I am a 14 year old girl and a Conservative Jew. I am also gay. No one in my family knows. They are not homophobic. I wish I wasn't gay. Is it rational to pray to G-d to make me not gay anymore, or is there something I can do?
Thank you for believing in the safety of this space to share this about yourself.
There is no way that I can walk in your shoes – but I do think that it is good to take people with you on journeys. Just as our ancestors left Egypt all together, I think that you will benefit from having allies with you on your journey. Only you know who is best to be your fellow traveler, but I believe that parents can be strong advocates and supportive forces for their children. Moreover, I have two daughters. If this is something they were going through, I would want to hold them through it all and remind them of how much I love them. My guess is that would be an important message to hear.
Your real question, it seems, is about whether your emotions are reasonable. I don’t think of prayer as rational – you pray for what your heart wants. It certainly isn’t wrong to feel how you feel or to be asking these questions. They are reflective of the difficulty of this journey, and the presence of folks in our community who believe that the Bible should be a tool for shaming, oppression, intolerance, and injustice.
But I also believe that we are each created in God’s divine image – beautiful and loved. If this is your identity, then this is how God created you and I encourage you to honor that. I don’t believe that you can change who you are. There certainly are organizations, Jewish and non-Jewish, that pretend to have the ability to change your identity or sexual orientation. They are harmful; religiously and psychologically. I encourage you to stay far away from those groups. Find groups, friends and organizations, that support and celebrate you for who you are; groups that see the divine spark within you.
Connect with some of the tremendous organizations in the Jewish community who support Jews and encourage welcoming Jewish communities. Keshet, based in NYC and San Francisco, is just one. There are also many state organizations that list welcoming congregations. Go and find a welcoming Jewish community. Meet with the clergy of that congregation. Having a faith community that supports and celebrates you is an important part of the journey. From your question, I hear how challenging this realization is for you. I also encourage you to find someone in your community that you can speak with; a counselor who can help you work through some of the emotions and questions you have.
I wish that our society was such that we valued each person as created in God’s image. Unfortunately, our society often teaches intolerance and inequality. My prayer for you is that you are blessed to find yourself sheltered by God’s presence and surrounded by loving friends and family. I hope that your personal journey is joyful and that you find peace and comfort in your identity as it grows with you. And mostly, I want to bless you that you should leave the narrow places in life behind, and live in to the fullness of who you are – with compassion for yourself and with celebration.
Please understand that there is nothing wrong with you. This is how G-d made you, period. Furthermore, we ask G-d for many things and there is nothing wrong in asking G-d how to handle who you are in a homophobic world. Sexual orientation is a complicated issue and I would not suggest going for “reparative therapy” because such therapy often does more harm in terms of frustration and guilt than good. On the other hand many people believe, myself included, that we are all bi-sexual, veering toward same or opposite sex on the spectrum of attraction. You are still quite young and may still find yourself somewhere else on that spectrum as you enter adulthood. Wherever you find yourself, you can still have family and children and live a fulfilling purposeful life.
Let me add that as an orthodox rabbi I am bound by Jewish law and orthodox policy which prevents me from performing same sex marriages. We in the orthodox community are trying to find ways to deal with the reality of homosexuality, and have a long way to go. You say you are a Conservative Jew, and therefore may find greater communal acceptance within the Conservative movement. You are obviously a sensitive and serious young woman, and I pray that you will find self acceptance where ever you are on the sexual attraction spectrum and maintain a strong commitment to Judaism.
Your sensitive question clearly reflects a searching heart and mind – with commitments to your Judaism and your own developing personal identity. As Conservative Jews, we believe that science and humankind’s advances DO inform the truths and inspirations of our millennia-old Jewish tradition. Basically, just as you are growing into your own identity as a Jew and a young woman, Judaism itself “grows up” with modernity.
I share this with you because, while I am not a trained professional in counseling young adults about sexual identity, my inexpert understanding is that the prevailing scientific trends indicate that one’s sexual identity is less a “choice” – and more a part of “who we are.” Thus, though it is not as clear-cut, we would not realistically pray for God to not make us have blue eyes or red hair; we’re just genetically wired that way.
Of course, using this metaphor, we can “cover up” our genetic wiring (colored contact lenses, dying hair, and other means) – but it does not change our basic, underlying, core identity. And in the case of something so intimately personal as sexual identity, there are some studies that indicate that such covering can have other damaging effects – in terms of our relationships with family, friends, or anyone (of either gender) with whom you may be in a dating or marital relationship.
A little under a decade ago, the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards did some serious soul-searching for attempts, within a traditional Jewish approach, to be more inclusive of people who are gay or lesbian. (If you want to study more, go to rabbinicalassembly.org – and look for the CJLS Teshuvot (legal decisions).) I draw your attention specifically to the work that states that human dignity – in Hebrew, k’vod ha-briyot – is an all-important principle.
You deserve such dignity. Given that your family is not homophobic, you may seek their support as you continue your own path – or you may seek a rabbinic or therapist counselor to help you along your way.
Of course, even with society becoming increasingly open to gay relationships, hatred and bigotry still exists. I sympathize with your desire, especially as an adolescent (where “fitting in” is so important), for this challenge in your life to simply “go away.” And I understand the desire to look to God to “not make you gay anymore.” But assuming the prevailing research findings are right, that being gay is not a choice, in Jewish law terms, such a prayer may be what is called a tefillat shav – an prayer that is ineffective because it is offered after-the-fact (like seeing someone hurt, and THEN praying that the person not be someone you know – it’s already happened, so your prayer is not effective).
Given this, the important thing to remember is that, YES – God did have a hand in your creation, and that creation is in God’s image. This is the ultimate human dignity. The trick (as Rabbi Akiva teaches in Pirke Avot 3:18) is to KNOW – and be confident and reassured – that indeed, you are the image of God. What I mean by this is, no matter your sexual identity, no matter your fears over this – you must know and remember that you are a beloved creature of God, with nothing in your identity to be ashamed of.
So what can you do?
1. Seek Support and Community: I am most concerned about your loneliness in your identity right now. If you can, have the conversation with your family, or at least a trusted family member. If you can, seek out a trusted rabbi or therapist about your fears of revealing your developing identity. (I say “developing” – because at your age, all teens are developing their identities – personal, ideological, and sexual. This is, for everyone your age, an exciting and terrifying time. In that manner at least, you are not different.)
2. Re-Affirm Yourself: You are created in the image of God – and no matter who you are, it is important that you know this about yourself.
3. Use your “Jewish Toolbox”: While I worry that a prayer for God to “change you” is not one likely to be answered, go with your heart. You may choose this prayer as the prayer of your heart – or you may find a prayer for a more peaceful and tolerant world more empowering. Most simply, you might pray for shalom – peace – both in the world and in your soul, at this difficult, formative time in your life.
I wish you this shalom – and I pray that you will look back on this time as one in which your Judaism helped to provide much-needed support and love.
The first thing to understand is that there is nothing wrong with you. The feelings of wishing you weren’t gay are normal, because you have undoubtedly seen and heard those in society who consider being gay sinful or perverted, your friends who may use “gay” because they think it’s just slang for “bad” and you may have heard about some of the struggles gay people face in society.
None of that is really about you, however – it’s about people who can’t let go of old biases or people who are just uninformed. In the Reform and Conservative movements of Judaism, we have come to recognize that the seeming condemnations of gays in the Bible have long been in interpreted by those who lived in a time when a loving relationship between two people of the same gender was simply not thought to be possible - we know those interpretations to be wrong.
Today, as a gay individual, you will find plenty of support in your Jewish community. Only a little over a year ago the international president of United Synagogue Youth – a teen like you – came out as gay in a speech he gave to the assembled members of all of USY and received nothing but applause and kudos.
Everyone comes out at his or her own pace, but the first person to come out to is yourself, and to understand it’s ok, even as you recognize the challenges you may face because of it (again, those challenges really aren’t about you, but about the small mindedness of others). I urge you to go to your congregational Rabbi, Education Director, Youth Director or some other adult you trust if for any reason you feel you can’t go directly to your parents. That individual, who is someone your parents likely trust, will support you and help you in whatever process of coming out you need for yourself.
As for prayers to God, there is a Jews term call tefliah l’vatala – prayer in vain. It is generally applied to a prayer to change something that has already happened. Contrary to some of the brain washing that passes for psychology in some circles – you can’t “pray away the gay”. What you can do in your prayer, however, is ask God for courage and strength to accept yourself for who you are – and being gay is one piece of that (ultimately of not much greater signficance than if you are tall, short, blond haired, or don't like onions).
When you are ready to love yourself as you are, you don’t need to worry about anyone’s reactions. Your parents and family will still love you (and it may surpise you that one or both your parents do know), your friends will stay by your side and the one or two that don’t – they weren’t real friends to begin with.
I can’t promise it will be easy (at times it will be very hard), but as you mature and become sure of yourself, you will be better off for it if you begin the process of self-acceptance now and don’t ever pretend to be something you are not. Your Jewish community will be there to support you every step of the way (and if somehow it’s not – get to a new Jewish community as fast as you can!).
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