The roots of homophobia are fear. Fear and more fear.

Quote from George Weinberg.

In the long past, that has left us behind of coldly and abruptly – look, there it goes again! – one of my closer friends pointed out that he had noticed that I seemed to be uncomfortable with anything gay-related.

The eventual recognition that he was right (was in the past tense!) made a big difference in how I approach people in general – and how I am able to develop relationships with anyone at all, regardless of some small little factoid like their sexual orientation.

Now, I know that my mom will probably end up reading this and freak out – and to answer that unspoken question: No, Mom, I’m not gay.

But I am getting over the cultural background and societal hangups that have been driven into my brain, as here in the USA I have friends and acquaintances from all places, shapes, colors, types, beliefs and they are all my friends.

I think it really drove home when a friend of mine invited me over to a dinner at her place, and told me that a couple of her friends would be there too. It took me all about 4 second from being introduced to figure out that they were a couple, and the  next thought that flitted through my head was, “Aww… they are so cute together.” That reaction was so new to me, and it allowed me to step outside myself for a moment and recognize the shift in what used to be and what just was.

There’s no denying that people are different – and sometimes we are taught that those differences are: bad, threatening, wrong, impure, and many other tags. The difference is that today, when meeting someone where any of those possible tags apply, I try to see beyond that, and get to know them for who they are, not for their tags.

Now, I totally understand that religions and belief systems be what they be – and that some are more restrictive than others. Some have more rules and don’t recognize the authority of others – similar as they may be in the baseline requirements, but nowhere near the same ideas and ideals. I can only really speak from the Judaism perspective, as I have only begun to meet Christians, Catholics and they have about as much inter-categorization as Judaism does. So we’re all in a messy place where we have all these lines drawn, and terminology doesn’t really work across these boundaries. For instance, if I told my folks and their community that a friend of mine is studying to be a rabbi – what’s the initial reaction? I don’t know – maybe a question about what yeshiva or rav they are studying with, etc. But bring in the fact that my friend is a woman… Regardless of how learned, pious or God-fearing she might be, the status of “rabbi” would never be recognized in that circle.

This planet is too small and crowded for us to continue to find out new and improved ways to dislike each other. If you don’t like the way I dress, look, act, smell, speak, tell me so. Tell ME so. Don’t hold it in and take it home with you and figure out which tag or label to assign that fault to – and then associate that fault with someone else. Treat me as me – an individual. Not just a sum of labels and tags.

Thanks for listening.

  • Joe Brown Leer

    Funny you should write this.
    Ever tried male sex?

  • Odd that you should think it funny.
    The only male sex I’ve been involved in is me being the only male in the equation.

  • Joe Brown Leer

    Maybe not “funny”. I just find it interesting that you are so open about this feeling – which is how I thought you felt on the subject.

    The second comment was me trying (and failing) to be funny.

    Thirdly, interesting (I think) that you seem to be finding yourself in more and more ways, since the move. No?

  • By and large, I agree entirely. There’s a strong sense of people tending to rely on their biases, to shut themselves off from “all that nasty stuff out there,” and lock themselves in enclaves, imagining the nasty stuff outside getting nastier and nastier, building them up into grotesque monsters in their imaginations. There is a real lack of communication and real understanding among people of different opinions.

    But your coda, where you say “let’s all do what works for us individually, then work out our differences between ourselves with friendship and respect” – well, it comes across as fairly simplistic. The modern openminded freedom-loving athiest might well have few differences he’d see as “irreconcilable” with needs and demands of other people, but I’m afraid that that segment of the population isn’t nearly as large as it thinks it is.

    A lot of people have beliefs or value systems which require some demands of people other than themselves. So, to use the example at hand, religious authorities oppose any “concessions” to gay rights – because they can’t possibly bring themselves to “compromise” and effectively countenance something they view so firmly as an abomination. What’s more, what segment A wants can be actually very harmful to segment B when taken large scale, even if each individual instance of A’s preference has little-to-no-effect on B. Enough support for gay rights, and society will see homosexuality as fully normative, kids will be exposed to the subject and the option, homosexuality will be seen as fully legitimate – all of which may sound fine to you or me, but would be a heavy blow for the more traditional religious lifestyle. Similarly, Orthodoxy can’t just calmly beg to differ on the subject of women rabbis – one or two women rabbis have little effect individually, but collectively, they form a challenge to traditional Orthodox rabbinical authority which they very much suffer from.

    In these cases, the liberal side is happy to say “Let’s talk about it, understand each other,” because the worst that can happen is that the sides will agree to disagree, which means the liberal does whatever he wants. What consideration is offered by the gay community to those who honestly and earnestly believe homosexuality to be a horrible and harmful thing to individuals and society?

    I hope it’s clear I’m playing devil’s advocate here. The specific subject of homosexuality, and Orthodox Judaism’s response to it (or lack thereof), are issues that concern me very much, because it is perhaps the most blatant case of Orthodoxy being repressive and deliberately harmful to individuals, even the individuals who are pious, faithful, well-intentioned and/or dedicated to their faith. But even so, it’s just not that simple. There’s a reason this issue is so sticky. It can’t just be waved away with mutual understanding and social conscience.

    Part of the issue is that being individuals does not exempt us from being part of a much, much larger society, community, world. It’s a complicated place. :-/

    –Ziv

  • Wow.
    Joe – Don’t TRY to be funny – be you, and it happens naturally. 🙂 This move has taken me out of my “comfort zone” and essentially forces me continually to face new challenges and deal with them. Throughout the course of this, I am discovering feelings and reactions, and am able to attempt articulation of them. It’s awesome.

    Ziv – wow. Thanks for taking the time.
    The attitude of “let’s get along together” only really works if everyone tries it. There’s always those extreme aspects that would say “the fact that you or your color/religion/shoe size exists imposes on my life, therefore we must shoot rockets at you” and that has to be a more global community approach. But that could only be attempted if any one country could get a hold on itself to do so.

    Think of it this way – I personally do not believe that (as unfortunate as it may be) Israel will never have any kind of peaceful relationships with any of the neighboring countries (proposed or not) until there is some semblance or appearance of peaceful relationship within the borders. It’s a catch-22, and there’s no real way to resolve it, based on current existing scenarios.

    Marriage counseling talks about tolerance and compromise. One compromise that I have seen between the Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem and the non-religious was to enable the community of Har Nof to barricade their streets for the Sabbath to prevent non-religious drivers from coming through there.
    Compromise is attainable if BOTH sides are willing – and the barricades were a result of one side (the non-religious) to continue to “antagonize” the locals by driving through a clearly religious neighborhood.
    On the other hand, look at Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I spent a nice religious Shabbos there, and there are no barricades. There’s neighbors, and there’s a community, and there’s tolerance.

    On the flip side, I think that holding Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem is a deliberate attempt at antagonizing the other “spouses” in this crazy relationship, and does not help the overall situation.

    And one great part of all of this is that if you don’t like the society you live in, or the community you are in, you can find a place that may match a closer set of ideals that you have – but in the end, no place is perfectly tailor-made for every individual (unless that place is Disneyland!). So we all have to compromise – it becomes a matter of what you are willing to compromise in order to attain your higher priority non-compromising ideals.