Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Should Homosexuals Come Out of the Closet?

Elliot Resnick has a very thought provoking article in this week’s Jewish Press. He references a YouTube video that basically shocked him. It was of a young man he once knew as a sweet young boy in a camp he worked at as a waiter. That boy anounced for the world that he is an open homosexual.

Mr. Resnick asks the question, Why?

Why must young gay people today publicize this fact about themselves? Why reveal one’s private and personal challenges to the world? What is gained by his public proclamation that he is attracted to members of the same sex?

I must admit I have wondered a bit about that myself and have made the same comparisons that Mr. Resnick has. Do we not all have challenges in these matters? How many heterosexual men have not struggled with improper sexual thoughts about women? Do we all have to make our struggles so public? What exactly is the point?

Those who read this blog regularly know my attitudes about homosexuals. It is one of tolerance and respect for the human dignity of all - regardless of their sexual orientation. It is not the orientation that is the sin but acting upon it in ways that are clearly and explicitly forbidden in the Torah. To the extent that people succumb privately to sins of the Bein Adam L’Makom variety it is solely a matter between the sinner and God. It is only when they openly live or promote a sinful lifestyle that it should be loudly condemned.

But what about simply advertising ones orientation publicly without telling anyone a single detail about their private lives? Is there anything wrong with that?

I’m not sure how to answer that.

On the one hand I agree that one’s sexuality should be kept private. Why make an issue of it? why not keep one’s internal struggles to oneself? If one cannot act on one’s desires Halachicly what is the point of telling everyone? If it is to justify a sinful lifestyle then it is completely wrong headed. One is supposed to overcome sinful desires, not give in to them. It is one thing to succumb and know that it is wrong. One can always do Teshuva. But to be openly gay seems to be an attempt to seek not only acceptance of the orientation but of the lifestyle as well. It would be like a man who has a sex addiction advertising that to the world.

On the other hand, there is a lot of depression that goes along with gay people who realize how society looks at them. Especially the Frum world. More than one person has committed suicide because of that. The stigma associated with being gay in the Frum world is enormous. Staying ‘in the closet’ is therefore an option that is accepted but hated. No one wants to live a lie. No one wants to be thought of as something they are not. But even worse than that is being considered an oddity – a freak. That is how much of society sees gay people.

So here you have an individual who may be a kind and decent human being; a Shomer Torah U’Mitzvos in every other way, but having a secret urge that cannot ever be satisfied or even expressed. The frustration must be intolerable. Imagine never being able to Halachicly be satisfied sexually?

I cannot imagine what that must be like. Even though Halachicly observant heterosexual men and women do have their challenges during their married lives it does not come close to being eternally forbidden to express one’s sexuality at all. This might to some degree explain why there is so much depression among gay people.

And it also might argue in favor of public declarations about a homosexual orientation like the one made by the young gay man in that YouTube video. What this does is to give other young gay people a sense that they are not alone. That there are others like them. That they are good and decent people from similar backgrounds with similar struggles. It gives gay people the will to remain Frum and be a part of the wider community as others like them have done before them.

So I remain torn between these two opposing arguments. While it is important to provide comfort to people who have struggles like this by showing they are not alone, it is of equal importance to not take it to a level where one openly accepts - or worse - promotes the sinful lifestyle that can often go along with it.

Tough call.