By Florence Earl Miller
The most incessant intrusive thought I had growing up queer within the Orthodox Jewish community was this: Judaism doesn’t want you.
So while I was sad to hear about Yeshiva University attempting to deny their queer students the ability to have an LGBTQ+ club, I wasn’t shocked at all. Their decision to try by any means to stop an LGBTQ+ club from existing is reminiscent to me of the loneliness and lack of knowledge about queerness I had.
In my experience, those in authority would rather pretend there is a halachic issue with queerness than admit they are bigoted. If each woman is supposed to marry a man and have many kids, how can a woman pursue another woman as her partner?
Many Orthodox rabbis see queerness as an affront to Jewish values based on verses from the Torah which call it an “abomination” for “man to lie with mankind.” The actual meaning of these verses is hotly debated within the Jewish community, with many LGBTQ+ Jewish organizations raising the point that the text doesn’t have to be construed in a homophobic way.
I have been personally told by a rabbi I respected that I “can be gay as long as you don’t act on it,” and “there are feminine men and masculine women, but you can’t change your gender and you shouldn’t change the body Hashem [God] gave you,” as he compared gender transition to tattoos.
The process of understanding the complexity that is queerness is incredibly difficult and only harder in a culture that gives you such rigid expectations. In hindsight, I have been able to understand how my early rejection of Orthodox Judaism came from my queerness.
I know someone who is bisexual and has chosen to live within the bounds of Orthodox Judaism, within the bounds of straightness. I cannot do that. I am not attracted to the gender I was “supposed” to be attracted to; I am not attracted to any gender. So for many years I felt an emptiness partially from my lack of attraction because I had to fit into the box of “nice Orthodox Jewish girl who marries a man in her early twenties and has at least two kids.”
The pain I felt and the hurtful words from that rabbi led me to making a decision. If I must be Jewish or queer, then I will be queer. Breaking these boxes gave me the freedom to explore my identity. I no longer had to be a nice Jewish girl, so I could finally understand that I wasn’t a girl.
But I was still wrong.
As I further separated myself from the Jewish community, I realized that I didn’t want to lose my connection to Judaism. I didn’t want to just forget it even though it seemed like my only option. I wanted so desperately to reject it because I felt Judaism had rejected me.
But I am Jewish. That knowledge isn’t what helped me become who I am now, though. In my junior year of high school, I met one of my best friends. She was my first friend who was both queer and Jewish. I had believed that I could only be queer or Jewish because my environment had taught me that, but I can be queer and Jewish.
Those in authority will try to cite the Torah against queerness, but the existence of queer Jews, throughout history rejects that. We are here at the University of Maryland, we are there at Yeshiva University, and we are all over the world. We all can be Jewish and queer because the wider Jewish community does want us and accept us. Those who hold conservative values may let those values hold them back, but we don’t have to.
I hope the queer folks up at Yeshiva University can get their space to explore their full identities because we all deserve it and we all belong here, both as Jews and as queer people.