By Sara Serfaty ‘18
The day before my sophomore year, I posted on Facebook: “Yep, I’m a lesbian. Thought you should know. Happy Labor Day!” It got 80 likes and 12 comments, all of which were supportive.
I’d been planning the post since June, after I had realized I was gay in January of my freshman year. I came out to my friends and family, to some backlash, and found it increasingly hard to hide the fact that I was gay. Perhaps it’s because dating is part of high school culture or the fact that people started asking me how far I’d gone with guys during ninth grade orientation. Although I can’t pinpoint the exact reason why, there reached a point in spring of that year when my sexuality became too hard to hide: I remember walking by the water fountain and thinking I heard someone say, “I know you’re gay.” Nobody did, but I knew that I had to come out publicly in order to stop feeling unnecessary paranoia.
Nonetheless, I’ve always prioritized keeping my personality and identity at school separate from my sexuality. This was new at Heschel: I could only identify two older queer Heschelians, who were not officially out, were on the social periphery, and for whom being LGBTQ+ was a central part of their identity. I came out on Facebook because I wanted everyone to know I was gay, but I didn’t want to have to have individual conversations with people outside my social circle about it. I worried my sexuality would be their first – and only – association with my name.
By the end of my freshman year, I was committed to the debate team, Helios, and the Friendship Circle, and I had a relatively fixed group of friends. I came out wanting to show people that it was possible for a person’s sexual orientation to have little effect on their social life and extracurricular involvement. To this day I am in the same clubs and have many of the same friends, so some things haven’t changed.
At the same time, there are some things that have. It was hard for my straight friends to relate to the process of coming out. I had to make an effort to become friends with other queer teenagers, and I had to ask my friends to introduce me to people they knew. I discovered the New York City queer teen scene – the separate spheres (and secret Facebook groups) that exist for Jewish and non-Jewish students – and hated it. I never felt “gay enough,” found the groups exclusive, and felt that I could never bond with somebody else just because we were both “not straight.” I never felt the “community” part of the proverbial “LGBTQ+ community.” Some of the friends I’ve made in other activities have come out to me since ninth grade, and they comprise the majority of my queer friends. While I think queer-centric spaces are important, I never found my place in them.
I also felt at the time that there wasn’t a place for me at Heschel. The GSA operated behind closed doors, and the only safe space sticker was on David Steinberg’s office window. I started attending GSA meetings in May, after eight months of trying to force myself to go. I was still embarrassed to tell my friends I attended the club, even though each of them knew about my sexuality. Part of my discomfort was the school-wide stigma around the GSA at the time, and part of that was my own discomfort with being gay.
The first day of tenth grade, people stared at me. As the school year progressed, I only heard one homophobic joke. I assume there were more isolated incidents that I either didn’t notice, ignored, or blocked out. I have – and had – a hard time discerning whether or not I was constantly thinking about the fact that I’m gay or if others were, but I felt like eyes were invariably on me. Perhaps it was a combination of both, but I assume, perhaps naively, that most of my feelings were in my head.
In the months after I came out, I became more invested in the GSA. My friends, and even some friends of friends, joined the club in droves. I also became the point-person for talking about being gay, and effectively assumed the role of LGBTQ+ confidante in my sophomore and junior years. Every few months, I received a message or email from a Heschel student I didn’t know particularly well who would come out to me and ask me about my experience. I did my best to connect them to a variety of resources – the same Facebook groups and communities I never really liked – and tried to provide the answers and support I could.
It’s strange to be in that support role, because even in my senior year, I don’t have it all figured out. Every month or so I ask myself if I actually like guys (in case you’re wondering, the answer has always been no). I don’t know if the “real me” actually has a pixie cut and dresses in a far more masculine fashion than I do, and I wonder if the very fact that I ask myself this question means that the answer is yes. Most fundamentally, I didn’t know how to reconcile being gay and Jewish until the middle of my junior year, a year-and-a-half after I came out, when I had a two-hour conversation with Eugene Rabina, an LQ teacher from the middle school who was on the LGBTQ+ alumni panel we hosted last year. And in freshman year, even after I realized I was gay, I still felt that being gay was weird – and I sometimes still feel that way.
My experience coming out doesn’t point to one conclusion. I play a different role in conversations about male-female relationships at school than my straight female friends do, for the most part, but there’s no difference between the two of us in math class. Our weddings will look different, and we’ll probably have different arguments with our extended families, but my sexuality has little to do with my position as a debate captain. There are times when the two intersect, like when a debate about the constitutionality of forcing bakers to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples is especially personal, but my sexuality doesn’t play into my position on whether or not former felons should have voting rights. I still don’t know when to bring up the fact that I’m gay when I meet new people, and I sometimes still make it awkward. If you ask me about this again in a year, I might give you a different answer, but after three years of being out of the closet, I often find myself in a gray area.