Who I Am

I read a story about a Jewish boy eating a slice of non-kosher pizza and I break down sobbing.

An Orthodox boy, breaking, in a little way at first, one of the most symbolic and tightly held rules of his (our) people. Breaking kashrut and custom and defying divine demands.

 

And he asks his mom—recently non-orthodox, but still nervous, still not comfortable— “Will you still like who I am if someday I decide to eat some with pepperoni too?”

 

And I break, I fall apart, because I can’t stop asking myself that question, and I still desperately want to ask my mom that question too.

 

“Will you like who I am?”

“Do you like who I am now?”

 

Will you like who I am when I walk down the street holding another man’s hand, where everyone can see me? Will you like who I am when there’s someone I refer to with the word “boyfriend”? Will you like who I am if I kiss him, if I have sex, if I spend the night at his house, if we move in together, if we get married and start a family—just like you?

Will you like who I am?

Do you like who I am now?

 

Now that I watch TV shows and explicitly, unabashedly find the men attractive and sometimes cheer when they take their shirts off.

Now that I read gay books openly on the subway and the bus,

Now that I’ve danced at a gay club and want to go back,

Now that I drink sometimes, now that I’ve gotten tipsy and really liked it, now that I swear and don’t really go to church anymore, just because it’s hard—too hard—to go alone, and now that I would never consider going back to a church with a “traditional” definition of marriage, now that I’m not sure how I feel about sex, now that I’m thinking about going on PrEP and buying condoms.

Now that I badmouth the way you raised me, parts of the childhood you worked so hard to give me.

Do you like who I am?

Do I even like who I am?

And my breath catches in my throat when I ask that last question. Because I know the answer. Because I still sit quietly, and whisper to myself "I don't like me." And I wish someone would. I wish someone would like me so that I would have permission to start trying to like me too.

 

Am I even allowed to, if you might not?

Does God?

Does God really like me, and who I am? 

 

I can’t take the world that I’m living in now, the vividness of it, the searing blaze of the pain in it, the lucid feverishness of the pleasure, the stabbing power of its new small joys.

It’s too much, an assault on senses still cave-blind and strained from the silence.

It’s too sweet, too sour, too harsh and soft and bitter.

I’m so small and I am drowning in the pleasure of it as well as the pain, overwhelmed by the despair it threatens and the hope it offers. Sometimes (frequently, all the time) overwhelmed by just the newness of it all.

I don’t know how to be anything but numb to the rush of all these new things, because I can’t take it all in.

 

The story ends that way, the little Jewish boy’s, with the ferocity of his mother’s assurance that his life is his path, and filled with his choices and the unswaying endurance of her love, and his solemn proclamation that “this is the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.”

I don’t know how to eat this new world. It all tastes like chalk.

I’m too scared of tasting anything else.

If I taste it, and I like it,

will I like who I am anymore?