April 10, 2008
I am officially coming out of the closet — not as a lesbian, but as the mother of a gay son.
It’s taken me awhile to “out” myself, primarily out of respect for my son’s privacy and because I know it should be him, not me, who decides if, when, and to whom to disclose his sexual orientation. But he has been gracious and bold enough to give me permission to write this in the hopes that what I share may open the hearts and minds of others.
Joshua came out to his dad and me the night before he left for college. We were not surprised; in fact, we were deeply grateful and relieved. Grateful that he trusted us enough to tell us, and relieved because we suspected he was gay for many years and it was wonderful not to have to dance around the topic anymore.
Yet being openly gay requires giving up something we all value: our privacy. It means that your sexuality is a topic that others can, and most likely will, discuss — and often in unkind ways. Even if this openness has helped our society become more aware that many of the people we know and care about are gay, there is an undeniable social stigma for those who admit to being part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
I grew up in a home where homosexuality was never discussed until I brought my best friend, Rick, home from college over winter break and learned the ugly meaning of the Yiddish word faygele. My parents and I parted ways with me fuming at what I saw as their ignorance and prejudice and them worrying that they had sent me to a college far too liberal for my own good. I was convinced that my father was homophobic, and given the period in which he grew up and the prevailing attitudes of his time, I was probably right.
After Joshua came out, we asked him how he felt about us telling others that he was gay. He said it was fine with him, but then hesitated and said: “But I don’t want you to tell Grandpa, because I’m afraid it will change the way he feels about me.”
I nodded with a lump in my throat, thinking, “Some things don’t have to be said to be understood.”
Time passed and I could tell my parents suspected their grandson was gay. I asked Joshua if he still felt the same about me telling his grandfather. I knew that my father adored him, and he must have known that, too, because he told me it was okay to tell him. So I did.
I began the conversation somewhat defensively, but when I told my father that Joshua was gay, he responded simply and without hesitation.
“I love my grandson and as far as I’m concerned, his sexuality is a non-issue.”
And that was the end of the conversation. Thirty-five years and a grandson later, my father opened his mind and heart to loving someone so completely that he was able to set aside his previous feelings in order to be close to Joshua. I sat still, moved beyond words, to be a witness to this transformation. Everything that I might have harbored against my dad, the pain and injustices of my own youth, was forgiven in an instant of his unconditional love.
But it is not only my father who has changed. Thankfully, I can now look at the Jewish tradition and say that it, too, has evolved over time to acknowledge the reality of homosexuality as a way of life and part of the human condition.
The traditional Jewish view on homosexuality is based on two verses in the Torah that condemn the male homosexual act as an “abomination” (to’eva in Hebrew). While the Torah does not comment on lesbian sex, rabbinic commentators have condemned it as “indecent” and “immodest.”
For many years, the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Jewish Renewal movements have recognized homosexual relationships and have permitted their rabbis to officiate at same-sex commitment/marriage ceremonies. In addition, they have admitted openly homosexual candidates into their rabbinical and cantorial schools, ordaining gay and lesbian clergy throughout the country.
In 2006, after years of debate, the Conservative movement voted to permit the ordination of openly gay and lesbian rabbinical students and permit same-sex unions. The decision was based on the Jewish commitment to pluralism, which recognizes that there is more than one way of authentically following our tradition and still be considered a seriously engaged Jew. In a move that exemplifies the Conservative movement’s philosophy, it did not end the prior ban against gay unions, leaving individual rabbis and congregations to choose which ruling to follow.
I am the proud mother of a gay son and I am also a proud Jew. Proud that my son is who he is and proud that my religious tradition has evolved in such a way as to embrace every member of my family equally.
Amy Hirshberg Lederman is a syndicated columnist, Jewish educator, and the author of One God, Many Paths: Finding Meaning and Inspiration in Jewish Teachings. Her Web site is www.amyhirshberglederman.com.
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