Hello, my name is Lucas, and I’m a queer Jew.
I spent a ton of time struggling with my spiritual identity because I was struggling with my personal identity, growing up in the punk scene was awesome, but there was an overabundance of machismo and a severe lack of respect for anyone who was a pussy, or believed in G-d, or worse… both. The thing is, I didn’t give a shit about religion during my teen years. I called myself “spiritual”, but that’s as far as it went. Sure, I’d blown shofar, braided challah and lived through a ton of hippy Passover meals involving sage smudging (long story), but I didn’t feel as if I had a specific spiritual or religious identity. I didn’t feel Jewish, and that’s about all I knew.
I mean I knew I liked plenty of stuff. I knew I liked cheap beer, hanging out with my friends, going to see bands play, zines, and sleeping past noon. And as much as I fit in with my friends, I was always the odd man out. I was the only gay person I knew, and I didn’t fit the stereotype of a “gay man”, so it was hard to accept myself as such. Punk was the only personal identifier I had in my arsenal and it fit well enough for a while. The word felt safe and all encompassing to me, I clung to it and used it to distract everyone away from the fact that I liked dudes.
I wouldn’t talk about it with most of my friends. A few select people knew, but I was very secretive about it. My punk identity was raucous and aggressive, with an attitude as bad as my teen acne. It was easy for me to hide and even easier to tell myself that who I dated wasn’t anyone’s business, but really that was just an easy way for me to say, “I’m scared that if you knew, you’d treat me differently.” I didn’t want people to make snap judgments on who I was or what my personality characteristics were based on my sexual identity.
I seem to lack all of the positive traits from the gay stereotype, I’m unkempt and can’t dress myself, and that only helps me fly under the radar, like the gayest stealth jet ever. To this day, when a Rabbi asks me if I have a girlfriend I freeze in terror, merely mouthing the words “Nope, no… girlfriend”. In my head reciting my mantra, “No no, I lay with men in a totally different way then I’d lay with women, I swear”. (Trust me on that one)
It wasn’t until I was about 22 that I started talking to my friends about it, and then it wasn’t until I was 25 years old that I finally admitted to my family that I was “gay”. They took it as well as anyone would who had just been ambushed, and somehow I had ambushed myself as well. I felt raw and powerless. So I did what any good punk does, I packed my backpack, and got on the next plane to Europe.
While in Amsterdam I found myself at a “Queer Punk” music fest. I looked around and saw all these people with tattoos, fucked up haircuts, and the same poor hygiene I recalled from my teen punk days. I saw people wearing band t-shirts I recognized, an overwhelming sea of crusty black clothing, and instantly I felt at home. This was who I was, and they had experienced what I had experienced. They were punks too, punks who also didn’t fit the category of “gay”. In protest they called themselves “queer”, and really, what’s more punk than a protest? Seriously.
By the time I had come home I felt like I had allowed myself to really start learning who I was but the more I learned about myself, the more I noticed this emptiness. Gradually as I got more comfortable within my own skin, I was getting pretty good at translating what my body/brain was trying to tell me. And all I was hearing was “dude, go to synagogue”, and who am I to question a handsome young gentleman. So I went. And suddenly there it was, a connection overwhelmingly and completely undeniable. My Jewish identity had somehow remained frozen, in stasis, but every Shabbat the defrost button was pressed and I quickly fell back into studying and reading and strengthening my connection. Weekly minyan, Shabbatlucks, young Jew groups… it all started to come together for me.
Jews I’ve met, queer or otherwise, wonder how I can go to Shul, pray, wear kippah and identify as a queer person and a Jew at the same time. They ask how I can have an honest connection to Hashem, or just how I can be religious at all. I don’t flinch; I never had that knee-jerk agnostic reaction that a lot of people in my generation seem to harbor towards faith or religion. And I had never felt something so strong, or so real as I did with my connection to Hashem and to Judaism. This connection I have, it tells me that Hashem is cool with me. He’s on my side and has got my back. That’s not the kind of shit you ignore, so I don’t, and I won’t. This is how I live and who I am, it’s not wool and linen, it’s queer and Jew.
I don’t care about the other shit anymore, I try my hardest not to care what other peoples opinions of me are, I don’t care that I am this crazy tattooed, homo in a yarmulke sitting by himself at Shul with a bunch of older people and families as my only Jewish community, because even if I am there by myself, I feel so tuned in. I have found myself, and although it might not have been a smooth journey, at least it was an honest one, with only nominal amounts of self-deprecation.
When I finally admitted to myself that I was queer it opened up a lot of doors for me. Being honest with myself and about myself was really fucking scary because I wasn’t used to feeling so exposed. I strongly believe that my faith and connection to Judaism really grounded me. And now I’m totally comfortable in the fact that I’m what your mother would call “a nice Jewish boy”, even if I listen to my records too loud, have too many tattoos, cuss like it’s going out of style, and well… date dudes. It’s the struggle G-d wants, not perfection.