I came out when I was 28, old by “normal” standards. I’d been dating the woman I’m with currently for about six months at the time and while I’d never been in a relationship with a woman prior to this her, I knew that it was serious. I knew it wasn’t a phase and I knew that this person was the person I would spend the rest of my life with. It was the happiest and saddest time of my life. My mother, who was and still is my best friend, was left completely in the dark. She was normally the person I spoke to about everything and on this most important thing I remained silent. I’d told her one day after many glasses of wine that I was in love with a woman and she brushed me off and told me not to talk about it anymore. A few weeks later I mentioned it again, with more urgency-I needed to talk to her about it. She refused to listen and insisted I keep it to myself and not tell anyone else.
I hung up the phone.
And e-mailed my family and friends.
On my 29th birthday I was gay bashed for the first time while leaving the Museum of Natural History with my partner. An innocent-looking man with a guitar strapped to his back rode by us on his bike. He circled back around and said, “I hope you’re holding hands out of sisterly love and not sexual love.” He proceeded to tell us that we were sinners and gave us suggestions for a place we could go to be cured. I was a practicing Episcopalian at the time and instead of backing down to his stupidity, hatred and bigotry I pulled nearly every gospel verse in my arsenal to contradict the things he was saying to us. I finished with, “and my priest is a lesbian!” My girlfriend dragged me away and I shook my head bewildered that hatred continues to dwell in Holy books.
A year later and not yet officially Jewish I got bashed again on the train, perceived to be Jewish by the Tanakh in my hands. In both instances religion was the catalyst for the insults and bigotry, both men trying to tell me that I was wrong or damned to hell based either on my religion or sexual orientation. It was for this reason and the need to fully explore the integration of my identity as a black, gay Jewish woman that I started my website. It is why I continue to work, write and talk about the need not only for diversity education in Jewish community, but full inclusion of all Jews; gay, straight, trans, bisexual, black, white and brown.
Like coming out, converting to Judaism was a process. I leaned heavily on community to get me through the difficult times, which is how I found organizations like Keshet, Nehirim, A Wider Bridge, The Jewish Multiracial Network and others. LGBTQ Jews are in every Jewish community, whether people are out or still closeted and while LGBTQ Jews living in California and New York are lucky to have LGBTQ Congregations, the vast majority of LGBTQ Jews connect with other LGBTQ Jews through the work of these organizations.
Though my identity seems impossible or fabricated I’m not rare. Y-Love came out in a big way earlier this year and while most of the Jews of Color that I know are not queer, several are. I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to choose my religion, but my race, gender and orientation, though I fought it for so long, were not choices. It’s simply who I am.
When I came out to my parents the initial response was far from positive, though I wasn’t disowned or condemned to hell. This is, unfortunately, not the case for all people who come out, especially people in religious communities. Many are disowned and many LGBTQ youth are homeless. I’ve been lucky, through the years my family has come around and the other day when hanging up the phone with my mother she said, “Tell Miriam hello, love you both.” I almost burst into tears. Having her acknowledge my relationship has been wonderful, but to have her blessings of love is everything to me. I’ve shared Shabbat dinners with my parents and when my mother visited last year she attended synagogue with me. “It’s like church,” she whispered. “But, you know, without Jesus.”
And it’s true. We’re more alike than we are different and we achieve more when we lift people up rather than holding them down. If a young person in your Jewish community comes out to you Keshet has put together eight simple tips to be a support to that person.