There are many ways that I could describe my identity, but two of the first things that come to mind are Conservative Jew and queer. The Jewish part takes some explaining, considering that I was raised Buddhist by ex-Christian parents. I was raised with Buddhist philosophy as the basis of my spiritual understanding of the world, but my parents never insisted that I seriously practice Buddhism.
There were aspects of Buddhism that rang true for me, but the practice was never fulfilling. I spent a few years in college dabbling in religious exploration, but never with much seriousness. When I did try to engage in serious Buddhist practice again, many years later, I realized that the thing I was always missing was a sense of community. My Buddhist practice had always felt intensely individual and isolated, without a connection to other people (even when I was practicing in a room with hundreds of people).
I found the sense of community I craved in Judaism, but I took a long path to get there. While I was in college I studied Judaism academically, I had a Jewish roommate and kept a kosher kitchen for a year, and I succeeded in getting Hillel (the campus Jewish organization) to partner regularly with Queers and Allies of Faith, an organization a friend and I started. But I never really learned the different ways that Jewish people practice their Judaism, and all the different things that it could mean to them.Fast forwards a few years - I moved to Reno, NV for grad school. I left behind my friends and everything I knew, and moved to a small, conservative city. I was desperate for community, and got involved with the Queer Student Union. Because there was such a small progressive movement on campus, the QSU shared quite a few members with Hillel. I ended up going to a lot of Hillel events, and making a lot of friends who had strong feelings about their Judaism and were willing to tell me why. Some of it was good, some of it was bad, and all of it was passionate. One of the things that impressed me most was the sense of connection to being Jewish that my friends expressed. Love it or hate it, they were all a part of the Jewish community.
After two years in Reno I moved to Berkeley, again for grad school, and again I was looking for community. This time I tried something new - I went to a synagogue. I had enjoyed hanging out with the Jews in Reno and participating in holidays and shabbat, so why not see what Judaism was like on a more regular basis. I quickly fell in love with my synagogue, and attended services regularly. I took classes on Judaism and made a bunch of friends there. I had finally found my religious home, but at that point I didn’t really think I could be Jewish; I always thought I would be an outsider. I knew conversion was a possibility, but decided I couldn’t convert unless I found a nice Jewish girl to marry. Time went on without me finding a nice Jewish girl, and I remained non-Jewish. At a certain point I realized that, no matter what, I was going to have kids, and I was going to raise my kids Jewish. Period. Then I decided that I should probably convert before having kids, because it’s just easier that way. So I called up my rabbi and started the conversion process.
My two biggest concerns were how he would feel about a queer person converting (he didn’t care) and how he would react to me not believing in God (I think he was excited, it gave us lots to talk about). Since I was already actively engaged in my synagogue, and had been for over a year, my conversion was relatively quick.About a year after I converted I started dating my nice Jewish girl, and (as one would expect with queer women) we quickly got engaged and planned our wedding. We had a big, traditional Jewish wedding with our rabbi officiating. For me, one of the happiest parts of the whole wedding process was our aufruf. The day before the wedding my wife and I shared an aliyah during services, I read from the Torah for the first time, and my wife led Musaf and gave the drash. We had friends and family there supporting us. But the most amazing part of all of that was how happy everyone in our congregation was. They all know us and love us and support us, and were so happy to see us doing what all the other sickeningly cute couples in love do. I almost burst with happiness, being surrounded by friends and family and the community I had always hoped to find.
Unfortunately, my wife and I had to move away from the Bay Area. We moved to Sacramento about six months ago, and haven’t been able to find a Jewish community here in which we feel at home. The first time we walked into the Conservative shul, holding hands because we always hold hands, a the few people we passed glared at us and ignored us when we said hello. That made me much more wary of the Jewish community in my new town, unfortunately. We’re still trying to find our place here, and I’m trying to figure out how to be Jewish in a way that fulfills me without being embedded in the strong community I love.