Last September, in the middle of fierce debates that raged in France about the gay marriage, the Archbishop of Lyon declared in the media that gay and lesbian people were about to advocate for the end of monogamy, for a society where polygamy could become the norm, a society where bestiality might be acceptable, not even mentioning the claim for legalising incest. In a certain way, this discourse was not really a surprise, as this has been for centuries the Church’s teaching about homosexuality. What I found really offensive is that a high official of such a respected institution allowed himself to uncritically spread these words coming from another age. The fact is that during these months where the country was debating the “mariage pour tous”, the equal marriage, I heard people making dreadful comments about gay and lesbian people, responsible for the decline of our country, the end of all morality, lobbying to pass on an alternative societal model, compelling for everyone.
I have not heard a word from our progressive leaders; they remained silent, except a masorti Rabbi from Paris. On this specific issue, all religions were speaking, hand in hand, with one voice.
I felt really isolated, repelled to the margins, identified as an immoral beast, a moral danger for our country, and this feeling was shared by a lot of gay and lesbian people.
I have to say here a few words about myself. After my ordination next July, I will be the first openly gay rabbi in France, supposed to serve a liberal community. I have never made any secret about who I am, whether to the wife I spent 20 years, with, nor to my rabbinical school, or the community. I have been told there to keep discreet. To live happily, I had to hide away. I warned the board about the danger of hiding my sexual orientation to the community, but they would not listen to me. I am not only gay, I am also gay, and this is a part of my life. I felt obliged to go against my values, and this never works!
So, I decided to tackle this issue, to tackle this situation where I felt less and less comfortable, and I wrote an open letter to the local newspaper, answering to the archbishop, disclosing myself, explaining who I am, and why I found his words deeply insulting. The fiercest opposition did not come from the outside world, but from within my community. The truth is that I have underestimated the emotional impact of my open letter, and amongst all the malicious comments I received, I found this one particularly interesting.
“Why did you have to shout your sexual preferences from the rooftop?” asked one of my congregants.
This made me think a lot.
Does sexuality only define one’s orientation?
Is it really a choice? Did I woke up one morning and said to myself: “Today, I swear, I become a gay man!”
I told him how much suffering is involved when someone decides to accept who he or she is truly.
I told him how long is the way to full acceptance, the feeling of being different, even sometime abnormal.
I told him that the first cause of suicide amongst teenagers, even today, is the lack of self-acceptance, under the pressure of the environment.
I told him that two men and two women can build a loving relationship, not only based on sex, even if it is an important part of the couple’s harmony, but no more, no less than any straight couple.
Our Torah portion starts with:
“See, this day, I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Eternal your God… and curse, if you do not obey… but turn away from the path I enjoin upon you this day” (Dt 11:26-28).
So, it is incumbent upon us to choose the blessing, to follow God’s path. By the way, the prohibition of male homosexual acts does not appear in Deuteronomy, but in Leviticus. I have always been struck by the impact of these two verses in Leviticus upon the lives of millions of gay and lesbian people.
What strikes me most is what could be called the “fantasy of choice”. My own experience, which I have seen in a lot of people around me, is that we have ultimately very little choice in life. If I were doing a quick survey amongst you, I bet that very few of you would say: this is my choice!
The only choice we have is to accept who we are, in spite of the difficulties we may encounter. In that sense, we have chosen the blessing of a life where we are true to ourselves, avoiding the curse of struggling with the demands of a rather conservative society. I am not talking about places like Amsterdam, or London where I live, cities where diversity is seen as a positive value. I am talking about the larger world, in Iran, where gays are hung, in certain African countries, where gays are threatened with capital punishment, or closer to us, in some milieu where we are mocked, despised.
It takes a lot of courage to accept the blessing of being different in a world where a lot of people seek to erase differences. In itself, it is good to be in the margins, because from there, we are able to take a critical look at the larger society, to challenge its aspirations to be open and inclusive.
Our unique choice is to take upon us this blessing, to tell the world that humanity is, in its very essence, diverse, made up of an infinite variety of human beings, each different, and yet, each a part of the larger human family.