Whilst we’re in the midst of LGBT History Month, Josh Bradlow shares his experiences of coming of age as a gay Jewish man, from his ‘mortifying’ Bar Mitzvah, to his current work as a policy intern at LGBT equality charity Stonewall.
“Of the many embarrassing moments I had throughout my teenage years, one in particular stands out for me. On a sweltering June afternoon in a crowded Lebanese restaurant, a relative addressed my Bar Mitzvah party. ‘Josh probably wouldn’t want you to know this’, he said, ‘but his favourite film is Miss Congeniality’. The audience erupted in gales of laughter, and I was mortified.
“It might strike some people as confusing as to why I found this so embarrassing. Anyone who knows me these days will know that I carry precisely no shame about my love for Miss Congeniality (and to a lesser extent, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous). But at that moment, hours after I had supposedly ‘become a man’ in the synagogue, I felt that I’d been exposed as being ‘unmanly’, and back then that felt like a serious problem.
“By that point I’d been trying to ‘pray the gay away’ for two years, and to say that I was unhappy with my sexuality would be an understatement. At the same time, I was navigating the difficulties that come with being one of a handful of Jews in a school where anti-Semitism was almost as common as homophobia.
“Whilst I was spared the worst of the bullying, I still received my fair share of holocaust jokes, and I was left with the feeling that I didn’t belong.
“I coped by hiding my sexuality and pouring myself into my academic work. Although I was dogged by a lingering sense of shame and a constant fear of exposure, I managed to achieve a kind of balance between my external and internal lives, and I enjoyed a lot of my teenage years.
“And gradually, over time, things began to change. I started to see public figures – including gay Jews like Stephen Fry and Simon Amstell – whose experiences and identities I could relate to. I began to surround myself with more queer influences, from Queer as Folk to the Velvet Underground, which affirmed my sense of who I was. And as I left school and moved into the mixed, more liberal environment of university I began to reconcile myself with the fact that I wasn’t getting any straighter, and I came out in my second year of university.
“In the years since coming out I’ve been extremely well supported by my family and friends, many of whom are Jewish. Whilst it’s certainly not been easy to face up to the shame that I’ve carried about my identity, I feel increasingly proud to be part of two overlapping communities with rich histories of resilience, survival and creativity in the face of oppression. And I feel proud to be part of a religious community which is increasingly accepting and affirming its LGBT members.
“But not everyone in our community has been as fortunate as I’ve been. I think we need more visible LGBT role models and allies to demonstrate that it is possible to be both Jewish and LGBT, and to show all members of our community that LGBT people should be accepted for who they are. Judaism is a religion which sees discussion and debate as not simply a means to an end but an end in itself; we need to broaden the debate to ensure that all of our voices are heard in our community today.”
Josh lives in London and is a policy intern to the CEO of lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality charity Stonewall.
You can support Stonewall’s work by donating, fundraising, attending their events, sharing their campaigns on social networks or by taking part in a Stonewall Challenge. Find out more information at www.stonewall.org.uk.