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Religion, Culture, and Asexuality

Freedom Requires Wings | by on




I have never considered myself to be a religious person. I am Jewish, but I identify with it much more as a culture than as a religion.

Growing up, my family was never very involved in Jewish life. I went to Hebrew School starting in second grade and continued only through my Bat Mitzvah. We only went to services on High Holidays, except when further attendance was required for Hebrew School.

In my adult life, I have only gone to services on High Holidays, and all of the holiday celebrations that we observe are generally more cultural than religious. My husband’s family was much more involved in Jewish life, to the point where his mom was actually the president of their synagogue for a time. They attended Shabbat services every Friday night, and also participated in religious aspects of a few other holidays in addition to the High Holidays. So naturally, my husband seeks out involvement in Jewish life now much more than I do.

As such, he’s gotten involved with a local group started by a friend of his, which markets itself as a group where young adults in the community can interact with their Judaism in different, more affordable, and less formal ways than joining a synagogue. I have zero interest in participating in this group, but I occasionally tag along to an event with him if it’s something I would enjoy anyway. Yesterday, I joined them at an event of tailgating and going to a baseball game. So, you may ask, what does all this have to do with sexual orientation? On the surface, next to nothing. But somehow, involvement with Judaism, even in such an informal setting, always makes me feel uncomfortable about my asexuality.

Judaism’s attitudes about sexuality in general have always confused me. They send very mixed messages, depending on what “denomination” of Judaism you look at. In Orthodox Judaism, women and men are always kept separated. In their synagogues, they have a men’s section and a women’s section for congregants to sit in, and women still do not count towards the number needed for services to take place. Even at weddings, the dance floor is divided by a physical barrier, and the men dance on one side and women on the other. This includes the bride and groom (actually, this is where the tradition of lifting the bride and groom in chairs originated – in Orthodox weddings, they are each lifted on their side of the barrier, and they each hold one end of a piece of cloth. This is how they “dance” together at their own wedding.). Before marriage, men and women may not so much as touch one another. No holding hands, no kissing, and certainly no sexual activity of any kind. Then, once they are married, women are expected to just continuously pop out babies, to grow the Jewish population and because it’s a mitzvah (good deed). It absolutely boggles my mind that they expect that after being strictly prohibited from any contact with men, women will suddenly have both the desire and the know-how to all of a sudden have enough sex to procreate constantly once they are married. Again, this is specific to Orthodox Judaism.

Conservative and Reform Judaism, on the other hand, have evolved with the times to become much more egalitarian. Men and women sit together during services and dance together at weddings. And both denominations (we don’t call them denominations, but there isn’t really a better word to describe what they are) have accepted gay marriage – so even if you can’t legally get married in your state, as far as the religion is concerned, it is 100% legitimate for you to get married. However, even with all of this progress (some of it fairly recent), there is still the expectation for women to start popping out babies once they’re married. Both my husband and I grew up in the Conservative Jewish tradition. So in addition to the pressure from our own families, there is also a tremendous amount of pressure from the larger community for us to have kids. Most people aren’t even subtle about it, especially in Judaism-related settings (at services, or weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, etc.). It’s not taboo at all for them to make comments about our reproductive life (or at this point, lack thereof).

So even in a group like the one at the event yesterday, of young adults (mostly late 20s to mid 30s, a few slightly older), many of whom also do not have kids yet, it just feels uncomfortable to me. Knowing that it’s just assumed and expected among these people that we will eventually have kids (even if they don’t actually care or even think about it, which is likely, I still feel hyper-aware of the fact that I’m “different”) can be difficult for me to navigate, especially at this point in my life, when I’m butting up against my own timetable for myself, and wanting so badly to have kids. I feel like I need to state, for the record, that this is not the only reason why I distance myself from this group, or from Judaism in general. It’s not even the primary reason. It’s more just a byproduct, a “side effect”, if you will, of spending any extended amount of time around other members of the Jewish community en masse. But since it just happened yesterday, it was fresh on my mind, and I felt it was blog-worthy because I know many people feel isolated or excluded by their religions for reasons similar to this. I am lucky that my religious culture is generally fairly accepting and tolerant of the LGBT community. I am not so lucky in that I don’t feel like asexuality fits in to that culture very well (if at all), and as such, I don’t feel confident that I would be accepted if they knew.
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