The first instalment of a new blog by Abigail Kay, a recent Study of Religions graduate with a passion for chocolate who is currently working in the charity sector.
Blog One: It’s funny how some distance can make everything seem small…
Let me take you back five years, to when I was 18. My mother is pretty healthy, cancer diagnosis aside. My long-term boyfriend and I are going strong, despite some ups and downs.
My repetitive strain injury is mostly under control with medication and physio, and I’m functioning normally without too much pain. I’m relatively comfortable with my religiosity and my faith, a few gripes notwithstanding.
That was a different me back then. Now I am 23. I have graduated from university and I’m fulfilling my dream of working in the charity sector.
However, my mother’s been gone two and a half years and I’m still inexpertly putting the pieces of my life back together.
The boyfriend and I broke up nearly three years ago.
My RSI is sometimes so painful that I’m incapable of basic tasks like brushing my teeth. Claims that I was ‘only bicurious’ ceased when I proudly came out as bisexual last year.
I’ve been living with the black dog of depression for a year and a half. And my religion has been a constant seesaw.
I reckon I’ve been through most of the typical tests of faith. A number of unfortunate incidents while I was on my gap year in Israel made me question my previous acceptance of the role of women in Orthodox Judaism.
A few years later, though, my faith in the benevolence of God stood strong even as I watched my 54-year-old mother fade and die. These experiences had the potential to shake my faith, but even when it wavered slightly, I always found that I couldn’t drop the practice side of Judaism.
I’m not sure whether that was because it was too habitual, a personal comfort, or an image that I felt I needed to maintain. Whatever it was, the faith always came back in the end.
The test of faith that I did not see coming was one as a result of my sexuality.
I feel comfortable enough with my sexuality to be able to say that being bisexual is great: I can have a complete lack of concern for gender identity in potential romantic interests.
More importantly, though, discovering myself and coming out has made me so much more at peace with myself, and I can know that even as other things confuse me, at least one thing now makes much more sense. It gives me self-confidence, self-assurance, and happiness.
When I first came out, many people asked me how I reconciled that side of my life with my religious beliefs and commitments. I was very clear with them that I didn’t see any contradiction. A few very encouraging things I’d read and been told about non-heterosexuality and Orthodoxy had convinced me that I could be who I was and still be who I’d always been.
Over time, though, cracks began to appear in my commitment to Orthodoxy and my belief that there was a divine being out there somewhere. Things came to a head when I was watching the issue of same-sex marriage being debated on a Modern Orthodox forum a couple of months ago.
When I saw the way that discussions of non-heterosexual rights were simply descending into thinly veiled prejudice against non-heterosexual individuals, my eyes snapped open.
By the end of these discussions, I was beginning to wish I could just ‘be heterosexual again’, because my skin is not thick enough to deal with people lumping my attraction to women with other ‘immoral’ sexual activities – physical urges which are not wrong in themselves but which should be suppressed for the sake of religion.
And that made me realise that, frankly, if it was going to come down to a choice between expressing my true sexuality, a piece of self-knowledge which has made me so much more at ease with myself, and following my religion, which I can’t remember ever making me feel genuinely happy in and of itself, there is no contest.
Incidentally, I recently put this to the test when I decided to attend Pride in London even though it fell on Shabbat, and by the end of the day, I was indescribably glad that I had chosen to celebrate my sexuality with as much energy as I had previously celebrated my faith, but that’s another story for another day.
The song Let It Go from the Disney film Frozen has become a bit of a phenomenon; I’m tempted even to call it an anthem.
The sentiments the lyrics express can be used in an almost limitless range of situations, because what it champions is the idea that it is possible to break free from the restrictive bonds you’ve formerly been held back by, and that when that happens, you can reinvent yourself to be the person you’ve always wanted or needed to be – or felt that you already were.
Breaking away from controlling parents or an abusive childhood (as is the case in the film). Slowly making your way out of the personal shackles of a mental illness. Accepting your sexuality and coming out. Or maybe leaving behind a religious tradition that suffused every aspect of life while you were growing up but is no longer the positive inspiration it could be?
Where will I be in five years’ time? I have a long journey ahead of me, and I don’t know where it will lead.
Maybe back to Judaism and Jewish faith. Maybe to another religion. Maybe away from religion entirely. Whatever happens, though, I’m going to try to bear the ideas behind Let It Go in mind.
Ultimately, I need to strive for whatever will make me the most emotionally and mentally healthy individual I can be, and if that means that perhaps Judaism is not conducive to that for me, it is OK to ‘let it go’.
- You can read more of Abigail’s writing at her blog, Experience is to be Lived