Throughout my life, the traditional right-wing perspective on homosexuality was constantly reinforced. As a child, this mostly came from things I would see on TV and comments the adults in my life would make. From my late teens on as I got more involved in religion, this was also strongly reinforced there too. The teachings I received were quite clear that certain people just weren’t worthy. Those people and their “lifestyles” seemed to go beyond God’s love.
All this time I had never heard of trans, or much of any other part of the rainbow beyond gay people. But somehow I knew that if being gay was bad my dark secret was much worse. All of which continued to compel me to keep that part of my life very well buried. It seemed this was just the way life was until that whole concept was challenged.
Part of converting to Orthodox Judaism was moving to an Orthodox community. Since you are not allowed to drive on Shabbos, you have to live within walking distance to the shul (synagogue). From where the community was the best place for me to get a job was Microsoft. So I joined the 10’s of thousands that work there.
Back then if you were a direct-hire of Microsoft, a blue badge, you got your own office. But I never made the grade to be a blue badge. I loved my wife and family and just wasn’t willing to put in all of the extra hours they expected of you.
Because of this, I was always a contractor, which at the time was called a perma-temp. There were contractors who had been at Microsoft for well over 10 years. As a perma-temp, I didn’t get my own office. All perma-temps were expected to share an office with one or more other perma-temp.
Now by this time in my life I had grown past all of the social awkwardness of my youth. I could almost always find a conversation I was comfortable with. Since this was in the software industry most of these conversations were with other men, but that was OK now.
But that was about as far as it ever got, OK. These were my co-workers, not my buddies. I enjoyed working with most of them. I always managed to be a good team player (in this context) working with everyone. But at the end of the day, I just wanted to get home to my wife and family as soon as I could.
This was life for me most of the time at Microsoft. But it was never dull as every year or so I would be moved to a different project. This was fine I liked learning new things.
On one of these re-assignments, I had one other perma-temp in our shared office, we will call him Bob. My relationship with Bob was different. We commonly discussed things beyond tech. In fact, we would commonly go beyond work hours. I would some times find myself staying a bit late just so we could finish up a discussion we were deep into.
As the months went by I came to really like Bob. He was one of those rare guys, I thoroughly enjoyed being with. We could talk forever. And even better he wasn’t scared to discuss difficult topics. We debated all kinds of things.
I never really liked working at Microsoft. I think partly because I always felt like a very little cog in a huge machine. I went to work to pay the bills nothing more. But with Bob, this was different I actually looked forward to going to work so that we could continue whatever we were last chatting about. Now Bob wasn’t the only male friend I had ever had that I could relate to this well. Through all of my college days and church days and even within the Jewish community he was the third such friend I had had in my entire life.
As you can imagine this was an important relationship for me. So you will understand the day I found out he was gay was monumental for me. Here I was in this very rare friendship and now I find out he is ‘one of those’. It was slightly better being Jewish as some rabbis feel that non-Jews are not bound by all of the laws of the Torah.
So maybe he wasn’t exactly breaking Torah, but there was no way of denying that in just being who he is he was contradicting all that I thought I knew about gay people. This brought up a huge dilemma for me. Do I reject this rare and special friend I had, or do I dare question the religion I had taken upon myself?
What made things particularly perplexing was that nothing fit. From everything I had been taught since a small child I expected, I knew, that gay people were supposed to be obvious. They were supposed to stand out like a sour thumb so that everyone would notice them and know to avoid them. Or so I thought.
So here I was trying to make sense of this, he wasn’t your stereotypical gay person, and he was a good friend. Not being sure what to do, I didn’t really do anything. I basically ignored what I was brought up from childhood to believe. I ignored what my religion has to say on the topic and just continued to enjoy our friendship.
Now I don’t recall how I found out he was gay. He certainly didn’t announce it, in fact, he seemed quite private about it. But from that point forward I found myself discussing related topics with him. I don’t recall seeking out such topics, I think they just naturally flowed out of our friendship.
Eventually, I was moved to a different project. Unfortunately, we didn’t keep in touch, something I have always regretted. But that relationship opened my eyes in so many ways.
I learned that gay people were not these strange creatures that you could easily spot. They were normal everyday people. They have good days and bad days. They have hopes and dreams. The only real difference I could see was that they are not allowed to enjoy some of the freedoms and just daily life the way the rest of the world does.
I learned that gay people were not “out to get us”. He had no desire to proselytize his orientation. In fact, he was perfectly fine with me being straight.
These and many more concepts I had about gay people were crushed. Even more important I no longer saw gays as the enemy but as normal everyday people.
Although I moved on to a different project the dilemma he left me with didn’t leave. Now every time I heard something about a hardship gay people were exposed to I didn’t turn my head in disgust. Quite the opposite, I saw their plight with compassion. Every such instance re-challenged me, “How could a loving God create people He hated?” I never came up with an answer and although I felt compassion for them it never moved me to any kind of action. It was just something I pondered from time to time until it became personal.