Not long ago, while adding a new "friend" to my list of followers on Facebook, everyone's favorite social media site kindly suggested to me a group of people who I might know. While scrolling through the list, I stumbled across a face. Handsome enough, I had seen him in the Gayborhood on several occasions but didn't know his name or much about him. Here he was, though, and with the click of my mouse, I had full access to his profile. This individual, we'll call him "Gary," seemed to share a great deal in common with me and so I decided to send him a short note saying how we didn't know each other but that Facebook made this connection and "did he want to grab coffee?" A day later I received the following response:
Thanks for the message. I am currently averting all Jewish lads though. Sure this may sound horrible, but after the recent string of men that have given me trouble, I realized the thread that united them all was judaism [sic]. Thus, fairly or not, I'm grouping all of you together and just saying no. Until further notice, this guy is only accepting applications from gentiles.
Yes, how your people must suffer.
To say I was taken aback and offended goes without saying. Did he really just turn down a date because I'm Jewish, a fact I hadn't even mentioned when I emailed? Not one to let things go unremarked, I wrote back explaining my sense of insult. He responded with one of the most unconvincing apologies ever mustered, and so ends the tale.
Except it doesn't. While I wish I could say that this was just one incident, the truth is, in the months that followed, I was subjected to multiple anti-Semitic remarks and stereotypes in the gay community. I had assumed that the gay community wouldn't be a site of such behavior. After all, many gays themselves have been the target of homophobic comments and slurs. Shouldn't we know better?
Here are some of the other things that were said to me by non-Jews following my interaction with "Gary":
1) While on a date, I told my companion how I enjoy riding my bicycle and that it's my main mode of transportation to work.
My date: I wish I could do that, but I sweat too much.
Me: Luckily for me, that's not a problem.
My date: Is that because you're Jewish?
This question was asked totally deadpan and created a moment of awkward silence that you could have driven a tractor through. Maybe not the most anti-Semitic thing that has ever been uttered, but the stereotype of the "JAP" who doesn't sweat was off-putting nonetheless.
2) While at a gay bar and needing to pay for my drink which I commented was watered down, someone I just met and knew I was Jewish told me not to "Jew down" the bartender. Wow. I mean, he was "just kidding," but ok ...
3) Leaving a drag show, a friend of mine introduced me to someone who asked what I do for a living.
Me: I work in the Jewish community.
Him: Oh my god! I just heard the best Jewish joke. Do you want to hear it? It's really funny.
Me: Uh ... no?
Him: Great! It goes like this . . .
The individual (who I'm assuming was also deaf) went on to tell me the "joke," the details of which I don't remember, but the punch line was about Jews and money. Since when did it become ok again (not that it ever was in the first place) to tell these jokes and why was I expected to laugh and approve?
4) On another date, while talking about the club scene in New York, my date remarked that he didn't know any "Jew promoters" (not "Jewish promoters" but "Jew promoters" as in "Hey you, Jew!") in NYC, an unfortunate utterance that I had hoped died out in the first part of the last century.
I tell these stories to friends and they shake their heads in disbelief. "Did those guys really say those things?" they ask.
And so here's the thing. I have found myself having to go "into the closet" again, not as gay, but as Jewish. So uncomfortable have these experiences left me that I'm hesitant to tell fellow gays about my background, let alone that I'm (gasp!) what one person called a "Super Jew" since I go to synagogue and even keep kosher. Clearly, I know that not all gays harbor anti-Semitic feelings, but I can't help but wonder what is causing such outbursts. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. For years, individuals have talked about the racism perpetrated by the white gay community on gays of color, not to mention cases of misogyny and transphobia.
What's surprising to me is that I don't think I've ever encountered homophobia in the Jewish community in the way that I have experienced anti-Semitism in the gay community. Yet, and here's the rub, religion is often perceived (especially by gays) as a closed-minded world. I'm sure there are cases of that, but in my case I have been nothing but welcomed with open arms and in the Jewish world, I proudly live my life as an out gay man. In the gay community, though, I feel on the margins.
I'm left thinking of a quote from Rabbi Hillel who, in Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) famously remarked, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" Hillel's quote reminds us that while it is important to have a strong sense of self, our identity is very much determined by our relationships with others, not just our friends and family, but with everyone in the world. We don't live in a vacuum and in the complex world of identity politics where race, sexuality, gender, class, and religion intersect and overlap, learning to see beyond ourselves is an important step in finding true equality and acceptance for who we are as LGBT individuals. Perhaps, my experiences can be utilized then as a call to action, encouraging us to take a step back and ask, "how can we be role models of behavior and not perpetrators of prejudice ourselves?"