Interview with an orthodox lesbian

gay frumFor those of you living under a rock, there was a brutal attack on a Gay community center in Tel Aviv this weekend in which 2 people were killed and 11 wounded, as expected the comments on Vos Iz Neias are basically saying that these people deserved it and they better wake up – disgusting indeed. I understand some of the views but the lack of respect for life and fellow Jews was unbelievable.

I met Talya Lev at the ROI Summit I attended last month, and upon finding out that she was an orthodox Lesbian who worked for Bat Kol, an Israeli organization that promotes and sponsors education and awareness on the subject – I asked her if she would do an interview, to which she readily agreed. Based on the ongoing arguement about Gays in the orthodox community going on elesewhere on this blog it could get interesting.

Thanks for agreeing to this interview, can you just give me a little back round information as to where you grew up, where you live now, your age, schooling – all that jazz.

I’m an army brat, which means I grew up all over the US and Germany. It was an adventure; the longest I ever lived in one place was three years. When I turned 18, I made Aliyah and went to bar ilan university, served for a while in the IDF, then started a web design business. Today, I’m 26 and live in maaleh adumim, right outside of jlem..

You’re an attractive and feminine lesbian, what’s up with that, I thought lesbians where all the ugly girls who couldn’t get any from guys?

🙂 Thanks for the compliment. Yeah, there’s definitely a stereotype about lesbians, but it has nothing to do with ‘girls who can’t get any from guys’. Just take a look at Portia de Rossi! I think that there are many women who simply feel more masculine and others who feel more feminine. Perhaps the more feminine looking ones are harder to recognize outwardly as “Lesbians,” and therefore the more masculine looking women who aren’t conforming to typical feminine norms of beauty are considered ‘unattractive’ to the heterosexual world.

Did you grow up orthodox? If not how and when did you become observant?

I didn’t grow up orthodox, but my home was very spiritual and committed to a Jewish way of life. When I was at Bar Ilan University, I became exposed to the religious world and was moved by the morality and values of the people who were my friends. It just made sense to me in a very deep and intrinsic way, so I decided to become religious. The entire process was very powerful which it is for most baaleh tshuva, and I am very happy that the process will and should continue for the rest of my life.

At what age did you realize you were attracted to the same sex?

I think I only began to realize same-sex attraction around the age of 17, but I ignored it since I had no idea there was such a thing as normal lesbian relationships. I knew nothing about the gay community and grew up in a world where homosexuality was extremely taboo, ‘weird’, and disgusting. I figured that even though I found certain women attractive, there was no reason to put energy into pursuing it. Gay was such a negative term.

How did you come to realize this?

There was a girl in one of my classes who I found attractive. Something in the way she interacted with me was a little unnerving, and I couldn’t help but be conscious of my attraction. Nothing every happened until many years later, but it definitely opened my eyes to the fact that I had a powerful attraction to a woman.

Did you go through a denial stage or did you just admit it to yourself?

I admitted it to myself, but again, I would never pursue it just based on what I said before. I couldn’t even translate attraction to certain women into thinking about an entire lifestyle, so I continued to date men as I had done my whole life. Since men didn’t repulse me and I enjoyed their companionship (and this is true for many lesbians – they are not disgusted by men, just indifferent), I just decided to ignore my attraction to women. I never thought for even a second that I was a lesbian; again, I couldn’t associate my own attraction with that term. It took a very long time for that to change because of my own prejudices.

When did you come out of the closet?

It took finding a woman who I love dearly and view as my partner to bring me to the awareness that I am a lesbian. After we were living together for a year and a half, I realized that I couldn’t keep hiding our relationship from my friends, family, and the world. Living such a closeted way of life was so unhealthy and unnatural. Although I was nervous of what people would think because of living in an orthodox community in Jerusalem, I knew that I would have to begin telling people so that I could live normally again. I decided that if my friends chose to judge me negatively based on being in love with a woman, then they were not really my friends. Baruch Hashem, they were bigger than that.

How did your friends and family react? Did anyone refuse to talk to you again?

I was so nervous, and I still am every time I have to tell someone, but everyone has been so supportive and even happy for me. I feel that it’s sad that this surprises me, but hopefully someday, people won’t have to be afraid of hatred and prejudice just because they’ve found loving and fulfilling relationships with someone of the same sex.

A lot of folks believe that if you are attracted to the same sex there must be something wrong with you, for example abusive childhood, traumatic experiences, etc…What do you think of these ideas?

When there is so much prejudice around the topic, it is so much easier to fall prey to misinformation rather that to actually take the time to read up on it. I myself am no exception (I used to think that ‘gay people’ were ‘weird’ ‘messed up’ and ‘gross’). I do know that even a brief read on Wikipedia would be enough to expel many of the misconceptions. To put it succinctly, “sexual orientation probably is not determined by any one factor but by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences.” To ‘blame’ homosexuality on negative experiences is a way of rationalizing ‘homosexual behavior.’ Viewing same sex attraction as ‘behavior,’ rather than being as natural and integral as any heterosexual individual’s experience of attraction for the opposite sex, leads to the horrible idea that homosexuality can be ‘cured’ or changed.

Have you ever heard of Jonah? (orthodox organization that provides therapy to reverse your same sex attraction) What do you think of this?

I think it’s so terrible. It’s hard for me to even talk about it… it hurts so much to think that people would encourage what I experience as natural and healthy to be changed rather than examining where their own prejudices come from. There is an Israeli short film, “Ve’ahavta” (And thou shalt love), which shows just how unbearably painful it is to believe that sexual orientation should attempt to be changed at all costs. This is so sad. The American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Association of Social Workers state: “Sexual orientation has proved to be generally impervious to interventions intended to change it, which are sometimes referred to as “reparative therapy.” No scientifically adequate research has shown that such interventions are effective or safe. Moreover, because homosexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality, national mental health organizations do not encourage individuals to try to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Therefore, all major national mental health organizations have adopted policy statements cautioning the profession and the public about treatments that purport to change sexual orientation. The statement of the American Psychiatric Association cautions that “[t]he potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.”

But so many of us are trapped, refusing to look further than our prejudices so that a child who feels himself or herself attracted to someone of the same sex must suffer guilt and fear, perhaps for the rest of their lives, which so often leads to depression and even suicide. If there was only a move towards tolerance, a real exploration of the sources from a place of love, perhaps those who feel they must reject religion, or attempt to change who they are, will find they can live with both spiritual and emotional integrity without fear.

The torah doesn’t say anything with regards to Lesbians, but with regards to Gays its pretty harsh, its quite hard to tell someone not to have sex or fall in love – two basic human needs – but if you are a torah observant Jew how can you reconcile this?

You know, I’m not a posek. I’m not the one to make the decisions for everyone on how to reconcile Torah with homosexuality. All I can do is tell you what I feel intuitively regarding the issue, and hope those who do have the learning and the authority will allow themselves to feel empathy for all their fellow yiddin who are suffering, depressed, and who may even be on the verge of suicide because they can’t live with the terrible feeling of guilt and shame that comes from struggling to find a way to be true to Judaism while being aware of their very real, G-d given identities.

Even if you find a way to reconcile this, reinterpretation of the torah risky business and many right wing folks will never listen to you anyway.

Because perhaps people assume that my goal is to “reinterpret” the Torah. That’s not my goal at all. I am a religious Jew who loves Hashem and strives every day to live a fulfilling life in Eretz Yisrael engaging in Torah, Mitzvot and constant tshuva. If anything ever changes in Judaism, it’s because the Rabbis come to certain understandings regarding what mankind is really capable of upholding in order for us to continue living Torah observant lives. Let me give you an example – the issue with agunot. Will this ever change? Should it change? What are the risks involved if it does change? Will it mean that we are no longer committed to Torah and Mitzvot, or that we have free reign to go about changing everything we want? It is risky business. Time will tell.

Seems like being orthodox and openly gay is like flaunting your sins?

I think that being in the closet pushes people towards depression, repressed, and erratic behavior due to how unhealthy it is. To be openly gay for someone who is homosexual is actually a return to normalcy and a greater capacity for leading a healthy life.

I understand you run some sort of organization, what is it and what does it aim to do?

I belong to an organization called Bat Kol, which fosters both a supportive community and a framework of mutual
trust for religious lesbians and their family members. Bat Kol also aspires to promote and sponsor education for tolerance and the acceptance of difference within the religious community and society at large. In collaboration with a diverse group of Orthodox Rabbis, Professors, community members and friends, we are determined to pave a way for religious lesbians and their family members to live lives of equality, openness, and active participation in all areas of religious society both in Israel and the Diaspora.

Here are some links

These questions will take me forever to answer… kinda out of time, it’s taken me so long to answer the previous questions 🙂 its a delicate topic..

What do you think of the Gay Pride celebration in Jerusalem? Many people say its like eating pork in a shul, you can do what you want just don’t flaunt it in a holy city?

Why is gay pride important?

Do you have a Rabbi/Rebetzin that you consult with?

What do think of many yeshiva guys fantasies of seminary girls gone wild?

So I guess there is no prohibition of pre-marital sex or shomer negiah for lesbians? Sounds kind of fun…

Do lesbian couples keep the laws of nidah?

Can you explain to my audience what Gaydar is and how you can pick a lesbian out of a crowd?