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How My Judaism Strengthened Me to Come Out as Bisexual

How My Judaism Strengthened Me to Come Out as Bisexual

Close up of a persons fingers holding a button bearing the colors of the bisexuality pride flag

“Coming out” is an incredibly important and defining moment for many members of the LGBTQ+ community. Coming out means something different to everybody, and no individual story is alike.

As someone who is Jewish and bisexual (bi), I used to think coming out meant making a huge spectacle out of it. I thought I’d practically have to throw a lavish, queer party and make a formal declaration of my commitment to the bi people (a bi mitzvah, perhaps).

I’d later realize, of course, that isn’t the case – and I’d also realize that while coming out can be difficult for everyone, there’s often an added level of difficulty for those of us who are bi.

People who are bisexual, pansexual, or who generally do not identify with the gay/straight binary are often ignored, invalidated, and discriminated against. Bisexual women are often fetishized and are more likely to be assaulted than straight or lesbian women, while bisexual men are often told to “be a man” and be straight or “just admit that [we’re] gay.”

Despite comprising an estimated 52 percent of the LGB community, bisexual organizations receive less than one percent of funding. And our identities are even seen by some as dangerous: In 2017, Twitter blocked the #bisexual hashtag because it was “typically associated with adult content” – though the #lesbian and #gay tags were not blocked.

Because of all of this and much more, research shows that bisexual individuals are, perhaps understandably, less likely to come out than gays and lesbians – and I can personally attest to this.

Despite knowing since grade school that I was bi, I kept it a secret because I saw the way society viewed and treated people who didn’t fit the heteronormative model, including how badly bisexuals were portrayed in the media and in society at large. Staying in the closet – and trying hard to convince myself I was straight – was my best defense mechanism.

I’d often wonder: Does God hate me? Am I actually gay and just in denial? Is this just a phase I’m going through? Well, I’m two months away from my 30th birthday, and I can assure you it’s not a phase; I’m still as bi as I’ve ever been.

Last year, I wrote a piece in which I casually outed myself. I could say this was an easy decision, but that wouldn’t be true. Part of me thought it would be easier to keep it to myself and only confirm my bi identity if someone asked me (my own personal “don’t ask, don’t tell”).

And yet, I knew this wasn’t just about me.

I knew there were so many other folks in the LGBTQ+ community – especially in the Jewish community and especially those who didn’t conform to the gay/straight binary – who had been forced into closets most of their lives. I knew coming out would be a small but necessary step in erasing this stigma and defying the binary to which I felt so pressured to conform.

In addition to the support given by my partner, colleagues, and friends, I was greatly inspired to come out through my connection to Judaism.

For me, becoming a Jew and embracing my bi identity went hand-in-hand. I used to think my bisexuality was something “wrong” with me, something that needed to be “cured” by God, but then I learned what Reform Judaism teaches about LGBTQ+ identities. As Rabbi Harold Schulweis explained:

"Morality comes from reading the tradition in its entirety - not singling out particular verses or particular laws. It comes from highlighting the ethical rationale behind the laws, including the many interpretations of law, and it comes from wisdom, Jewish experience and history."

My soul has always been Jewish and has always been bisexual. Much like sitting before my beit din (rabbinical court) and immersing in the mikvah (ritual bath) made my Jewishness official, coming out as bi let the world know beyond any doubt that I was far from straight or gay. Like the freedom Judaism gives me to perform ritual, interpret theology, and pray to/believe in God, my bi identity unshackles me from society’s constrictive demands that I “pick a side.”

Coming out and owning my bisexuality has reinforced that this – and all parts of my identity – make me wholly Jewish.

If you’re reading this and struggling with how, when, or whether you want to come out, please know: I see you. I support you. This journey is yours and yours alone. Don’t let anyone tell you to stay in the closet, even if they have the best intentions in doing so – but inversely, don’t let anyone pressure you to come out, either. Only you know when you’re truly ready.

When and if you are ready, know that God loves you, that the Reform Jewish community accepts and welcomes you as you are, that you belong, and that your presence and insight are needed as we continue to build audaciously hospitable Jewish spaces and bring our vision of a diverse, inclusive, and equitable Jewish community to life.

Reform Judaism welcomes LGBTQ+ Jews and their families and is committed to their full participation in all areas of Jewish life and beyond. Learn more in "What Is Reform Judaism?" and "Reform Jewish Views on LGBTQ+ Equality," then check out the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's work toward full equality at RAC.org/lgbt.

Chris Harrison is the writer and editor for Audacious Hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism and a fellow in the 2018 JewV’Nation Fellowship’s Jews of Color Leadership Cohort. A graduate of Miami University in Oxford, OH, he holds a degree in creative writing and film studies. He grew up at Payne Chapel A.M.E. Church in Hamilton, OH, and converted to Judaism at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, MI. Named one of The Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36,” Chris is passionate about Jewish studies, cinema, health and fitness, and bisexual advocacy in the LGBTQ+ community.

Chris Harrison
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