a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Black, Gay, and Jewish-Part 1

Posted on: August 10, 2010

**This was originally posted on my main blog in May of this year**

Like the title?  It’s a play on Rebecca Walker’s memoir, Black, White, and Jewish, which is on my long list of books to read about Jewish Identity.  Now before you page back trying to figure out what you’ve missed rest assured you haven’t “missed” any big announcement.  I’m not Jewish, I’m still a_______.  It’s just something that I’m considering.  This considering converting issue has been a little bit of a debate as of late.  I suppose the word debate is completely wrong because no one has really been debating with me.  Folks just seem to have really strong opinions and strong reactions.  Funny thing is, most of those opinions and reactions are coming from all of my non-Jewish friends.  None of them are strongly affiliated to any religion that I am aware of.  Some of them affiliate with family beliefs, others don’t talk about religion and don’t seem particularly observant to me.  Yet, everyone’s got an opinion from a raised eyebrow of suspicion to a pointed “Why?!”  and the latest, “you should do some soul-searching”

The soul-searching comment came from my sister and the funny thing is, I’ve been wanting to tell her to do that for 10 years!  I’m not getting into that shit because it pisses me off.  I will say this, you’d think that the one person who maybe would save the judgement call would be her.  For all of her faults, my frustrations and anger at her decision making I’ve tried so hard not to pass judgement on her.  Here I am making an adult decision that would virtually only affect me and my future children and she’s judging me as though I’ve announced that I’ve decided to worship Satan.

Rant about my sister is over.

There is a saying that goes, “Not all who are lost wander.  Not all who wander are lost”  This is the perfect metaphor for me and my life.  It can be and has been said that I am always searching for something.  That something is most definitely, without a doubt, my identity.  I’ve been searching for what and who Erika is for as long as I can remember.  It occurred to me about 5 years ago that I was looking at myself right in the mirror-but I’d chosen to ignore me.  I was talking and I wasn’t listening.  Instead I was really, really good at making myself into the mirror images of everyone around me.  I’m astoundingly good at making myself into what someone wants me to be, a.k.a, what’s comfortable for them.  As a result, I’m still a wicked-good liar.  It was going to happen that way, I’ve spent the majority of my life lying to appease others.

There was something amazingly cathartic about leaving home.  For some it is unmentionable, something you’d never do, never consider, never an option.  For me, it was my only choice.  And it’s not that I’m turning my back on my parents, my home, my history per se moreover I’m allowing myself to better appreciate my parents, my home, my history.  In terms of coming out I made a choice.  I could live the life I wanted to live privately and continue to lie to my parents or I could live the life I wanted to live openly and risk losing them.  Knowing my parents I was quite certain that I wouldn’t lose them but rather my history of molding myself into the image of others would be thrown back into my face.

My coming out letter (I don’t recommend sending a mass e-mail) catapulted a serious of heated e-mails zipping back and forth through the internet from my father to my cousins to my mother and always back to me with the great and amazing horror that became the “Reply All” button.  In the end those who know that I’m gay either don’t talk about the fact that I’m gay or have forgotten the entire incident.  My mom knows who M is and that we’re together.  She’s even gone as so far as to tell me which US cities are gay-friendly.  Yet, when I told her that I wanted to talk about something with her this weekend in DC she asked if it was about my “condition.”  Okay, I don’t think she actually said condition-she actually said “situation” which is equally appalling, like it’s some sort of under the table, back door, dirty family secret I wasn’t to discuss.  (Am I a dirty family secret?)  Seriously, everybody knows I’m a homo!

I told her not to worry, M and I weren’t married or engaged yet and she breathed an audible sigh of relief.  So when I told her that I was thinking about converting to Judaism she dismissed it, as she’s done with my sexuality.  I suppose I understand, I have thrown a lot of things her way but the reaction that I got was a bit unexpected.  Maybe it’s because I chose the words, “considering” rather than just saying, “I’m converting”  The reason I did it in that way is because I’m still not sure.  I’m strongly leaning in that direction but I only stepped foot into a synagogue last week and the idea of not doing any type of work on Shabbat is still daunting.  I’m already knee deep in shit at work for the mention of applying for the Peace Corps (did I mention that part, too?) how am I going to explain to my boss that I need to start observing Shabbat?  I’m sticking with my guns on this one.

Everything.  Literally everything from playing grade school basketball, to running for class president, to attending UD, to pledging a sorority, to my brief stint as a pagan has been to fit in to whatever group I wanted.  This living my own life thing is harder than I imagined and it’s taken until now, 30 years old, for me to feel comfortable with rejection of those closest to me, my family.  So welcome, readers, to this fun new world of self-discovery.  Black, Gay, and Jewish will be weekly observations and I hope you enjoy it.

2 Responses to "Black, Gay, and Jewish-Part 1"

Mothers can be a difficult field to navigate. I waited a while to tell my family and just recently told my parents, who in turn told my aunt. My mother cried, cried and cried again. She says she doesn’t want to hear anything about it and so far she’s held to it. My aunt hasn’t said a word either. My dad did let me talk about it for over an hour, which was nice. Ignoring the issue seems to be common for people who don’t want to deal with anything outside of their perceived “normal”.

Luckily, my trip home was successful! My parents got a chance to meet my girlfriend, realized that Jews don’t have horns (they didn’t really think this) and that I’m an adult and can make my own decisions.

I understand that by becoming a Jew, I’m changing the identity of my entire family. But on the other hand, I cannot forget who I am, my history, and my family. Christmas, Easter, and Jesus will still be a part of my family’s life, just not my life.

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