Monday, July 14, 2008

The Elephant In The Room

Elephant in the room
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The elephant in the room (also elephant in the living room, elephant in the corner, elephant on the dinner table, elephant in the kitchen, and horse in the corner) is an
English idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. It is based on the idea that an elephant in a small room would be impossible to overlook.
It is sometimes used to refer to a question or problem that is obvious, but which is ignored out of embarrassment or taboo. The idiom also implies a
value judgment that the issue ought to be discussed openly.
The term is often used to describe an issue that involves a social
taboo, such as racism or religion, which everyone understands to be an issue but which no one is willing to admit.
The idiom is commonly used in
addiction recovery terminology to describe the reluctance of friends and family of an addicted person to discuss the person's problem, thus aiding the person's denial.
The idiom is also occasionally invoked as a "
pink elephant", possibly in reference to alcohol abuse, or for no other reason than that a pink elephant would be more visible than a normal elephant.

If you refer to the posting entitled "You can no more make amends for the damage your words have done..." which I wrote after Pesach in reaction to my son's outing by one of his oldest friends, I discussed the fact that once words, like feathers, become scatterred, it is virtually impossible to take back what was said.

Since my son was outed by his friend, we have noticed that people have been looking at us kind of funny. This weekend, our suspicions were confirmed.

We invited a couple to our house for Shabbat lunch. This particular couple became our friends because their daughter was a friend and classmate of our son. We sat and talked over lunch and through dessert. Finally, just before they were about to leave I asked "so what has your daughter told you about our son?" The wife turned pale and began to stammer. I went on to say, "look there is this elephant standing in the room, so why don't you just tell us what you know." After regaining her composure, she told us that her daughter found out about our son during Pesach. When pressed, she also told us that she had been fielding calls from people who are not our friends, who, "because enquiring minds want to know", were asking if the rumors were true. Our friends admitted that people were calling them, not out of concern for our son, or for us, but because they were being nosy and cruel.

The next day, we were invited to a Simchat Bat and a breakfast following. The mother of the infant is a friend of my son, so many of his contemporaries, as well as many of our contemporaries, were present at the breakfast. The elephant was looming so large in the banquet hall of the synagogue, that not one of these young adults, who used to spend time in my house, nor any of our contemporaries, had the courage to come over to us to say hello. To those people who we approached, the discomfort could be cut like a knife.
It was as if we had a contagious disease.

So to my son's good friend, who felt it was most important to email everyone on her contact list to report that my son is gay, I offer my deepest gratitude. When the elephant leaves the room, two things remain. One of the remains is the knowledge of who is and who is not a real friend.

Saul David


Jay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yaakov said...

i don't have much to add, but i just felt that what happened to your family deserves a response. i want you to know that i think the reaction of all of those people is disgusting. i guess the way you put it is the best way to look at it - it shows you who your friends are.
i wouldn't be shocked if the same thing happened to me and my family. and this is one reason i feel the need to hide, even when some of my online friends wonder why i don't come out.
i feel for you all, and i hope things turn out better in the long run.

NoPeanutz said...

"Enquiring minds want to know"

...Surely you cannot deny that an openly gay and shomer mitzvot homosexual is a curiosity in the Orthodox community. Especially in the case of someone you know personally.

Because these people (frum gays) are so hidden secretive and locked away, and also because of the possibilities that their lifestyle presents (rethinking of halachic norms?) I do not fault those mentioned in this post who express curiosity or fascination at your son's lifestyle.

Is there a pink elephant? Undoubtedly. Are people fascinated with it? Yes, but only because they have never seen a pink elephant before. And Mr. and Mrs. David are Pink Elephants even more so than their gay son- most adults might know someone who is gay. But how many of them know someone who is gay and shomer shabbat/kashrut (SS/K) and then know their parents and close family as well, that have sworn to support him and accept his very controversial lifestyle?

Most SSKs I know were brought up being taught that being gay is a terrible sin, taught that parents must sit shiva for a gay child, and mourn that child as dead. Troubling (and harmful?) ideas indeed. The Davids' acceptance of their son as gay is a relief for other SSKs as much as it is for the son...that if an SSK thinks that a gay person deserves better than our society teaches, this is not something to feel guilty about.

Do not confuse curiosity and fascination with disapproval.

If these people are friends, then they are probably studying how you are dealing with the issue, in order to calibrate their own confused emotions.

Like it or not, Mr. David, you are thrust in to the role of the professional, someone with more experience and knowledge about dealing with SSK homosexuals in your family than anyone else in your community- from whom everyone else takes their cues. It sounds like what you mistake for judging glares could just be "enquiring minds," not about your sons lifestyle, but about what is an appropriate way to approach him and his family since he has come to grips with his sexuality. Just because somebody screwed up and told the world about your son being gay, it does not mean that everyone she told is as malicious. Also, because this one person abused the privileged information trusted to her, it is fine if you feel betrayed...but it would be wrong to hold it against everyone else for knowing.

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