Coming Out as a Human
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The biggest risk I’ve ever taken was going to a pizzeria on a Friday afternoon.
My friend John and I found ourselves in Union Square: John with his slice of pepperoni pizza and me sheepishly leafing through a container of overpriced lettuce. My teachers from the conservative yeshiva I attended would have scolded me had they known I was entering a non-kosher eatery, and on the eve of the Sabbath of all times!
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I was going against everything I had known my entire life. However, I was committed to finding out the truth I had been sheltered from for so many years. How could I deny myself this opportunity for personal exploration?
John turned out to be the perfect sounding board for introspection on my beliefs. After talking with John about the fundamentals of religion, its practicality in the modern world, and the current state of Israel, I had met my match. For the first time, my views were questioned. I had to defend both to John and to myself why I believed what I did; the “I was brought up this way” answer was not going to suffice anymore. While chatting with John was eye opening, my beliefs were about to be reevaluated on a level I never anticipated.
One night, I found out the friend I had known so warmly was gay; the first gay person I had ever knowingly encountered.
This was no grand revelation on a mountaintop; a mutual friend told me in advance. At first, I couldn’t accept it. How could someone I cared about so deeply identify himself with a lifestyle that I was taught was immoral? This had nothing to do with John’s morality, it was about my own. How could I pride myself on having such high moral standards when I was being so judgmental? It wasn’t a matter of validating homosexuality or not, the problem was my closed mindedness to a concept that was new to me.
I learned to understand John by spending more time with him. So what if he liked boys? He was one of the nicest and most selfless people I ever met—a friend who had made me laugh and had helped me through some anxious days, and not fitting in at school. He taught me how to act pragmatically when situations were not ideal, and reminded me that everything is not as it seems. John was the person who admired my curiosity and activism for causes I felt passionate about. Reciprocally, I learned to appreciate him being who he is: proud and fearless in the face of opposition. As our friendship progressed, I became more socially aware, and started to worry less about not fitting in; I realized that I, like John, was born to stand out and make a difference.
After accepting John’s sexual orientation, I became more sensitive to the commonplace homophobic slurs in the hallways. Until meeting John, I never thought anything of them. Now, upon hearing one, I say something–both because it is offensive and because I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a slur. A friend asked me how I was becoming more religious if I had a gay best friend–the two were mutually exclusive in his mind. But to me, this was no contradiction. By learning to accept people who are different from me and relate to their hardships, I have become a better human being and thus feel closer to the entity that created us all.