‘No agenda, only me’

‘No agenda, only me’

An Englewood native personalizes an issue

Tamar Prager was trained as a nurse practitioner and public health analyst at Columbia University. She lives with her wife and two sons in Stamford, Conn., but she will always love her hometown, Englewood.

With the Supreme Court’s monumental decision this summer, the same tiresome, offensive rhetoric has been stirred up again, attempting to embody the gravitas their users hope for.

For some audiences the rhetoric proves successful, but for me, my family, my friends, and thousands more, it has fallen flat for the umpteenth time. In particular, these talking points often include the terms “gay agenda,” “gay activist,” and the most irksome, “gay lifestyle.” These phrases roll around too often in people’s mouths, and have become a kind of crutch for those seeking to strike down the legitimacy of gays and lesbians seeking rights. I’ve thought them through so many times, and have concluded that not only have they never applied to me, but they don’t make much sense when used as blanket terms. However, they remain fixtures in people’s language, conceptualizations born of ignorance and likely fear of the unknown.

There is no agenda; there is only me.

I am a 39-year-old Jewish woman with a wife and two sons. I was raised in Englewood, a product of a two-parent household with three siblings and three pets. I attended a local Jewish day school and spent 18 years embedded in the community, growing friendships and learning about the world through a modern Orthodox lens.

I am a hard worker, with four Columbia University degrees. I am a nurse practitioner and a full-time mother, putting everything I am into my children’s day-to-day lives. I do not have a gay agenda. Any agenda I do have is one about working to keep my relationships healthy and pushing my often tired self to do more and learn more, to live a satisfying life.

Anyone who has met me, if even just for five minutes, would agree that I’m no activist. It’s not a dirty term, it just doesn’t describe me. However, am I intellectually a proponent of securing more standing and rights from my own government? Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be? Does it make me a radical to yearn for such things? And to rejoice upon receiving them? Straight readers, imagine yourself falling below the horizon, below a place of respect and understanding, all while seeing your peers handed the respect and rights you feel you deserve and have earned.

Would you not rejoice if such obstacles were overcome?

And let me be clear. If after reading this piece, you still believe that my life merits the term “gay lifestyle,” so be it. But please read carefully. I see my lifestyle more aptly described by the terms Jewish, suburban, and northeasterner, as opposed to say, a kibbutznik, or Midwestern dairy farmer, or a Cape Cod fisherman.

I live in the northeast, along the water, right off the I-95 New England corridor. I spend money on a comfortable home, Stop and Shop groceries, occasional non-essential specialty items from gourmet food stores. I make time for NPR while I sauté onions and zucchini, and place my mother’s roasted chicken recipe into the oven. My lifestyle is defined by what my hands and my heart are most often involved in. And that is rearing my two sons, a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, while running a household. Everything is with them or for them; talking, singing, reading, playing with cars, with the dollhouse, teaching them how to catch a ball. And after my wife and I have put them to bed, we’re ready to go to sleep ourselves. I have carried, and kissed, and hugged, and soothed, and run, and bent over for 14 hours. And most tiring of all — I have taught them about kindness, and patience, and why plants and insects shouldn’t be squashed and ripped apart. I have worked hard to build consistency, humor, and love into daily routines.

And if there is anything left, well, I talk with my wife. I read the New York Times. I have granite countertops (not that I care much) and an SUV. That is my lifestyle, as far as I can tell.

In addition to these phrases there are faulty inferences. They abound among a certain set, and espouse grandiose, troubling repercussions of gay marriage. And to that, once again, I say take a closer look. If you don’t know a gay married couple, seek one out, or better yet, seek out a few, and take a hard look at them.

Start with my marriage. Under the weight of the same struggles that straight married couples bear, we trod ahead, doing our best with each other, and some days are far from our best. And those of us with children: we sacrifice, and learn, and love, working hard to create a life for them day after day. Some of those days sparkle, and some merely leave us depleted. Yet that is the essence of the grit that we use to keep our marriages and families afloat.

There are no sinister specks lurking, working to bring about the destruction of American or Jewish values. We too seek to maintain deep connections to those traditions and religious institutions that are a part of our history. We look to marriage and family for solace and enjoyment, to enrich our lives in the ways that you do. Or perhaps we don’t seek it. But that is just it. We are you, and you are us. Overcome your fear and you will see yourself in us — perhaps in small, inconsequential ways, but we live a shared existence, a similar life experience. Without agendas, radical ideas, and strange, foreign lifestyles, we are no worse, and we are no better than you.

We simply are.

To those people who lead communities, standing at the helm and shaping others’ ideas, I respectfully say to you: my thoughts speak to why gay Jews shouldn’t be written about as an unsavory minority by community leaders. I recommend a careful, respectful approach when writing about gay Jews, focusing on ways to strengthen and uplift the community, rather than on heaping scorn and shame on those who are different. Caustic references that paint us in immoral ways do not serve to strengthen the reader or better the Jewish community on the whole. They only weaken and beat us down.

By all concrete metrics, my marriage has not destroyed anybody. It has not weakened the fabric of Judaism or the American body politic. To the contrary, it has emboldened and uplifted those involved. Don’t take my word for it. Ask them. In spite of my fierce desire to convince critics of gay marriage that my 10-year marriage to a woman has, at best, strengthened society, and at worst had no effect on it, I turn down that task.

But I do wish to leave you with this. While religiously inspired viewpoints in the media don’t call for outright ostracism of gay men and women, the rampant use of negative terms leads unequivocally to shaming, to reprimanding, and ultimately to shunning. Human beings who are portrayed as the “other” can only find a lonely end. There are a myriad of synagogues and Jewish day schools that are proud to open their doors to me, my wife, and our sons. I believe they actually see an opportunity to enrich their communities, and for that I am grateful and applaud their acts. But to those leaders who continue to take pride in doctrinaire attitudes and closed doors, take a moment to imagine what your legacy will be.

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