Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"I am the mother of an orthodox gay young man."

I recently received the following letter from a mom.  Please read her story.  It's all too familiar.
But she has a great idea.  Let me know your thoughts.
Be well.


Although in the beginning I felt I lived in an alternative universe, I have learned that my story is not unique.  So I send you my story in the form of a letter as a way to connect to other mothers and fathers who are just beginning to navigate the uncharted land we religious parents of gay children inhabit.

I am the mother of an orthodox gay young man who came out to us a few years ago after many years of dealing on his own with the reality of his life. Needless to say, during the years when he was grappling with how he would lead his life while trying to keep it from us, even to protect us, our relationship with him was strained. There was a gulf between us, and while we didn’t suspect the reason for it, it disturbed us greatly. He never wanted to talk about dating, marriage or, in fact, anything that would give us any real information about his life. To every probing question we posed we got a vague response. We suspected that he was no longer religious, but we certainly never suspected he was gay.
Of course he sensed the strain in our relationship. He knew we were concerned about him. But while he wanted to tell us the truth, he worried about what would happen to our family. Could we and would we accept who he really was and embrace him fully?
Finally when the yom tov visits home became intolerable, he had to tell us. 
So, on a beautiful, cloudless day that seemed to promise only happy things, he faced me and told me the real reason he had distanced himself from us. It was not a question of observance, but that he was gay. I remember looking at him in shock, not quite sure what I had heard. I was devastated. In that one moment, standing in the sunshine, my world shifted. Any expectation I had ever had for him as a husband and father was shattered. Any notion of who is gay or what kind of family that person would come from was obliterated from my mind. I was shaken and afraid, frightened for my son and what the world held for him, of course, but also frightened because I knew our lives would never be the same. I remember thinking, “How did this happen? How will I ever breathe again?”  I certainly didn’t think I would ever stop crying. Sleep evaded me for weeks. No one I knew could relate to this. There was no template for behavior or response in my community for such a revelation.  Yet, I loved him, and I knew that whatever the cost to our communal life, or the disconnect we might feel religiously, he was our son, and we would find a way to live with this.
Uncomfortable as we were, we were suddenly talking about all kinds of things. That wall of secrecy was down, and there was a mature adult talking openly about his life. Within a short time, my son told his siblings and they began the work of processing this new information and accepting him. But as good as their acceptance was in forging a more meaningful relationship with him and as happy as we were with the new communication that had opened up among us all, these things didn’t bring relief from the anxiety we faced each day when we would waken yet again to our new reality. And although my son insisted that there are many religious gay people in his world and although he remained observant, the Orthodox world we inhabit was not ready to deal with this openly. We knew no one in the same situation.  There was no one we could share this with. And there was grief, a grief we would have to muddle through on our own without the comfort of community.  We mourned the expectations and hopes we had to give up; we mourned the loss of our son’s expectations and the years he spent keeping this all to himself, and we dreaded the veil of secrecy that now surrounded our lives.
During the first weeks after my son came out, we read a great deal about homosexuality and Jewish attitudes towards it. It was not encouraging. We spoke to our rabbi who listened with sympathy and without judgment, but offered little help. We had long conversations with our kids, but there was no one else we could confide in. Often, I would start crying while in the middle of some task. I tortured myself with questions, possibilities. What would I do if someone found out? Now that I knew, how should I respond if someone asked me about him? What happens if he gets involved in a long term relationship? How can I live with this?
Yet from the very beginning, a great help in our struggle was the information my son gave us just a few days after he came out.  He told us to look at a blog written by an orthodox parent of a gay son. We read the Kirtzono blog from beginning to end that same night, and a new world opened to us. Sad and bereft as we were, we saw we were not completely alone. There was at least one other family facing the challenges that now shaped our lives. Through the blog we connected with Saul David and after several emails, he put us in touch with another family who had recently learned their son was gay.  This direct contact allowed us to start a meaningful conversation with each other. Their son had come out to them several months before so they were that much farther ahead in the coping process and could assure me that all the things I felt were normal and that despite the deep sorrow we felt, a day really would come when I would think about other things and be able to talk to my son about ordinary topics, when I wouldn’t cry in the supermarket line or feel desolate as I stood in shul on Shabbat, isolated and mute among my friends.
The knowledge that there are other people with the same issues has made an enormous difference in our lives. Years later we are still writing to one another. We cannot solve each other’s problems, yet we appreciate the emotional roller coaster of each other’s lives. She understands how my love for my son and my pride in the man he has become trumps all my previous notions. She knows the struggles he has faced and understands the courage he shows each day. Most importantly, I know she will get it when I say there are times when the sorrow comes flooding back again after months of coping if someone casually asks if he’s dating anyone or can they fix him up with this really great girl.

Thus, I make a modest proposal that this blog serve as a way for parents to make contact with one another, to establish a buddy system so that no parent feels s/he is alone following the disclosure that a child is gay. Perhaps we can develop a pairing of parents, so to speak, who are willing to communicate with one another.  The questions, the problems, the comforts of a shared experience are ours to offer to one another in a context of sensitivity, religious commitment, empathy and concern for our children.  We need to be supportive of our children, but we too need support and comfort. This can be done with a therapist of course, and that is a good option for many parents and family members.  But less intense help can also come from another parent who has been in our shoes. Perhaps there are parents who are willing to write or speak to someone just beginning the road to acceptance and understanding.  And perhaps parents who feel they would benefit from this kind of anonymous and discreet contact can write into the blog and find that other family who is willing to show them support and help them deal with the challenge of living with the knowledge that they have a gay child.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

“If the father drops the kid and the kid gets brain damage, at least he’ll be straight. Small price to pay.” - Dr. Joseph Nicolosi

NARTH, an acronym for National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, was founded in 1992, in response to the delisting of homosexuality as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973.  One of its founders and the current preisdent is Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a graduate of the California School of Psychology in dowtown Los Angeles.  The express goal of the organization is to prevent children from becoming gay or to return gays to heterosexuality through reparative therapy.

There are several reasons for this particular exposure.  Firstly, the "Statement" spends an inordinate amount of words discussing "reparative therapy".  Secondly, Rabbi Freundel discussed "reparative therapy" at the panel.  Third, the person who spoke up at the panel was Dr. Joseph Berger, a psychiatrist and board member of NARTH.

In light of the tragic suicides over the last few months by young gay men and women who were bullied I would like to submit two written pieces to ponder.  The first is an article published by OU in response to bullying.  The second is a comment made by Berger on the NARTH website in 2006 and which was later removed.

Op-Ed: There’s no place for bullying in God’s world

Rabbi Steven Burg

This article first appeared October 17 in JTA

I was saddened to hear of the death of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old college student driven to suicide by bullying over his sexual orientation. While Clementi’s case has grabbed national headlines, it sadly is far from unique.

Last September alone, no fewer than six boys in the United States committed suicide as a response to bullying they suffered over their sexual identities. Several of the victims were as young as 13 years old.

Bullying is nothing new, but modern technology has caused it to explode in new and dangerous ways. In Clementi’s case, intimate moments were webcast. Other teens are humiliated routinely via social networks. It takes no effort whatsoever to send a tweet, post a video or write on a virtual wall.

In the old days, bullies could usually only harass their intended victims live and in person. Nowadays a teen can be abused and publicly denigrated remotely and often anonymously.

Such cases are not limited to boys; nor are they limited to situations pertaining to the victims’ sexuality. Three girls are awaiting trial in Massachusetts for their role in harassing a classmate to the point of suicide. Even when situations do not reach the point of suicide as a perceived means of escape, bullying lowers self-esteem and leads to depression and anxiety.

It is unacceptable to harass or bully anyone for any reason. It makes no difference what a person’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or country of origin happens to be. A person’s income or social status is immaterial. We are all created in the image of God, and the Torah demands that we extend common courtesy to one another.

Our responsibility goes even further in the case of the downtrodden and oppressed, insisting that we guard ourselves very carefully so as not to add to their troubles through our words and actions. (Causing pain to a widow, an orphan or a convert are particularly heinous acts under Torah law.)

Rabbi Akiva famously said in Leviticus 19:18 that the primary principle of the Torah is “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, the Sifra (a book of the Midrash) immediately follows that statement with what it considers to be an even more important principle: The sage Ben Azzai cites in Genesis 5:1, “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” The verse means that we all are descended from the same ancestors, Adam and Eve.

As important as the verse cited by Rabbi Akiva is, it’s too easy for us to justify hating others because they are not our “neighbor"; that is, they are not like us. Ben Azzai’s verse reminds us that black or white, rich or poor, straight or gay, Jewish, Christian or Muslim, we ultimately are one family -- the family of mankind.

Hate and fear of that which is different is not something with which we are born; it is something acquired. (song “You’ve Got to Be Taught,” the beautiful Rodgers and Hammerstein in "South Pacific," sends out that message.) Accordingly, I implore all parents, teachers and other role models to actively encourage an environment of tolerance.

This doesn’t mean that we have to agree with every decision that others may make in life. We may disagree with others’ theologies or lifestyles. But disagreement is not a license to abuse others. A child, a teen or an adult who harasses another person, verbally or physically, is automatically in the wrong.

At NCSY, we have adopted strict policies against acts of malice and aggression. All of our regions across North America are being instructed to have sessions on bullying. The Midwest Region, based in Chicago, already has announced a bullying program at its Fall Regional in Kansas City next weekend.

Unwelcome attention and a hostile environment are unacceptable regardless of the source. We all have the right to live free of intimidation. If we have legitimate differences of opinion with another person regarding religion, politics or other areas in which debate may be valid, that calls for thoughtful discussion and mutual respect.

I call upon parents, educators, clergy and all others who work with youth to join us in a zero-tolerance policy for bullying in all its forms, including cyberbullying. Not only will this save young lives from being needlessly thrown away, it will ensure a safer and healthier environment for all our children.

(Rabbi Steven Burg is the international director of NCSY, the national Jewish youth program of the Orthodox Union.)
Here is the link for this article.....
And this is what Dr. Joseph Berger has to say about bullying......

"I suggest, indeed, letting children who wish go to school in clothes of the opposite sex -- but not counseling other children to not tease them or hurt their feelings.

On the contrary, don't interfere, and let the other children ridicule the child who has lost that clear boundary between play-acting at home and the reality needs of the outside world. Maybe, in this way, the child will re-establish that necessary boundary."
Enough said.

Be well.

Saul David