It’s that time of year again, May 17. As the campaigns role out for their final day, I thought I’d share a few personal thoughts.
My personal journey has not been about changing others attitudes (except when I do HIV work), but rather about changing the ones that have been etched into me since my childhood.
The Jesuit maxim remains true: give me the child 'til the age of seven, and I will show you the man. If the time to mould a child in to the adult you want for a life time – personally I’d call it brainwashing – is true, then imagine growing up always being on the outside.
I was a sickly kid with asthma. Getting HIV was nothing as I grew up medicalized from day one. The nurses at the Children’s Hospital were better friends to me than anyone at school where I always stood outside even the earliest cliques.
Fellow students, even in the early grades, never included me in recess. Then came the bullying. The daily harassment began about the age 13. I’ll spare all but one of the details as we all have our stories.
One thing was my voice. I was mocked regularly. It didn’t take long for me to hate my voice, which is an extension of my physical presence. Since I was told I was worthless everyday at school, and even my voice was bad, I shut it down.
For years people would say, “Speak up, you’re mumbling.”
Years later, the quiet voices of the past haunt me in everything I do. Yet, I’ve worked hard to rebel against those voices by throwing myself into public speaking and other activities that say “I’m not a shy, insecure person.” But really, I am. It surprises people sometimes because they buy in to whatever public persona I’ve had.
As I rebelled I created very large safety bubbles to be in. Yes it’s easy to be in your face with everything in the gay community, the recovery community, etc. But step outside of that and the old tapes start playing loudly in your head.
This has been what I’ve been doing lately, stepping, if not leaping, outside the protective zones I’ve created.
I’ve decided to convert to Judaism. It is an intensely personal and private decision. My attempts at writing about it have always gotten deleted. Yes there are some things in life for which I have reverence.
One reason for hesitation is responses such as:, “Oh I hope not, you know what they're like.” And in response to going to Israel, “I’d never give them any of my money.” That is from someone I know and respect, but maybe a little less now.
The progressive liberal lefty folks I’ve gotten to know are very cool, and for the first time in my life I’m working at ditching my internalized self-hate.
Here’s a group of people where I can simply be myself outside of my bubble and be respected. Yet it’s been a process to get to where I’m at today.
The two subjects that caused me internal conflict were:
This means revealing very residually my HIV status, since I publish a website for people living with HIV. I’d painfully skirt around that one. Yes, me Mr “Out”
It’s usually because of the ensuing questions. When I went to somewhere else, someone asked me what conference I was going to, and I replied that is was an International AIDS conference
The response: What are you sick?
I’ve had assumptions made about sexuality, and you know while mingling over some hummus and bread, I don’t really feel like getting into that either, but this may be changing.
The transition began two weeks ago where I’m sitting at a house with a bunch of Kensington Market hippy Jews mostly in their 20s and 30s.
The same question comes up in a one-on-one conversation, and I squirt by it. Then later on, as group, while chatting, it comes up and I straight up and tell them. Their reaction: Wow that’s really cool.
Every second Friday night I attend this group called Makom, which is headed up by this very cool & young (in his 30s) Rabbi who moved here from New York. There is no physical location for this group and we meet wherever we can. The last few weeks it’s been in an artist's studio on College st.
Most who attend are in their 30s, some younger, some older. Last Friday night the rabbi asked me over for Shabbat dinner. I feel a moment of anxiety come over me, but then it faded.
At the table, the rabbi is sitting next to me and we start chatting. The subject of work comes up, and I tell him what I do. I also told him two weeks ago I wouldn’t have told him as once I get outside of my protective world and I don’t know someone, I put up a wall.
“Because of the HIV and the ensuring questions and assumptions.,”
Then I said to him, “At some point I have to take the walls down and be real.”
I felt free. My experience in the progressive Jewish community has been such a liberating world.
The discussion at the table at one point drifted to the gay couple on Modern Family, and how this one woman loved them as they were so much in love, in her view.
Rebelling against my true nature and shyness of the past never did get rid of the old baggage. Who knew that finally I’d tackle these issues through what seemed a completely unrelated path.. This has been one of the beautiful unexpected consequences for this personal journey I’ve been on.
These are my thoughts on International Homophobia Day.
What are yours?