Letter to the Editor
To the Editor:
I write in response to Arel Kirshstein’s “Letter to the Student Body from a Homosexual Student.” I cannot begin to describe how such a piece in the Commentator fills me with pride and an inner glow toward my alma mater. As someone who received his B.A. from YC in 1972, I shouldered the heavy burden of concealing my sexual orientation on campus for four years. You courageous gay men who are replicating in the Orthodox world what we initiated in society at large in the late 1960s are genuine pioneers. And those students who are supporting their classmates are equally praiseworthy.
It seemed to me that in the dorms when I was an undergraduate, there were two overriding topics of conversation that were never exhausted: girls and sports. Evenings meant frequent waiting for the hall telephones as many students ambitiously planned their weekend activities with the opposite sex. And negiah, which I see is a significant issue to many on campus, was hardly ever mentioned. If anything, the opposite was the case: Students planned and hoped for what they could manage out of a date and, come Monday morning, were not the least bit reluctant to broadcast their achievements (or disappointments) over the weekend. The consequence for me was the increasing difficulty of “passing” as straight among my classmates and dorm-mates, with their near-constant fixation on women; we were, after all, 19- and 20-year olds. I was in a closet locked so tightly, that I only realized some years later that sexual overtures had been made to me by a few of my YC classmates, to which I was completely oblivious at the time.Ironically, although American culture is far more liberal in embracing gay people today, unlike when I was in my twenties, the Halakhic ideology prevalent at Yeshiva is, in many ways, more conservative now than it was when I was an undergraduate. The attention paid to the minutiae and technicalities of Jewish Law is more intense than it was in 1970. While most of us did indeed observe the Commandments scrupulously, the interpretations that they enjoyed were very different from those common on your campus today, which results, I believe, from the general turn to the Right among religions and cultures in the West, during the last 25 years.
The general American cultural view toward same-sex relationships was extremely negative, and it is this constellation of attitudes that was displayed by most students at YC. To provide some perspective, there was no Gay Pride event of any sort anywhere in the world; the first small Gay rights groups (the GAA and GLF), just starting to form in New York and San Francisco, meant one single protest march a year, attracting a hundred people at the most, who were viewed by the average New Yorker as just another group of wierdos among many who were becoming increasingly visible as the 1960s progressed.
My personal odyssey was similar to that of many. In graduate school at the University of California, dipping my feet into the water, I began the standard gay regimen of weight lifting, which was just emerging from its stigma as a bizarre subculture, and began the process of coming out, feeling like a human being for the first time in my life. I, too, was very fortunate in having a family that was accepting (which was due in no small regard to their European background); I have friends whose families in the Christian Evangelical movement have refused to speak to them for 25 years.
I am so pleased to see that there are some gay men in the Orthodox world who are bravely forging a path for their personal fulfillment, so that gay kids who are now in Yeshiva Day Schools and High Schools will have an easier time accepting their sexuality, and will be less likely to entertain suicidal thoughts, or other self-destructive behavior. Most importantly, I am pleased that future YC undergraduates may not have to endure the kind of tortured guilt that I and many of my generation experienced, will be the most wonderful result of your endeavors.
Allen Roth (YC ’72)