a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Harvey Milk Day

Posted on: May 22, 2011

I have something to admit.   Before the Harvey Milk movie I didn’t know who Harvey Milk was.  In the talk I gave for Be’chol Lashon I said that being gay is a “white man’s disease.”  Before you go writing comments that won’t get approved, hear me out.  In the black community that I grew up with there were no gay people.  Gay people weren’t black, black people are not gay.  It’s a fallacy, for sure.  I’m gay and I’m black.  Still, one of the reasons that I am very out and very proud and the reason I get frustrated when black celebrities don’t come out (ahem Queen Latifah) is this lie.    Being gay wasn’t talked about in my family or in school, for that matter.  The fact that Harvey Milk was an elected official and gay should’ve been in my history books, right?  Wrong.

I came out at 28 after years of trying to convince myself otherwise.  If I think really hard, my first girl crush was in kindergarden.  There were a pair of biracial sisters who remember being very beautiful.  I don’t remember how old they were or their names.  What I do remember is playing with their long hair.  I loved how pretty they were,I kissed them, I hugged them.  I admited my attraction to women to myself when I worked a Nettys, a hot dog stand in Ohio, and caught a glimpse of my manager’s bare breast down her shirt.  The feelings I felt in that moment were supposed to be the feelings I had when making out with my pimply-faced boyfriend.  They weren’t though.  I admitted out loud and to the world that I was gay at 28.  I perfect waste of an adult life, I could lament but I don’t think so.  I wouldn’t be the person I am kno; confident, loud, proud, and in-your-face if I hadn’t resented myself for so long.

Harvey Milk is most famously known as the first openly gay man to hold public office, he was also a Jew.  A gay Jew who held public office.  Had he not been assassinated he would be 80 years old.  Would he be happy with our progress or would he insist that we had a long way to go.  My answer is B. 

A lot of powerful people have impacted my life this week.  On Monday we listened to frum lesbians talk of bravery, commitment for acceptance, and the ability to carve out spaces within Judaism.  On Friday I listened to Angela Davis, Ruthie Gilmore and Vijay Prashad speak at Riverside Church.  While we were there to see Angela Davis it was Ruthie and Vijay that perked my ears and caused me to sit up.  Vijay said, “We must love each other or die.”  I think Harvey Milk would echo those words.

3 Responses to "Harvey Milk Day"

I’d never heard the term ‘white man’s disease’ before. That’s a pretty crazy idea from my White Man perspective, but I’ve lead a sheltered existence most of my life. Oh, and Queen Latifah is. so. gay. I’ve always been impressed by her on several different counts.

I’d love to hear those Frum lesbians- I wonder how they manage that? In a community that seems so…. male+female for marriage and then kids (aka, another version of atypical human behavior,) I want to know how Frum les women deal with that. It’s incredibly interesting.

Ah… the self-coming out period. We could just ask my first boyfriend how I instigated the kissing, holding, touching, everything. And how completely disgusted I was about all of it, but forced myself to do it anyway. I was so pumped to have a bf so I could get out all of that sexual aggression… and that poor boy. And poor all of my female friends, who I crushed on at least once in high school and none of them ever knew. And poor my gf, who had to deal watching me try it again with another bf while she and I were falling in love through a computer screen while we wrote novels together. That was a crazy period in life, but I am glad I got through it earlier than 28. I came out to myself when I was 17 and the world at 18. I’d never change that, either, not many people can say they’re completely and joyfully partnered at 22, and have been for almost five years now. I don’t know much about Harvey milk, but I think he’d be ecstatic at the site of so many lesbian and gay men holding hands and leading normal lives now, in 2011. We’ve come a long way.

Oh yes, I heard many times that being gay was a white problem, not a black problem :)

I definitely overtly sexual in high school to try to keep my actual desires under the radar. I even accepted a marriage proposal at 21. Sometimes I do wish that I just sucked it up and had the courage to come out after high school but it honestly wasn’t an option. I’m not even sure what would have happened if I didn’t move away from home.


The forum of women were really inspirational but what was most amazing was the LGBTQ Orthodox women in the audience who bravely stood up in front of their congregation, in some cases, to make themselves known. It was really a super amazing, super inspirational, super motivational night. I cannot even put it into words. My gf and I walked in the rain silently on our way home because we were just taking it all in.

P.S-I didn’t get an attachment in the email with your paper. If you want to send it, I still want to read it ;)

!! I always forget the attachments LOL. Sorry, will do soon.

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