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Choosing Sides

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I spent my formative years—the ones in which sexual orientation identity develops—in suburban New Jersey, blissfully unaware of the suffering of certain classmates.  I had no idea there were people around me who felt they were born into the wrong bodies; who believed they were damaged, somehow, because they were different; who felt betrayed by their religious leaders or their parents when told that they were sinners.

Public high schools, in those days, did not support Gay-Straight Alliance clubs or maintain safe spaces for LGBT students and teachers.  Nobody was coming out of the closet in high school. Anyway, I was a late bloomer—other students knew about these things, but I was not terribly self-aware. My teenagers know more than I did at their age, and probably more than I know now. I have a lot of catching up to do.

In my late forties, I’ve learned to be self-aware of my privileged status as a heterosexual, or cisgender, woman. [As a writer and word enthusiast, I’m intrigued by this new terminology: Cisgender, a corollary label to transgender, can be used to define individuals whose gender identity matches that which was assigned to them at birth.  Cis is a Latin prefix meaning “on this side of.” It is the antonym of trans, which means “on the other side of.”] This process of learning to recognize my own biases and the privileges of my birth—after all, I believe I was born this way—can be a painful one. There are moments of realization, when I learn things about myself and feel ashamed at how little I truly understand about the experiences of my LGBT friends.

Yesterday, I had one of these painful moments.sojourn

In the midst of leading a discussion about the weekly Torah reading, which contains two verses often cited as the “biblical prohibition of homosexuality,” I stumbled over my words and immediately felt the color rising to my cheeks. I realized that I’d made an assumption; one that I had no business making. Quickly recovering, I softened my statement by admitting my bias and asking the participants, particularly the gay men in the room, if mine was a reasonable assumption.

Lucky for all of us that SOJOURN had created a safe space for our Lunch-and-Learn. Lucky for me, really, that I found friends at SOJOURN to serve as guides along my journey. SOJOURN— an acronym that stands for Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity—seems an apt name for an organization with a mission to provide resources, education, and support for LGBT individuals and for their families and friends.

Sojourn, as a verb, means to visit or stay as a temporary resident. I feel that I can sojourn among these friends, as I begin to discover what it means to be “on this side of” my gender identity while others may be “on the other side.” We don’t need to choose sides. We need only to be aware that it is a privilege to learn from one another and grow together.

Three Links to my Moments of Realization:

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Comments (2)

I enjoyed and learned from this piece. Love the idea of the open learning community you participate in. Great links too.

Thanks, Tonia! Thanks to my involvement with my500words group, I have been inspired to tackle more challenging topics.

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