If it was really up to me I would never respond to hateful pieces about homosexuals. I’d stand above it. However, many people are too passive, scared or lost for words to respond, so let me be their reluctant speaker.
Next reason to respond to a bigoted blog post is: when an author seems more ignorant than mean. We should never lump together core bigots and well-meaning people who are simply unaware or biased. Every ally to any oppressed group necessarily starts out as ill-informed and none of us are perfect or beyond making mistakes. (Making mistakes is the prerogative of the ones who do something.) Rather, not-die-hard bigots should be won over to become better allies. So that is what I want to try here too.
A prolific blogger in a recent well-written, at places humorous and fair post, admits that he doesn’t know how the word “gay” came into existence as a description for homosexuals. His lack of knowledge did not send him on a research trail or prevented him from writing about it. I will inform him and correct him, following his writing, point-by-point.
1. Before going into any details, I must say that homosexuals in most quarters of the world, especially when they are young and often still isolated, are a vulnerable group. The author may not realize this because he doesn’t seem a hateful person, but that does not mean that everyone else feels neutral or warmly about homosexual boys and girls. And in fact, even when we feel loving towards non-heterosexuals, we can still say stupid, hurtful and even hateful things. Just as we want Gentiles to be very careful how they talk about Jews, we should also be cautious how we write about homosexuals.
2. He claims that Gay is a inadequate description for homosexuals because “Many homosexuals are not “happy” individuals.”
First of all, how does he know? How many homosexuals does he know and did he meet? Did he ask them if they were happy or are they his own conclusion? How many passed under his radar, not because they were unhappy, but rather because it was not safe enough to reveal they were gay. Ah, such closeted people must be unhappy? They could be stronger and happier than he will ever be. Unsafe describes their surroundings, does not qualify the targeted people.
Secondly, it could be important not to confuse who people are and what is done to them. Jews are not tense, paranoid and scared. Rather, many Jews come from long lines of people attacked, persecuted, disliked and “tolerated.” However, we don’t blame (or label) the victim. Don’t be part of a group whose kicking someone and then blame him for bleeding. The ones really uncool are those Gentiles who do not guarantee Jews’ safety and peace of mind. Jews are not unhappy or unlucky people. Antisemitism doesn’t mean that Jews can’t be blessed and happy to be Jews. Never confuse unfortunate circumstances with a wish to be not there.
Thirdly, at least in the past, many homosexuals grew up in hostile cultures and totally isolated from fellow gays. As Viktor E. Frankl famously wrote in his Man’s Search for Meaning, “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” There is nothing wrong with being depressed about being hated from the cradle and never hearing anyone say that one’s kind is truly good. However, no one needs to surrender to unfortunate situations. Rather, one may resist. What better method than to turn shamed into proud, rejected into gay!
Fourthly, we Jews are fortunate in that we can understand gays better than most others. We only need to replace Jew for Gay in what people say, to understand how homosexual youths must feel hearing themselves being stereotyped, marginalized, criminalized, and called evil.
3. The author now continues with some light-hearted treatment of the word gay. I’m all for not being so heavy-handed. A little gaiety (!) goes a long way. Yet, this could come across as insensitive and be hurtful. We would not appreciate Gentiles making light and puns on the word Jew, would we? (Jews, juice.) Better not to be “funny” about things that others commit suicide over, Heaven forbid.
There is an urban-legend backronym that Gay would stand for “Good As You.” Rather, its true etymology is that, by the late 17th century, “gay” had developed sexual connotations from people interpreting “carefree” to mean “immoral” or “pleasure addicted.” In the 19th century, it was a common euphemism for extra-marital immoral heterosexual behavior, particularly prostitution, hence “Gay Lothario,” the “Gay 90s,” “Gay Paris,” all of which referred to male heterosexuals. Eventually, gay became one of the many violent ways to call homosexual men. The newly emerging Gay Rights movement in the 1960s adopted the word and reappropriated it (turned it around) as the term of choice for alternatives like “faggot” or “queer” that were deemed offensive, and “homosexuality” that sounded medical, a term for an illness. “Gay” is very apt because it elegantly contradicts initial feelings of despair and worries that easily may befall lone homosexual youths confronted by heterosexism, one of the most vicious and nasty oppressions there are. Just like it could be a great idea for a timid person to call himself brave.
4. The author now acknowledges the mean oppression he became aware of as a teenager, so he does understand gays using the G-word instead of all the vicious adjectives in use. Good for him. He also mentions many contributions to society by non-straights over the centuries, though his list is seriously lacking – better ones exist. We want to watch for stereotyping them, like we would not want to list only violinists and bankers when pointing out what Jews did for the world.
5. “Even in Israel we are tolerant of the two members of our Knesset, one who is openly gay and one who remains in the closet.” There are so many problems with this sentence, I don’t know where to start.
Firstly, “Even in Israel” sounds very negative about Israel. I don’t know that we should single out the Jewish State for homophobia.
Secondly, tolerance is not a great thing towards people. One tolerates a nuisance, not people. Try: respecting, welcoming.
Thirdly, to point out that one of the Members of Knesset is a closeted GLBTQ smacks of valuing gossip and outing which I’m sure he doesn’t like. People are in the closet for good reasons. Respect their judgment and their autonomy. There is only one ethical reason to out someone against their will: when they abuse their authority to persecute gays.
Fourthly, how could the author assume that out of 120 parliamentarians, only 2 would be gay? Statistically it should be more in the order of at least 6, and since homosexuals, just like Jews, learn to resist to survive from a young age, it’s reasonable to assume that at least 15 will be gay.
6. The author claims that gay pride parades are watched and cheered on in Tel Aviv but less so in Jerusalem because they are deeply offensive to both Muslim and Jewish religious people. This contains such untruthful stereotypes about religious people.
Firstly, many people in the Tel Aviv area are religious – not just in Jerusalem. And Jerusalem houses many secular people. And not all religious people subscribe to the same ideas. Neither do all seculars. And people say about this often different things to pollsters and privately than what they are ready to say or demonstrate among friends or in public. The oppression of homosexuals also scares heterosexuals and makes them too, hesitant to stand up against it.
Secondly, many intolerant people are not religious at all, modern, liberal, highly educated but when it comes to homosexuality, they suddenly are total bigots. The divide is not secular/religious.
Thirdly, many heterosexual visibly religious Jews march for years already in the Jerusalem Pride Parade. They might very well form the majority of marchers! Not cheering on – joining. Compare 20,000 marchers with 50 counter-demonstrators.
7. The author now comes with a personal story where he got to admire the character and talents of a young gay guy. However, when he invited this person to lodge with him temporarily, and he in turn inquired if he could do so with a friend, the author cancelled his invitation and replied “my home is not a brothel.”
Firstly, this is such a harsh, insensitive reaction. We all, from time to time, say things we come to regret, but I miss his contrition here.
Secondly, would the author have said this and written a blog post against assuming gays to be happy, if that friend would have been a girl? He could have, if they were not married? But hey, since when do we blame gay couples for not being married? Are they the ones blocking marriage equality? Are they the ones who reject same-sex shidduchim? So how can anyone blame gays for being slow in finding their bashert?
Thirdly, he told him that, for wanting to sleep with a friend, he’s a brothel worker, more popularly known as whore. As if one friend sleeping-over means: there will be an endless amount of loose sexual contacts for monetary gain. This is so out of bounds that he must begin to realize that that is not a thing to even think.
Fourthly, I know of a very knowledgeable Orthodox rabbi who ruled that hosts do not need to worry about what a gay couple as sleep-over guests would do and not do at night in privacy. I don’t see how we should mind other people’s business if we are secular, or be more stringent than this rabbi if we are religious.
Fifthly, who says that two gay friends sleeping in one room must be sexual with each other? All friendships between gay men are sexual? Not so.
8. Now he precedes to almost completely identify him. He gives five salient personal details, which makes tracking him down easy. I used two and found him. It is one thing to malign someone and divulge details from his private life but quite another to also then pinpoint him.
9. Now comes the worst. He tells the readers that some people choose to be gay. Yet, hardly anyone chooses to be gay. Like most Jews never chose to be a Jew. This is not mere semantics. Homosexuals are hated and condemned for having “chosen” evil. It is crucial to understand that, just like most people did not choose their heterosexual orientation, homosexuals had very little say in their homosexual predilection. How would it feel when people would say: “I do not disrespect anyone whose religion happens to be different from mine. We are all God’s creatures and all of us have made choices in our lives. Some choose to be Jewish.”? (I substituted religion for sexuality and Jewish for gay.) This, gay activists in the Netherlands call: fake tolerance. It sounds nice until you start thinking about what is actually implied.
10. Last but not least, I happened to see three months ago, a blog post by the same blogger with a very similar story line. Also there we read about an 18-year-old gay sleepover in the planning from the US to a two-bedroom Jerusalem flat tragically thwarted when he wanted to show up with a partner – that time not in his flat but the apartment of an old heterosexual friend of his. I don’t understand – does he collect these stories? Or is this actually the same anecdote now casted in a slightly different mould? Frankly, if he fictionalized what truly happened, he should say so.
All in all, I’m glad his blog posts were published. They give an opening to discuss how to be more-sensitive allies to gays. None of us are perfect allies. We can all pull each other up to higher standards and actions.