My entire life I lived with two axioms: “G-d is always there” and “Judaism is correct”.
As long as I can remember, I always knew: G-d “was watching” my actions and wanting me to do good, and that I was destined to become a Jew. What else would make a 7-year-old child clamor for a yarmulke and say kiddush on video? What would make a child throw his mother’s loaves of bread out in 2nd grade, so as not to have chametz (leavened grain) over Passover? My faith in G-d has never been something I “questioned” or “struggled with” — atheism was never an option in my mind.
I grew up with a desire to observe Torah; every law I learned during my teen years, I struggled to keep. I cried myself to sleep listening to the D’Veykus IV album, drenched in guilt, after losing my virginity to a boy when I was 15. At every point in my life, Torah was on the radar – whether I listened or not was a different story. When I turned 21, I knew I needed to make a concrete move to put Torah in my life. I also “knew that being gay was wrong” – having been in the closet since first realizing “I like boys” as a child. I packed my bags and moved to Brooklyn to become a chassid. I decided I was going to put my previous life behind me, and in the place of the old me would stand a new Creation of Hashem, ready to do His Divine Will.
A new child of G-d. A new heterosexual child of G-d.
The Torah is as clear of G-d’s omnipotence as it is in its prohibition of mishkav zachar — “היד ה’ תקצר”/”is the Hand of G-d limited?” asks the Torah rhetorically. G-d can make vinegar burn as the Talmud says, He “makes the great small and makes the small great”, He Creates light and forms darkness. You’re damn right I was asking G-d to “cure me” back then – why shouldn’t I? Didn’t G-d want me to be straight? Could He not make me straight? And so I would pray for Him to do so.
The Gemara tells us in Yevamot that a convert is like a newborn child — the commentator Aruch LaNer tells us that we can look at this as if the non-Jew “died” in the conversion process, his place being taken by a new Jew. As far as I was concerned, gay me was dead, Jewish me was taking his place.
Where in the hell does one get off saying that my conversion was only “masking my [homosexuality]“? Can this person — presumably heterosexual — imagine the level of faith, of sheer mesirat nefesh (dedication), required to get one to act out of their inborn orientation and put it behind? The only equivalent that comes to mind is for a heterosexual man to be sodomized. Yet, this is precisely what I went through, after years in yeshiva, when I got married in 2003.
Our Sages teach that under the wedding canopy, all gates of prayer are opened and all sin is forgiven – and also teach that “He who comes to purify himself, Heaven helps him.” Here I was, under a wedding canopy, praying for the ability to be with my wife and produce children (undoubtedly a mitzvah right?) – and after four arduous hours of attempting, I was shown from Heaven that my answer was “no”.
Every gay indiscretion during my charedi life was followed by intense amounts of guilt and prayer. I went to therapists. I dated women for years. I gave charity. I immersed myself (alone, thank you very much) at sunrise. Any hishtadlus (effort) the anti-gay person would suggest, I did repeatedly. What else would you have me do? Continue – married to a woman I increasingly resent, seeking stronger and stronger pharmaceuticals to numb my self-hatred, looking to “the kids” as my life’s only highlight?
What you see here is now a gay Jew who is trying to realize His place in the Divine plan, finding a place halachically, and realizing that that place is not next to a woman in a faux-heterosexual charade. I am out and proud as gay for all those kids out there going through what I went through, exhorting them to ask their rabbis for better answers than I was given back then. I call myself OTD (Off the Derech/ex-observant) now, because of interpersonal issues I have with the charedi world. Who is to say I won’t return to my previous level of observance?
And I have no time for those who would say that I can’t.
G-d saw every tear of mine, heard every prayer of mine, and knows that כיון דנייחא לי שעתא, since Judaism was good with me once (and still is), I’m “as Jewish as Tevye” (to quote the film). Baruch Hashem.