the temple is RIGHT down the street from me; the fact that it’s been thirteen years since I first came out and really asserted my adulthood; and then learning about Judaism and its ethics and practices, and how it fits me and makes sense. It took about fifteen minutes, talking, with my brother to get it all out. It took about ten minutes to type it to my friends on Facebook that I’ve come out to so far.

My goal is to be able to post about my conversion by Independence Day or sooner, but even then, the coming-out process is an ongoing thing. With strangers it’ll be pretty easy: I’m wearing a kippah and a Mogen David. But with friends, I feel the need to give them a heads-up before they see me kippah-clad for the first time.



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