From crying himself to sleep at nights to acting against homophobia in the religious community – fashion blogger Yossi Morris has come a long way since he realized he was gay, and he wants you to hear about it.
Fashion blogger Yossi Morris, 17, is a Yeshiva High School student at “Shaalei Torah” who lives in Beit Shemesh. He recently uploaded a video to Facebook in which he spoke about the attitude towards homosexuality within the religious community. Morris is also active in the Jerusalem LGBTQ community: he organizes discussion circles in the LGBT community and was a member in the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade Committee. He was chosen by youth magazine Maariv Lanoar as one of its “18 under 18” of the year.
“In the religious community,” Morris says, “if a person wants to turn on the A/C on Shabbat, all he is told is that ‘it’s great that you want this, but don’t do it.’ But when it comes to a desire for other ‘sins,’ the very desire to sin, even before he has done anything, is problematic for [orthodox Jews] – and this usually takes over the discourse [about homosexuality] in the religious community.”
What triggered you to upload this video?
“I uploaded it in the month of Av, the month where the holy temple was destroyed because of hate-for-nothing. It was also a week before the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, and I had thoughts on doing this for a while because I wanted to express it to the religious public. I wanted to publish it as a video and not just write about it – so they can see who I am. I’m a religious teen who speaks in eye level and not some provocateur. I think that the religious public is not so familiar with gays, only through television and media. There’s a small amount of gay voices in the religious community, and it is missing. The religious public slowly understands that this is a phenomenon that exists in reality.”
Yossi says he started to understand he was gay at the age of 13. “The school obviously did not have sex education classes, so I Googled stuff in order to understand what I was feeling, and I accepted it fairly quickly, but it was hard for me to think about how others would accept it,” he says. “I was afraid to disappoint my parents. I used to cry myself to sleep at nights. I was certain that I could only come out at the age of 18 and immediately have to leave home and move to Tel Aviv. But when I was ready to tell them, I realized that the picture was more optimistic than I thought.
“My mother was the first one I came out to and she was very supportive. We sat in the room, I said, ‘I need to tell you something,’ and then I waited for about fifteen minutes, and finally told her I was gay. She said she thought so but wasn’t sure. It ended with a hug and she asked me if she could tell my dad because she felt uncomfortable keeping this from him.
“I remember what once I was in the car with him and at one point he stopped and said that my mom had told him, and that he had a friend from the yeshiva who is gay and he consults with him on how to conduct himself.”
And how did you come out to your class?
“I posted something on Instagram which I realized became viral because people sent screenshots to each other, it was really a news story for about 24 hours, and one of the responses that was really etched in my head was an innocent question of a friend who asked, ‘you’re attracted to boys, but you’re also a boy. Does that mean you are attracted to yourself?’ After I came out, some boys felt comfortable enough to come and consult with me about their sexual feelings. One of the boys in my yeshiva even hit on me. Meaning, I wasn’t the only one.”
What would you really like to change the perception within the religious community about homosexuality?
“I would like to create an understanding that this is legitimate, that it’s just another form of expressing love. Until recently, for many people it was hard to find the combination of both worlds, because on the one hand the religious community gives them no place [to express their gay identity], and on the other hand, the gay community doesn’t always give them a place to fully express [their religious identity]. Sometimes it feels like you’re asked to either be gay or religious.”
Religion asks you to do it, doesn’t it? After all, there is a known prohibition on male intercourse.
“I really believe that gay sex is just one part of this mosaic of being gay, some will say it’s an important part and some will say it’s less dominant, but anyway dealing with that leads one way or the other. I believe that being gay is also loving a man romantically, and marrying a man. I don’t want to say that the solution is to live with a man without having sex, because to me it is a little naive, even though I don’t rule out such possibility. But then, the question of whether someone have sex in private rooms with his partner should not be of interest to anyone.”
What is your tip for success?
“Being sensitive to your environment. This is very instructive to me – to be attentive to other people’s feelings and also to mine, and to behave accordingly.”