Updated: Dec 20, 2018
Editors Note: These are the rambling, non-coherent thoughts and feelings I had on a single trip home. It might seem jagged and non-linear, but these are my feelings I experienced and I hope you can make sense of my literary mental illness.
Do you guys ever go somewhere dangerous, like a high cliff or a colony full of rapists that you’re not supposed to get close to, but you do it anyway? And only upon retrieving it in your memory, you shudder at how dangerous and stupid it was that you did that? Like a scratched disc, you play the same scene over and over again in your head, but you fabricate an alternative ending that results in you falling from that cliff or getting all your holes filled. Over and over again, you play that scenario in your head and shudder or scream it away from the foreground of your brain?
This is my brain every single day. My dangerous moments are my embarrassing testaments to the world where I prove that I am a total and utter dumbass.
And in the next dozen paragraphs, you shall see why.
It was on a Thursday morning that I flew home to visit my family for the holiday of Sukkos. This wasn’t just any ordinary Thursday morning, this was a special one where I decided to “pack light” and lie to myself that I was a low-maintenance person who could live minimally for my two-week visit.
I was wrong.
Surviving on just one carry-on suitcase is reserved for people only as noble as Gandhi or Mother Theresa since all they wore was the same robe for fifteen decades. Google it. They never had an outfit change. Not once. I bet those linens smelled worse than the toilet paper used for a gorilla allergic to bananas.
As per usual, packing the night before consisted of downing a few glasses of wine as I tossed things I never wore into the tiny bag — because you never know, maybe I was going wear the pair of crotch-less panties my grandmother survived Auschwitz wearing.
As a few glasses turned into a bottle and a half, my tipsy packing led into filling my bag with a cashmere sweater that had accidentally gone through the dryer, a portable steamer, a can of Amy’s lentil soup, and about two dozen loose socks purchased from Costco in 2004. As I slowly faded from the tannins in the wine, I finishing my packing venture by throwing two — not one — last-minute objects on top of the socks and passed out star-fished on my bed.
Waking up in the morning and having no recollection of if I even packed underwear or a toothbrush, I got into my Uber with full confidence that I had everything I needed, a Starbucks in my hand, and the buzz from the Klonopin I popped twenty minutes prior.
After an intense therapy session with my Uber driver, reaching a breakthrough that my eating disorder is attributed to my mother and our abnormally close bond, I said goodbye to Ahmed and hopped out of the car ready to fly through TSA pre-check without any hiccups on my way home.
However, there were hiccups.
“Sir, we’re gonna have to check your bag,” the TSA agent said, cutting me from my tuned-out trance of sobbing to an emotional episode on The Moth podcast.
“What?” I asked, caught off guard.
“Would you like us to check your bag in private or is publicly okay?” The woman who looked like she lost her virginity at a rehab facility asked me with monotoned apathy.
“Um…” Why would they ask me to check it in private? With a flash of clairvoyance, I suddenly remembered my packing venture, as my life flashed before my eyes and I knew I was headed to a road of no escape.
Sheer panic pulsated through my organs as every sweat gland fulfilled its destiny and perspired beads of sweat that all decided to congregate at my butt crack. “Private, please!” I wailed. I can say in total retrospect, I would have rather been caught with a bomb at the airport than what was snuggled in my pile of socks.
The bitter woman called over another two male TSA agents and together they pulled me aside to a small room made of fogged glass windows. “Please stand aside as we go through your possessions.” They told me with a mirrored monotone of the first woman. This was routine for them.
One of the men rummaged through my stuff and pulled out my expensive cologne, surprising me that it was there. Phew, dodged a bullet there, I thought to myself. But he wasn’t done as he discarded the sixty dollars worth of liquid. “We’re looking for something that looks like a corkscrew.” He told me as he rummaged through some packing peanuts and a comb missing most of its teeth.
A few handfuls of gum covered coins later, he pulled out the first of my little buddies.
He was still on a mission to find its friend and didn’t look down until he found my second buddy under my mom’s high school yearbook and the playbill of a show I never saw.
In both his palms, double fisting the items, he grasped both my vibrators like the most popular girl at a party.
He looked down, a delayed response seconds from occurring as he clasped a dildo in each of his hand. Instantly, his eyes grew huge. Panic sprung across his face as if he had just pulled out the severed dicks of the two missing children from my town.
This part of the job was not routine for him.
“Um… um… you’re all cleared.” He said, tossing my butt toys back into the bag as if they were grenades ready to detonate. “You can pack your stuff and leave when you’re ready.” And before I could respond, the two men were gone faster than a white girl when a homeless man pulls his dick out on the subway.
I wish they stayed long enough for me to warn them to wash their hands, but I decided to laugh it off as I found my gate with my mechanical penises in my bag. I knew I would suffer the consequences from this later as it replayed over and over again in my head as tried to fall asleep that night.
In my Uber back into my former neighborhood, dread consumed the pit of my stomach. I was aware of the comfortability of these people I grew up with, having everything in their life chosen for them with its patterns of familiarity. To this day, I sometimes wish I was a heterosexual who could have easily fit into a society rather than have my DNA destine me to be an outcast.
When you grew up in a religious community, going back home is like walking back into a cult and being lost in wonderment at how you bought into the lifestyle for as long as you did. You experience a balance of two extreme emotions; one is a surprise that these people do not see what you do, but the second is that you feel an accomplished pride for being able to have walked away from all of it.
You need to resist the feeling of anger, which is easy to get consumed by your entire life if you’re not careful.
The neighborhood I grew up in is an ultra-orthodox community that is built upon a system which doesn’t allow anyone to deviate from the norms. It controls its people by making strict rules beyond necessity and teaches you to observe the religion out of fear rather than love. Most people who are part of this society follow dictation even if they have questions and don’t agree with everything they are told. If you DO question the system AND take action, you are cast out because you are a threat to exposing the flaws in the lifestyle and people cannot know they are in the matrix.
When confronting a Rabbi with your questions that have no answers, they are retorted with, “We don’t know why we do them, but we will know when Moshiach comes.” Which is code for, “It’s bullshit, but keep doing it.”
Once you remove your rose-colored glasses and see the control and cult mentality of it, you can never unsee it. Some of the people genuinely seem happy in this life, so is it fair for me to judge? If people are happy in a cult, is it a bad thing?
I don't know. I honestly don't.
It makes me sad that the only way I can feel home again or see my parents is walking back into their lives instead of them walking into the one I’ve built.
On the contrary, gay people have to build their communities from scratch. We are damaged people who need to find others who are doing what we’re all trying to do. We spend our whole lives chasing the feeling of home. We aren’t given the luxury of familiarity or the warm embrace of a strong community.
We build it for ourselves.
A week into the trip, we went to a close friend of my fathers for a yontif meal prepared by his wife. At the table, my older brother was asked about his dating life and the attributes he wants to see in his future wife. I was asked no such questions. I was a bystander watching my brother being questioned about what he wants for his future, while my future was irrelevant.
This is a constant in my life, even at the shabbos tables of the people in my new life that I am friends with from college. I refrain from sharing this information because I do not know if people’s opinions will change of me when I confirm their suspicions that I’m simply a tertiary character in their life’s narrative instead of potentially being a main character.
Why is it that I hesitate from saying, “Oh, I was on a date with this guy,” when others at the table so freely talk about their former partners of the opposite gender. The few times I’ve brought it up, I felt this sudden embarrassment that is similar to when you bring up something inappropriate at the table and the hosts choose to change the topic to avoid reprimanding you for your faux pas.
Sharing about myself is always at the tip of my lips, but then I remain silent with a fluttering chest of anxiety pulsating inside.
Why is it that even though I’m a proudly out of the closet, I still turn the screen of my phone away so people can’t see that I’m on Jswipe swiping through men for fear that they’re gonna lose respect for me?
A conversation that took place on Chol Hamoid was when my older brother announced to my family that his wife’s niece was engaged at the age of nineteen. Everyone at the table rejoiced, saying Mazal Tov’s and sharing happiness for a girl they only met once at my brother’s wedding. The boy was from a well respected Jewish lineage, which made my family even more fond of the couple that they were never going to see again. It’s a Pavlovian response in Frum culture to be overcome with euphoria whenever you hear about two who get engaged. We’re trained at the earliest age that this is the ultimate form of joy and we should be ecstatic when two people we don’t even know take on that journey.
It’s a conditioning that baffles my mind: everyone rhapsodized about a couple they barely know, yet celebrated them for the mere fact that they were joining lives together. But for me, when I find the love of my life, no one in the community is going to rejoice for me.
People say things like, “at your Sheva Brachot”, or “soon by you,” to my siblings, wanting them to find happiness, but no one says it to me. No one asks who I’m dating or what I’m up to in life. They’re scared to approach me. I’m ignored because I’m different, never treated like someone of value.
No one gives me well wishes of finding someone who makes me happy, because in the world I’m from, I don’t matter.
Never have, and never will.
Lastly, before my trip was over, I was out to dinner with my dad and younger brother when we ran into my former middle-school principal that I had known since I was in fourth grade. He said hello to my brother, shook his hand, and then walked away. I didn’t say anything. I felt a complete lack of a desire to say something. Perhaps out of survival instincts I chose not to acknowledge him.
I have mentally removed myself from my old community, which was something I didn’t intentionally do. My brain did this as a form of a coping mechanism. Once walking away from the place that made me feel like a complete, unwanted piece of shit, I grouped everyone from my town as one entity. This resulted in me going to the grocery store and seeing people I’ve known since birth and giving them blank stares, or running into people in college that used to be in my elementary class and pretended I never knew them.
For me, it was a survival tactic because they reminded me of the dark times.
I regretted not saying something to my former principal, I was embarrassed when I thought about it that night. But after a few hours to brood in introspection, playing the scene over and over in my head on a repetitious cycle, I remembered this about my principal: It was in his school I was humiliated and repeatedly called GAY in front of the whole class and knew I couldn’t defend myself. — It was in his school that I was told by most teachers that homosexuality is a mental disorder and the biggest sin. — It was in his school I felt hopeless, being told that I wasn’t important and shouldn’t exist. — It was in his school that the gay kids who didn’t have the luxury of blending in with our peers were left to cower in the library during recess because we had no one to look out for us in the terrifying arena outside. — It was in his school that the teachers said disgusting things about gay people, with complete expectations for the whole class to join in laughing at the mockery. — And it was HE who once pulled me aside and asked he could teach me football to fit in with the other kids, instead of telling me it was okay I didn’t have the same interests as them. — He wanted me to conform to be like everyone else, rather than consoling me in my solitude during recess for six years.
So, when I ran into my old principal, do I regret not saying anything to him?
No, my regret is that I didn’t say everything.
- Fagel Bagel