By Steven Philp
Matt Goldman was not like the other six-year-old boys in his Cub Scout Den. First, he was Jewish. Second, he was gay. He recalls one Cub Scout meeting at the local Baptist church in his hometown of Virginia Beach. Sitting in a circle with fifteen or so boys, they shared what they wanted to be when they grew up. When it was his turn, Matt was honest: “My husband is going to be a policeman, and I’ll be living in a three-bedroom house, with flowers and a beagle – and I’ll make the best ice cream in the world.” This upset the other boys and resulted in his banishment to the front steps of the church for the duration of the meeting. When his mom found out what happened – like all good Jewish mothers – she spent several terse hours on the phone with the Scout Master and his superiors demanding to know why she found her son sitting alone in front of the church. After she hung up, Matt remembers her giving him a hug and telling him that “we didn’t need those people.”
Matt’s story is one of several hundred submitted to Born This Way!, a photo and essay project for members of the LGBT community to share snapshots from their childhood – focusing on those ah-hah moments when they discovered that they were a little different from their peers. The site was launched last year by Los Angeles-native Paul V. in response to the series of LGBT teen suicides that plagued our communities; it is his hope that the “struggling [gay] kids of today can see themselves in the faces and stories of the gay kids of yesterday, to live to create their own memories.” The response has been overwhelming; Paul has been forced to close submissions for periods of time so that he can sort through his inbox.
Many members of the Jewish community can empathize with the sense of otherness carried in the stories on Born This Way!. Like Matt, we have had our own ah-hah moments through which we realize that we are not like all of our peers, whether it’s Christmas tree envy or matzo sandwiches during Passover. As children we looked to adults in our schools and synagogues – our parents, rabbis, and teachers – for the reassurance that we weren’t alone. Unfortunately, many questioning youth lack positive LGBT role models in their communities. Although there is an increased visibility of LGBT characters in television programs and movies, they are inaccessible in their fiction; they are left wanting for someone in our own lives, someone tangible, who is also stands out from the pack.
Paul emphasizes that this project is not about stereotypes. He points out that “some of the [pictures] here feature gay boys with feminine traits, and some gay girls with masculine traits. And even more gay kids with none of those traits.” He continues, stating that within the LGBT community people express myriad combinations of masculine and feminine traits. What is important is that every story is unique, and as a result we can find pieces of ourselves in each of them. You may not be Matt Goldman, but perhaps you understand what it is like to be gay and Jewish. And maybe you too dream of a handsome husband in the civil service, a white picket fence, and petunias – and the best ice cream in the world.