By Jessica Annabelle
Featured in Alef: The NEXT Conversation
Coming out can bring out a wide range of emotions – liberating, difficult, scary, fun, slow, sudden, not actually surprising to everyone but you, political, and super confusing.
For example, the first time I had a crush on a girl was super confusing. Rachel was, like myself, a nice Jewish girl and she happened to sit next to me in Modern Lit class. The important thing to know about Rachel though, was not only that she sat next to me, but that she often wore low cut and loose fitting shirts and sometimes they fell forward and I could see her boobs.
It was the best thing ever.
Simultaneously, it was weird and inexplicable and obviously didn’t mean anything. I had already been through a handful of boyfriends, so I was completely certain having a crush on Rachel did not mean I was a lesbian. On the contrary, I decided having a crush on Rachel meant I was totally normal, because she was hot and all of my guy friends had crushes on her. This weird thing, I decided, had everything to do with her shirts being irresistibly sexy and nothing at all to do with me.
I had successfully convinced myself I was into shirts, not girls. Several years later when I went on my first date with a girl, I explained to the few friends I told that I just “really liked her piercings.” And about a year after that, when I first slept with a girl, I realized that these sorts of explanations were probably no longer going to work.
Because I wasn’t sure how to tell my family and friends from home that I wasn’t straight anymore, after 18 years of evidence to the contrary, the first people I talked to about these new experiences and the questions they raised were my college friends at Hillel. When I tell other people in the LGBTQ community that the first place I came out was in my religious community, their reactions tend to range from surprise to disbelief. For many of my queer friends, religion is dangerous terrain, full of enemy soldiers laying in wait to attack with cures for homosexuality and promises of an eternity spent unloved. This hostile environment is not exclusive to Evangelical Christianity, but can materialize in the most liberal of churches, in small talk with a fellow member of the tribe, or in the mosque. I was blessed with an entirely different experience.
For me, Hillel was a safe place (looking back, even the safest place) to come out because my friends there were also family. We enjoyed each others company and conversation, but in addition to that, we were Jewish. There was a bond between us that could not be broken, and I held on tightly to that as I reinvented myself.
As I sorted through the new questions that arose with each of my new experiences with girls – like, was I interested in women romantically as well as physically? Is this whole thing really worth potentially upsetting my poor mother? And, am I allowed to call myself “queer” when most of my relationships until now have been with men? – I started to rely more and more on the ritual of Shabbat. Once a week, Shabbat allowed me to take a deep breath and set aside the uncertainties. For one day, I focused my energy on celebrating the answers I had found and appreciating the community that sustained me.
It’s been about a year since I first admitted to my best friend and fellow Hillel board member that I might be kind of into girls as well as guys. I’m definitely queer and Jewish and while my mother is not yet able to say LGBTQ three times fast, she has a pretty solid understanding of a few other new terms, including bisexual, Prop 8, partner, and dental dam.
One last thing – Rachel came out about six months ago.
Check out Birthright Israel NEXT’s Alef: The NEXT Conversation. It is a webzine that explores Jewish identity. From memoirs on “Why I Eat What I Eat” to a soul-searching narrative on serving jury duty during the High Holidays, Alef showcases the diversity of Jewish identity through stories, pictures, poems, music and more.