Conversion Process and Personal Stories
044 | Mom, Dad: I think I’m Jewish. Coming out all over again! The Pride Issue 🏳️‍🌈

044 | Mom, Dad: I think I’m Jewish. Coming out all over again! The Pride Issue 🏳️‍🌈

Realizing and Actualizing My Newfound Jewish Identity Was Easier Thanks to Coming Out 20 Years Ago

Based on an original postlet August 2, 2019

When I first came out to my friends and family Clinton was president, I couldn’t wed in any state, and Matthew Shepard had just been murdered a week before. It was trying and unsettling, a little earthquake for my family and me both.

I was terrified but also exhilarated. It was a different world, and I’d fled my midsize-yet-small-in-culture south Texas town for Austin, elated to go to college and seize my freedom. The new millennium was here: my adulthood, change, hope, progress, and an unknown future.

On my first trip home from college in October 1998 my friends Jenny and Kate came with me to tell my parents. I was already out at school and to my closest friends from back home and despite how loving and supportive my family had been, I really was incredibly anxious.

They’ve just been wonderfully supportive and loving, and within a year they were marching with me in Austin. There I led a few campus orgs and helped the community get some much-needed visibility (and funds), including bringing Matthew Shephard’s mother, Judy, to campus. My parents and I got to sit with her backstage before I introduced her. The next month, May 2003, was my graduation and I was recognized in the campus paper for my work. Then just the following month quickly came Lawrence, the SCOTUS decision striking down Texas’ and remaining “sodomy” laws. It happened to be on this day, June 26, 2003. There were of course a slew of other laws and court cases, including huge ones on the same date, June 26, that we could only have dreamed of then. And I did!

When I’d left home for UT-Austin there wasn’t a regular gay character on TV anymore. We lived on the frontier of cultural and legal change, at the crux of gender, sexuality, identity, religion, and family. And no small part of carving my identity and becoming who I am meant formally rejecting my Christian upbringing, so it is fitting that the Texas town I escaped is named Corpus Christi.

Coming out is an ongoing process; you’re constantly filling new people in. So realizing I wanted to be Jewish had some precedent, while of course being completely different. The discovery, acceptance, and self-storytelling are similar, and one definitely led to the other for me.

I was fiercely vocal and activist at UT. Clinton was swiftly replaced (installed, really) by our governor. Bush ran on being a “uniter, not a divider,” which is some smug gaslighting. He exported Texas GOP politics nationally, scaling up the partisanship and religious posturing that led to a congress refusing to pass a single thing Obama proposed, even Republican-designed health care legislation. What had been there all along—McCarthyism, Cross-in-Flag, nationalist identity—fully took over the Republican party, Fox News and its predecessors trumpeting its ascendancy from the wings in the Reagan era and then finally to the chair at the Resolute Desk.

If you distill down 40 years of American politics, it’s this: If God is on your side, how can you ever compromise?

If you distill down 40 years of American politics, it’s this: If God is on your side, how can you ever compromise?

I hated this worldview; it no longer hid its motives. Texas politics suddenly became even more aggressively homophobic, sexist, and racist as state lawmakers vied to be the most regressive as a bragging point back in their districts. Patriotism now meant pointed hatred or you wouldn’t get reelected. If you didn’t aggressively reject progress on LGBT, women’s, or people of color’s issues, you faced a primary challenger and lost funds. Before Bush we had the spicy Ann Richards, a democrat, as governor. This shift toward wearing your hate and bigotry as a badge draws a direct line from Bush to Trump.

Tremendous Austin organizations like LGRL (my former employer) and Texas Freedom Network (a religious org I volunteered with, founded by Cecil Richards, the governor’s daughter) were and still are fighting in that Austin capital building that you’ll soon learn if you visit, is 6 feet taller than DC’s.

From TFN, Texas Freedom Network: “My faith does not discriminate”

We wrote, we called, networked and lobbied, we fundraised, we spoke, we testified.

There are now LGBTQ characters on TV I don’t even know about, marriage equality nationally*, and a visibility and understanding I couldn’t have imagined when first realizing I was gay right around the same time Ellen was proclaiming it.

*Same-sex marriage could easily go away in America, along with women’s right to choose. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jewish heroine, and others could be replaced with more far-right oligarchs if Trump wins in November.

Discovering My Jewish Identity

Realizing I wanted to be Jewish one year ago was at once strange and warming, a returning, a “eureka” moment that just felt right. Describing it to people is difficult, but where I’ve landed on it squares with confirming other identities.

It just feels like I was always Jewish and didn’t know it. I was supposed to be a Jew.

I nearly Schitt myself when I saw this

Does that sound odd? It shouldn’t. It felt odd to me at first but so did accepting that I was gay. Think of it this way: You don’t say Oh, she decided she’s lesbian, or Oh, they decided to change their sex. It doesn’t work that way; we now call it gender confirmation and no longer call it a “sex change”, and in a similar yet very different way, I am also confirming who I am. If you’re trans, you feel like you were always the gender you’re expressing, not the one assumed or assigned to you, and adult Jews—born into Judaism or not—at some point have a conscious confirmation of their faith. Or not! You either decide to embrace it, or parts of it, or maybe not at all. And yes, I do think this analogy holds: Some reject Judaism (the faith) but are still considered Jewish (the tribe). I get to join both.

For this reason, I struggle with a few terms:

  • Conversion feels strange, especially with the connotation in forced sexuality “conversions” (Cough, these never work)
  • “Jew By Choice” is another. Better, but it makes it sounds like those lucky enough to be born into Judaism don’t have a choice?
  • So is it a Jewish Confirmation? Well “confirmation” is taken by Catholicism, so no

What do you think? I’m leaning toward affirmation today but it changes.

Jewish tradition and law align with this. Some consider Jewish converts—New Jews ™—to have always been Jewish, but perhaps were lost from the tribe. There were so many migrations, forced conversions, and massacres over the millennia that I do wonder if I had someone along my lineage who was Jewish, and my mom thinks her mother’s side, from Lodz, Poland, may be it.

While I’m mulling my next steps and pondering the steps my ancestors took, I’m trying my best to keep Doing Jewish as the only one in the house. I’m back at home with my folks for now—the longest stretch we’ve been together since that same year I came out gay. The mikvah is closed through the summer but I’m practicing and active in LA communities, so I find myself regularly coming out to Jews I meet: I’m queer, and not-quite-Jewish-but-getting-there — and perhaps Jewish at heart all along.^

^Schrödinger’s Jew?

Me telling the world (h/t Tiffany Haddish)

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