For starters, to protect the young person involved, no names or identifying information is used in this story, but all the essential facts are true.
The past few days, I went on a trip to what I call the Druze Galilee. There’s an area largely north of Karmiel where there’s Druze village after Druze village and they’re all absolutely gorgeous. Here’s a map and some pretty pictures:
It’s a beautiful, peaceful place where I enjoyed practicing my Arabic. I love speaking Arabic, but due to fanaticism among some sectors of society, I can’t speak it comfortably everywhere especially as a Jew and as an Israeli (and sometimes even an American). What’s great about Druze villages is they, by and large, wholeheartedly accept me as a Jewish Israeli and are thrilled to see a Jew taking interest in their language and culture.
Early in my trip, I was walking up a hill and a young man, 17 almost 18 years old, pulled over his moped and said hi. As with all my stories from this trip, pretty much everything was in Arabic with a sprinkling of Hebrew. He asked where I was going and offered to get me in the right direction. So I hopped on with him and he drove.
I felt free, riding around in the countryside, babbling in Arabic as the wind swept across my face. A young Druze boy showing me around his beautiful neck of the woods. Couldn’t get better. I asked him to pull over to take some pictures. He begged me not to get off- “we could go for a trip!”. I asked him to wait a second as I took some pictures. Because suddenly there were goats in the way! Tons and tons of goats! I was so excited- having spent most of my life in cities, it was pretty exciting to see goats on the road!
While I took pictures of the goats, the young man started asking me questions- questions I often get from young Arab kids here. “Do you have a girlfriend or boyfriend in Tel Aviv?” I said no. “But if you had one, would it be a boyfriend or girlfriend?” he said with hesitation. “Boyfriend,” I said. “Boyfriend? Like male or female? Or like the ones who change their gender?” “Nope, just a boyfriend. A man and a man together.”
I waited for the reaction. It was a gamble on my part. We were pretty much alone on a wooded path at least 100 meters from a main street. I know absolutely nobody in the area. He has a moped and I have…a cellphone? In the end, you don’t know how people will react. Druze, while extraordinarily accepting of my Judaism, are known for being quite socially conservative including on gay issues. Not like certain right-wing Christians in the U.S. who try to influence the law because of it. But conservative nonetheless. And I was the only Israeli Jew for several miles around. I had never been to this part of Israel.
Trusting my good instincts and what seemed to be his good nature, I stood there with him, next to his moped. And it turns out, I not only made a good choice, I may have done a mitzvah. A good deed. He continued to ask me all sorts of questions about gay people and my life. Dating, romance, sex, even the wild world of the internet. Of course some things I just wasn’t comfortable sharing- to respect my privacy and to remember that he’s 17 years old. But I did share what I thought was relevant and helpful and appropriate.
After the 20th question, I asked him: “are you asking me these questions because you yourself are curious?” And he said: “maybe…could we do something?”
I smiled. On some level, I was flattered. Also intrigued that this guy knew I was gay simply by meeting me on the street. And that he had a comfort level to ask me these (sometimes invasive but well-intentioned) questions. We had a nice moment. It makes me smile to think a Druze teenager propositioned me. 17 year old me would’ve loved such a moment. If I weren’t being abused by my family and subjected to rabid homophobia at school, in sports, even sometimes in synagogue- I would’ve come out sooner and maybe I could’ve had more high school romances. Maybe even with a Druze guy!
And the reality was that I was 32 and he was a minor. I wanted to be supportive of his desire to learn more and also had to draw some clear limits. I explained to him why we couldn’t have sex and he was disappointed. He asked me: “there are other guys in the village- they have sex with men, but I’m not sure they’re gay. If I have sex with a man, does it mean I’m gay?”
I told him: “you have to discover that for yourself. Some people try things and it’s more of an experience. Some people feel it fits them. It’s up to you.”
I thought back to an earlier part of our conversation when he asked me how I knew I was gay. I’ve gotten this question millions of times from liberal Americans and it frustrates the hell out of me. Nobody asks them when they figured out when they were straight. Because it’s something you feel, it’s not something you wake up in the morning and decide. The only reason we have to discover it is because society assumes we’re not gay from the day we’re born. And we have to uncover an identity hidden from us, that nobody will bestow upon us. After often years of estrangement, many (though not all) of us come to realize who we are and what we like. It can be exhausting and quite hard.
Before I realized this young man was curious about his own identity, I had told him: “well, I know I’m gay just like you know you’re straight. You just are. How did you know you were straight?”
And then I realized: he didn’t know. He doesn’t. And he may never know.
This young man was not any old Druze. He’s a religious Druze. There are secular and religious Druze- the latter take on many more responsibilities along with special dress and customs. He’s dated girls some and seems to like it- I’m not sure to what extent. If he lived in a more liberal society, perhaps he’d be out by now. I don’t know. Maybe he’s bi. Maybe he’s gay. Maybe he’s straight and just trying things out. I don’t know. And I hope, even with the pressures of the society around him- a society I love dearly- that he can figure out the best path forward for him.
If that’s coming out and risking family disapproval or being cut off- I wish him well. He did mention one family in the village that had a gay son living elsewhere in Israel with a boyfriend- who accepted him. That’s pretty awesome. Maybe he’ll get married and have trysts (or maybe not)- I hope he’s happy. I’m not here to judge him. It’s hard to straddle multiple identities- and in the case of being Druze and (maybe) gay- it must be difficult. You shouldn’t have to give up one part of yourself to be another. And the reality is negotiating that balance, as hard as it is, might be worth it. I pray for his well-being and his happiness.
I saw the disappointment on his face when I said no to a romantic tryst in the woods (but readers- I am single, so if you’re of age, I do like the idea of kissing under a cedar 😉 ). I bid him goodbye with this blessing: “good luck habibi, bnjaa7! find someone your age 😉 It’ll be OK”.
He smiled as he went down the mountain on his moped. Teenage Matt and Matah were smiling. I hope I did for him what I wish more people had done for me at his age.
My milkshake brings all the Druze to the yard. Now if only I can find one my own age… 😉
P.S.- the cover photo isn’t a pride flag, it’s a Druze one! Now tell me that beautiful rainbow flag wouldn’t look fabulous in a pride parade some day carried by some exceedingly hot Druze guys? 🙂