Coming Out and Coming Home to My Jewish Sleepaway Camp
I first thought that I might be different when I was in sixth grade.
I went to Jewish day school, and I was horribly bullied for being different. My reaction was to revel in the negative attention, to try to act like I liked it. It was the only way I knew to fit in. My only friends were two girls. And by friends, I mean they were willing to hang out with me at school, and we talked on the phone a couple times. Not a couple times a week – a couple of times. One day at school, these girls asked me who my crush was, but I had never really thought about it before. When I started to think about it, I realized it was Danny. I was confused, so I just stuffed it down and lied to make it easier. I said it was one of them.
Years later when I was seventeen, I was searching for something to connect to, a place to feel comfortable. A friend in USY convinced me to work at Camp Solomon Schechter for the summer. I was hesitant, but I figured, why not? At Jewish camp, I found the home I had been searching for, the acceptance I had been longing for. People loved me, no matter what. In the worst of times, Schechter was my refuge. I would always look forward to summer, for moments of serenity and happiness. I have worked at camp every summer since, and as of four years ago, I work there full time—my dream job.
Let me introduce myself. My name is David Furman, and I am the Assistant Director of Camp Solomon Schechter in Olympia, Washington. And I am gay. I came out one month ago at twenty-nine years old. And I came out on Facebook, so the whole world would know. (I didn’t tell a single person before I posted it on Facebook. Scary!)
So why now? And why Facebook?
I came to grips with the fact that I was gay (fully gay, not bisexual, although I so wanted to be) in college, yet I stayed in the closet for seven more years. Why? Partially fear, that many of the people in the Orthodox community I associated with in college would shun me. But also, it just didn’t seem like it mattered to come out or not.
Then this summer, there were multiple occasions in which I almost revealed my true self. I held back both in private conversations and once in front of the whole camp when I heard one kid call another kid gay. I know how much that hurts. I wanted to reach out and say, “Stand up and say that to me. Call me gay. Because I am gay.”
Then in December, something happened that solidified my decision. One of my staff members (who is just 18), posted on Facebook that he was in a relationship with a dude. My emotions went crazy! How am I so scared to come out and be brave if this 18-year-old kid can come out? How can he have a relationship when I can’t? And really, how much easier would it have been for HIM if I was out all of these years, so he knew he had someone he could talk to? How can I consider myself a role model to campers and staff if I’m not honest and public about who I am? Not out to my friends, not out to my family, but out to the community. The Pacific Northwest Jewish community is small, and I knew if I came out on Facebook, everyone would know. The one caveat I should mention, is who I accept as friends on Facebook; I will only friend campers after they have “graduated” our Counselor-in-Training program and are no longer campers. However, with Facebook you can set restrictions on your posts: to just your friends, friends of friends, or public—i.e. to the world. I chose public. I wanted young people from my camp, who were struggling with the issues I struggled with for nearly 30 years, to be able to see that there is hope.
And the response I got blew my mind. Over 350 people liked my status. Over 70 comments. I got dozens of Facebook messages and texts, all supportive. It told me that nothing had changed. And as the comments kept pouring in, I was grinning.
I feel happier, I feel freer, I don’t find myself thinking through everything I say with the “will that make me sound gay” litmus test. I feel like I can honestly share everything that is me. I still have the same great friends and the same great family. I still have the same great job. I’m just me.
And so now I can say it. IT GETS BETTER.
What will I say to those kids who are feeling like I did, who feel like they have to hide who they are, who think maybe it’s just not worth it? I would say: be strong. Life can seriously get you down sometimes. You will run across people that make you feel like crap. But for every dip, there is a peak. Gam zeh ya’vor. This, too, shall pass. Life can be so good. You just have to have faith in yourself, and surround yourself with good people. There are lots more good people out there than people who will judge you or care who you are. And remember, if they don’t like you because you’re gay, dump ‘em. Optimism is so hard sometimes, but I can tell you the world is on an upward spiral. It does get better. I mean, we can get married! The tide is moving forward.
It does get better. Check out the It Gets Better Project for some inspiration.
I also want to say again how lucky I am to work for Schechter. All I have gotten from my community is love, support and respect.
And I hope to pass it on ten-fold. I want Schechter to be a place where everyone feels comfortable to be whoever they are, openly and honestly, and I hope that my coming out might play some part in changing kids’ minds about what’s acceptable to say. Or maybe just give one camper hope.
If you are one of those kids or counselors reading this, please contact me, I am always available.