Friday, April 27, 2012

The Eye of the Beholder

I spent the last day and the half feeling pretty down. The other day was Israeli Independence Day, the most fun holiday in Israel. I was very excited to go out Wednesday evening and party with my friends. I was also very aware of the fact that should I succeed in moving to Hanoi at the end of the year, this was very likely my last Israeli Independence Day as a resident of the country, so I wanted to make it count.

At one point me and my friends made it over to a bar called "Evita", THE gay bar of Tel Aviv. I was having a good time with my friends, trying to dance in my own unique way, when I noticed a cute guy (of course he was Asian) dancing up a storm about 2 yards away from me.  My friends tried to push me in his direction so that I would dance with him, but I balked. I WAS TERRIFIED! My fragile self-esteem could not take rejection.

Later on that evening, drunk and angry at myself for being such a coward, I stepped outside to get some air. A guy who later told me that he was about 50 years old started to talk to me.

Him: "Don't I know you from somewhere"?
Me: "I don't think so".
Him: "I think I do. Didn't you use to be fatter".
Me (very shocked and not knowing whether to be insulted or flattered): "Yes".
(It turns out he had seen me around Bar Ilan University). 
Him: "Well your still fat enough for me, and I like fat guys".

Now I was insulted! Just to make sure I was really insulted, he went on to assume that I was significantly older than I am. That was enough to ruin the whole evening for me, which was a real shame. In my mind I had just been called fat and ugly.

Of course, that is not what happened. What really happened was that someone (granted he was old enough to be my dad) found me attractive and tried to pick me up - granted in a very tactless way, and I rejected him. And why did I reject him? Because I found him to be unattractive (and tactless).

I get upset whenever I am reject based on my looks, so why do I do it to other guys? Everyone always says "it is what is inside that counts", but everyone also knows that that is bologna. The truth is that both the inside and the outside are very important. It is true (and it has happened to me) that when you become attracted to someone's personality, you can become attracted to their looks even if at first you did not find them attractive. But that takes a lot of time. So when first meeting someone, looks are very important.

And while there might be a general consensus that guys like Zac Efron are attractive, looks can be very subjective. There are guys that make me go weak at the knees that my friends think are ugly and vice versa. Beauty can be subjective. Since coming out of the closet, I have been with quite a number of guys (in a very non trashy, not slutty way of course) and the vast majority of them, I found to be very attractive.

                                              To me: GORGEOUS!
                                              To my great friend Ella: Ugly ???



So while I may never be a super model, I am still holding out hope to meet someone that is beautiful on the inside and the outside. The thing I must really work on is my fear of rejection. I cannot become paralyzed with fear whenever I am in a situation to meet someone. So the journey to self improvement continues. I hope I will get to write a post about "the wonderful guy I met" sooner, rather than later.

Friday, April 20, 2012

How Judaism Haunts Me and Why I Must Leave Israel

Many people I know don't understand why I hate Judaism so much. They think that since I am no longer practicing, I should just move on. They do not understand why I write about it and talk about it as much as I do. The reason is that Judaism haunts me. I know this might sound dramatic and might be hard for some to understand. In fact, it is often hard for me to put into words and explain. So that is where this post comes in. Hopefully what I write here, along with any comments/conversation that stems from this post, will be clear enough to explain my feelings.

Most of my religious life was very complicated. I was a very proud, religious Zionist and in many ways radical about my connection to Judaism - the religion and the people. However, at the same time I always resented the burden I felt came along with this. I remember at a young age, a friend of my parents brought to a Sabbath lunch a woman that was in the process of converting. I could not understand why anyone would ever want to volunteer to be part of Orthodox Judaism. I figured I was born into it and did not have a choice and therefore I should embrace it. But given the choice, I would never choose it.

A fellow blogger friend of mine, Coin Laundry recently posted a comment on Facebook that reminded me about a debate I had with a bunch of friends when I was around 14 years old. I had asked my friends, if they were to discover that they were not really Jewish by birth, would they convert. Interestingly the majority of the boys said no and the majority of the girls said yes, but overall more said yes than no. I was shocked. I would have been so relieved to discover I was not Jewish. Who needs all the constraints, the guilt and the responsibility? I later brought the question up to my father. He answered that he would convert as well. Again, I was shocked. Why would anyone want this as part of their life?

As I got older, my sexuality became quite the burden. I could not help being attracted to guys. Every time I prayed I would ask "god" to take these feelings away, because I did not want to sin, but could not help myself. On Yom Kippur (the Jewish day of atonement and judgment) I would beg "god" to spare my life. I would tell him that if he just took away this attraction than I wouldn't be so tempted and everything would be OK. Of course I remained attracted to guys and my feelings of guilt and fear of heavenly punishment grew all the time.

When I finally left Judaism behind, there was an amazing burden lifted from my shoulders. (I still tried to hide the fact I was gay but that was because of my family, not religion). Slowly I was able to learn to think freely and resented myself less and less. I was free.

But of course I live in Israel, the Jewish country. Everywhere I look, I am constantly reminded of religion. Religious parties sit in the government and push their agenda on the nation. My university requires all Jewish students to take Judaic courses. When going out, kosher vs non Kosher food, open on the Sabbath or closes, all must be taken into account. On the Sabbath their is no public transportation. Religious people sit on the street corner and try and convince you to follow their ways. Old senile men like Ovadia Yosef wave great power here, just because they are Rabbis with many followers. And while in theory all of these things can be easily ignored, for me they are a constant reminder of the feelings I had back when I was religious.

I think a good analogy would be to a man who was imprisoned and is released after many years. He can walk around freely and do whatever he pleases. His life is his own. However, he would not want to see prison guards, barbed wire and jail cells everywhere he looked. These things may not be a part of his life anymore, but he most certainly would not want to be reminded about it all the time.

This is why I feel that I must leave Israel behind. I need to put some space between me and my past so that I can properly "get over it". While I will probably never embrace Judaism ever again, I do not want to hate it forever. I hope with my planned move across the globe to Vietnam at the end of this year, I can begin to finally move on.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Religious High Horse

One day when I was in the army and still religious, I got on a long bus ride to the north of the country to go back to my army base. I was very tired and fell asleep almost immediately listening to music on my disc-man (it was a long time ago). About an hour and a half into the ride, I was smacked awake by some crazy guy that was screaming at me, but I could not hear what he was saying. When I took off my headphones I heard him saying that I was a horrible person for not giving my seat up to an elderly person that had gotten on the bus. He than yelled "you should take off your kippa (traditional Jewish head covering worn by religious men) and be embarrassed".

Now, this screaming man was obviously nuts, because I was asleep and therefore did not know that there was an old man standing in the aisle. I remember at the time being very embarrassed and since my Hebrew was not that good yet, I could not even explain myself. But the guy kept yelling at me to "take off my kippa", even after I had stood up to give the old man my seat. I really did not understand what my kippa had to do with anything.

Fast forward to today. I was waiting for the light rail in Jerusalem. Standing next to my was a young ultra-orthodox guy (about 18-20 years old?) with a girl that I assume was his younger sister (15 or 16 years old?). They tried to buy a ticket from the ticket machine and it did not work. So he said to his sister, "lets just get on the train without a ticket. (Never mind that there was another ticket machine across the street that did work).  Worse case scenario and we get caught, they will just make us get off at the next stop". To the girls credit, she was very uncomfortable with the idea, but her brother insisted and she eventually agreed. Witnessing all this I thought to myself, "this guy is religious?!" And than I remembered what had happened to me, 8 years ago when I was in the army and I understood what the crazy guy was talking about when he kept telling me to take off my kippa. 

Obviously, all communities have their good and their bad people. But in Israel, many of the leaders and the most vocal members of the religious communities are constantly telling the secular community to "repent" and become religious. We are told that the secular life style is empty and without meaning. We are told that if we do not believe in a "god" that can see us at all times and judges us, we will eventually do immoral things. Proselytizers set up booths on main street corners trying to convince passerby's to pray. We are told it is good for our soul. 

With the religious community constantly telling us that we are bad, and that we should be more like them, when we in the secular "community" witness a religious person doing something bad, we jump on it. "This person thinks he is better than me, but here he is doing something bad". 

The point of this post is not to say, religious people are not as good as they claim or anything like that. As I wrote earlier, there are plenty of good and bad people from every kind of background. But the bottom line is that their are bad religious people. Religion does not make people good. So to all the "preachers" out there I would like to say, STOP preaching and telling all secular people to "repent". There are enough bad people that believe in god that you should question your "belief = good" formula. Get off your high horse, worry about yourself and leave me alone.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Passover Discussion about Gay Marriage

I spent the first days of this Passover with my parents at a hotel at the Dead Sea. These religious holiday getaways are generally pretty boring, but it was nice spending the time with my family. Saturday afternoon at the hotel, a rabbi was giving a class on "religious coercion and Jewish law". Knowing my extreme disdain for religion and especially for religious coercion, my parents thought it would be interesting if I went to the lecture with them.

To be honest, the lecture was surprisingly good. The Rabbi was as opened minded as Orthodox Judaism can allow. His overall point was "if people want to live in sin, forcing them to live according to Jewish law won't make them love god and want to live according to the Torah". The interesting part came after the lecture when my mom wanted to discuss what I thought about the matter.

The discussion started out as a debate on morality. My mom thinks religion, specifically Judaism is the proper moral way of life. I explained why I felt it was immoral in general and specifically not a life style for me. She responded by saying that my dislike for religion is simply because of "my life situation", which translates to "because I am gay". And at that point, the conversation became about gay marriage.

I tried to explain to my mom that she can be against gay marriage and hate it all she wants. But that still doesn't mean she has to expect others to agree with her or live by those same rules. I explained that she already recognizes civil, Christian, Muslim, Hindu etc marriages which according to her belief system are not real marriages. But she said that gay marriage would "destroy the moral fabric of society".

Its funny how many people use that line, but no one really seems to know what it means. How would gay marriage destroy the moral fabric of society? Would it create more killers, more thieves? Would 2 gay men living together and being able to file taxes jointly create more rapists?

My mothers final line was "just don't call it marriage". But again, why not? What is marriage? The way I see there are basically 3 major kinds of marriage. The first is the religious kind. The "holy union" declared in some ceremony, by some form of clergy. In this kind of marriage, each religion and each clergy gets to decide their own rules. I really don't expect Orthodox Judaism or the Catholic Church to start performing gay marriages (and I really don't care if they ever do).

While gay religious marriage might be more complicated, the next 2 types of marriage are perfectly suitable for 2 men or 2 women - social and intra-couple. Marriage is a social took to create families. I can think of no good reason why 2 people of the same gender cannot be a family. Even without marriage, brothers, sisters, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters are all family. Of course some people make it an issue of offspring, but infertile couple can marry, so that can't really be an issue. The intra-couple form of marriage is simply when a couple wants to publicly declare their love and commitment to one another publicly. This is completely personal and no one outside of the couple really gets to have a say in the matter.

But of course all the logic in the world will not convince the extremely religious/conservative to tolerate (let's not even talk about accepting) someone else's values. But being anti-marriage equality is not going to make there be less homosexuals. It is just going to continue to treat homosexuals as second class citizens. And in the end, having a country which does not treat all its citizens equally, really is the destruction of the moral fiber of society.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Biggest Struggle in Life

There is a blog that I am a big fan of called I am Yellow Peril. The author is a very articulate gay, Asian-American guy, who writes about his struggles with coming to grips with his homosexuality, with his weight struggles as a kid and other gay lifestyle issues (along with some other topics as well). His most recent post A Beautiful Gay Man of Color, really made me think a lot about what I believe is my biggest struggle in life. YP writes about how over his life time, he had been called ugly a number of times and how such insults haunted him. He also writes about how he has moved past that and now sees himself as the beautiful guy that he is.

As I said this post really struck a nerve with me. Throughout the vast majority of my life, I have hated the way I look. When I was little I hated my curly hair. As I got older and gained weight I hated my body. Today I hate my body, my hair (less than their used to be) and in general my overall looks. Like YP, I can remember pretty much every time I have ever been called ugly. I have always seen those insults, along with every time I have ever been rejected,  as validation of my poor self image. People seem to love to hang out with me, to be my friend, to confide in me, but when I look for more than friendship, I am often told "you are not my type".

When I first started to meet guys after coming out of the closet, I figured I could never be with anyone that I was attracted to. They were all "out of my league". Therefore, I would agree to meet up with anyone that showed interest in me, figuring who was I to turn anyone down. But, during my trip to Bangkok and Vietnam this past summer, I met guys that I was very attracted to and that shockingly enough, were attracted to me as well. I started to gain some self confidence. Things seemed to be changing.

Later on, I fell for a very good friend of mine. When I told him how I feel, he told me that he loves me, but only as a friend and that he was not attracted to me. This sent me back down my old path of self loathing. Once again I saw this rejection as confirming the accuracy of my poor self image. Guys could love my personality, but not my looks. Also, being back in Israel and once again finding it difficult to meet guys that I want to be with, I have now lost all the self confidence that I had gained.

But I found myself inspired reading YP's post this morning. While I easily identified with the self hatred he describes from his past, I found myself jealous of his current self-confidence. It was completely foreign to me. YP's self confidence was different than the self confidence I felt during my time in SE Asia. It comes from himself. It is not based on the fact that others see him as beautiful, but rather in the fact that he sees HIMSELF as beautiful. I want that so much. I am tired of looking in the mirror and wishing there was a way to replace what I see. And I am tired of letting the way others see me, define how I see myself.

Of course for years, my great friends of been telling me that this is what I need to do. But I just never really thought I could. I felt like I needed to be realistic and accept the cards life had dealt me. It sounds nice to say "love yourself", but I just never thought I would be able to. However, I so easily identified with YP's past feelings, I thought maybe I can eventually identify with his present feelings as well. So I have decided to try and work on this issue of mine. I am sure it wont be easy and it probably won't happen quickly. But I am declaring it publicly and writing that I am going to try. So to Yellow Peril (if you read this) I want to say thank you for the inspiration.