Moshe Brim writes about enrolling Yeshiva University, or as he puts it, “jumping into what expected to be homophobic shark infested waters.” Ironically, YU was the place where he finally felt able to come out.
I was in seventh grade, one year into my depression, when I first believed that there was something horribly wrong with me. My rabbi had just shown the class how to wrap tefillin straps around our arms, as we prepared to become Jewish men. After he did so, he went into an elaboration of the rules behind wearing the small, leather boxes. “You can never be naked while putting on tefillin,” he instructed. “You can never put them on in a bathroom; you can never be thinking about women while putting on tefillin.” I knew that these three scenarios would never be applicable to me, since, up until that point, I had followed Jewish law to a stringently unhealthy level of observance due to my very religious upbringing.
My rabbi finished his instructions with a hint of comedy, “But don’t worry, you can think about men, but no man would be thinking about another man unless he’s crazy!” This comment shot a flash of panic down my spine. Embarrassment rushed to my face as I wondered, “Am I crazy?” I outwardly laughed with the rest of the class, but inwardly took note that I was the insane one my rabbi referred to. He made the comment assuming that people like me didn’t exist. This one ignorant comment, stated so matter-of-factly, plummeted me into a deeper form of depression: a depression that bordered on hopelessness.
Until that point, denial had played a funny trick on my mind, and I had let myself believe something that wasn’t true. I lied to myself about my attraction to men and shrugged it off as, “I see men as attractive, and soon I’ll begin to find women attractive as well. It’s all just a matter of waiting for the attraction to kick in.” But that attraction never came.
In my elementary years, every time a teacher or student made a similar condescending comment about people like me, I laughed with the rest of the class and hoped no one would realize an imposter sat among them. A teacher’s comment during the day meant crying myself to sleep that night, pleading to Hashem to change the way I viewed the world.
Unfortunately, my cries were never heard.
Self-acceptance didn’t happen overnight. It took years until I realized that my perspective on life would be something I’d cherish, rather than detest. It was a long journey, and I’m still working to get there.