Like most kids, I experienced a degree of bullying. It was part of the queer fabric of being a gay kid in Alberta. I didn’t play the right sports. I loved Tegan and Sara – Who are Calgarians, by the way.
I was always a little bit different.
The transition between grade 6 and 7 was brutal. It was like a switch flipped in everybody’s brain but mine. In June my friends and I were really into riding our bikes down Nose Hill. By September, at our new junior high school, everyone was gelling their hair, popping their collars, talking about girls.
Girls? I had never considered it before. I continued to not consider it while the circle of boys I grew up with merged into the circles of boys from the other schools while I was left squarely behind. Not unnoticed, unfortunately. Kids can be mean.
Years passed. I had different friends, some of whom were also gay. I became more confident and people didn’t really bother me.
But barriers popped up in the strangest ways. It was confusing, because I had all these cool people around me, and I could mostly be myself, but I couldn’t always let my guard down.
In 2010, following a streak of suicides by gay teens like Seth Walsh and Tyler Clementi, I tried to organize a Spirit Day in which people would be invited to wear purple in support of LGBT students. But we weren’t allowed to put up posters. The principal sat me down in his office and told me that it wasn’t appropriate to single out an entire group of people like that. They might feel uncomfortable. I thought about the time I found the word “faggot” sharpied onto my locker door. Uncomfortable.
In 2017, the Alberta NDP passed legislation making it illegal for schools to out children to their parents if they joined Gay Straight Alliance clubs. The motion was vehemently opposed by the United Conservative Party, who brought Bill 24 to court. The outpouring of support from Alberta’s largely Christian right was depressing.
A prominent Alberta Bishop called the newly implemented laws protecting LGBT teens “totalitarian”, dubbing Gay straight alliances “ideological sexual clubs” that make graphic information on gay sex available.” I don’t imagine that’s totally accurate, but is that a bad thing? Attitudes like this are still common. It can be discouraging to be reminded that you are “other” this way. Legislation can’t protect you because it can be changed and there are people willing to put in the time to change it.
Despite this, I was very lucky. All this time, I never had to come out to my parents. It was always understood. But there was a lot of things we didn’t talk about, actually. Being gay was a non-issue, but I could tell my parents were navigating the matter with a degree of caution. They didn’t really know what to make of it all. So I didn’t tell them about the gay suicides in 2010 and what happened with my principal, but I told them about my first boyfriend. I didn’t tell them about the countless people who shouted at me from their cars, calling me a faggot for wearing skinny jeans, but we went to the wedding of my gay cousin. My parents are very loving, supportive people who have afforded me opportunities that have carried me far, and I’m so thankful they are my parents. So many of my queer friends back in Calgary didn’t have the same experience. Not everybody has the option to leave.
I recently had a conversation with my dad about a gradual change I’ve noticed in myself over time. When I was in Alberta, I was constantly aware of how my being perceived as gay affected me in different situations. I didn’t want to attract negative attention by being swishy. He had no idea what I was talking about.
I told him about the bullying. I told him about how men called me a queer from their passing cars. I told him about the time I was punched in the face at a bar by a grown man who called me a homo. When I came to Montreal, this need to check myself evaporated overnight. Nobody cared about my skinny jeans because everybody here wears skinny jeans. I’m never the only gay person anybody has ever met. He had no idea any of this happened to me. I reassured him. I’m fine. This hasn’t happened for years. He told me that it hurt him knowing I spent so long carrying that weight, because as a parent he wanted to protect me. On my end, as a teen who was so excited to grow up, I wanted to protect my parents. I thought I was being responsible by not freaking them out. I didn’t want them to think they had a reason to worry about me. I wish I knew that I didn’t have to do that. I wish that I knew then that it wasn’t my job. I was very lucky to have supportive parents and a network, and I regret not accessing that at my most vulnerable.
I’m grateful to be a part of a community where my sexuality is not a question. I can wear the tightest pants in the room, and nobody says anything.
I don’t see a contradiction between being religious and being gay. I’m lucky to be able to say that. I wasn’t burned by religion as a queer person in the way so many people are.
I don’t really care about the biblical prohibitions against homosexuality, or later interpretations contextualizing the prohibitions. As far as I’m concerned, the fence around the Torah is painted rainbow.
I’m not trying to be perfect. I have a fraught relationship with halakha, like many Reform Jews, and I don’t claim to know or understand any objective truth. What I do know is that I do the best I can. As a Jew, as a queer, as a son, and hopefully in the future as a husband and father. I’m proud to be a member of congregation that seeks to be as inclusive as possible and has done a great job so far. I’m proud to carry a legacy of Jewish history and to live in the framework in the best way that I can. I’m proud to be gay, because if I wasn’t, I’d have missed out on so many opportunities that have provided me with growth and shown me how loving the world can be – in the concentric circles that form around me, my parents, friends, community, the history the community is built on.
Happy pride, and Shabbat shalom.