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Closets Photos by Wes Rowe

This is a collection of photos portraying the difficulties of being a person that the extremely religious society does not tolerate. They live in fear of losing their jobs, loved ones, and even their lives if exposed. These four stories represent a global issue of tolerance towards sexuality that is ever present in Jerusalem.

There are people all over the world who share similar stories that go unheard because of the risk associated with telling them. For this reason, everyone in these stories remain anonymous.

 

Joel

Joel is a 42 year old Israeli man who has been married for twenty two years and has two kids. Like others Joel married because he felt it was his duty as a religious man, but he has never loved his wife.

“I never longed for her or dreamed about her. She knows I don’t love her.”

Throughout his marriage he has been with other men, preferring relationships over one night stands.

“Internally I never had a hard time admitting I am gay. The choice of doing something about it was what I struggled with because of religion. I still feel like I am doing something forbidden.” When he finally told his wife after ten years of marriage she could not believe it was true and asked him to stop.

"I can’t stop it, this is who I am," he told her. She begged him not to leave her, and he agreed.

“Perhaps I am just a coward but I am afraid of finding myself at fifty, fifty-five, sixty, alone.”

Leaving his wife would mean coming out to his family, and parents, splitting the house, money, and assets, all for something he wasn’t sure would last.

"I am not happy with my life. I make my wife miserable. I know I am cruel to her."

 

Natan

Natan moved to Israel in 1967 when he was nineteen. He married shortly after and then had kids. Since the beginning he has been open with his wife about his sexuality, and when his children were old enough he told them as well.

Natan chose to marry because he loved his wife and wanted to be with her, but physically he is attracted to men. Natan does not share that aspect of his life with many people. He lives his everyday life in the closet.

“My two identities are still basically one person”.

Under the cover of this straight facade Natan is very active on gay websites posting photos and meeting men for sexual encounters. Finding men is easy for him and he averages about 3 encounters per week.

Most of the men Natan meets online are like him, married and straight to the outside world. He admits that this is not what he wants. He would prefer a man similar to himself for a long term relationship.

 

Adam and Amir

Adam and Amir are a couple living in Jerusalem. Adam is Jewish American and Amir is an Arab man from Israel. Adam came out during college but still struggles in his daily life with work and his extended family.

“Even though I try to pretend like it’s all cool, and I am open, in reality, in my mind it is very stressful.”

Amir considers himself to be very open as well, except to his parents, extended family and Arabs. At his school he is in a program where 100 out of 120 students are Arab:

“I am really uncomfortable there, I have very few friends. I am on my third year and most people I barely know, and I am definitely not going to tell them I am gay. They’ll throw stones at me.”


The complications of Adam and Amirs Jerusalem are compounded by the fact that they are an Arab/Jew couple. Adam worries that if people at his office knew he was dating an Arab man it might change their view of him completely. For Amir, a major concern is that if some of the members of his extended family found out about his relationship they might kill Adam.

"Growing up I was told 'you can do whatever you want as long as you marry a Jewish girl'," he says.

Even basic needs like shelter is difficult as a couple because not only do most landlords not want gay couples, they are prejudice against Arabs as well.

It took six months for Adam and Amir to find an apartment together, and even then they must keep their relationship a secret from the owner of the building.

"I remember the Talmud saying, marriage to a beautiful woman makes life seem longer. In my case if feels shorter."

 

Daniel

Daniel, almost 30, is from outside Tel Aviv. This is his story, in his own words:

"From the outside I look just like an ordinary guy, on the inside it is different. In the cover of words I want to open the doors of my closet and let you in to my Narnia. I carry with me two identities, I’m gay and at the same time I am a religious guy, Jewish in my case.

Both of these parameters in my life have pushed me to be deep in the closet. I suppose that any gay has to get out from some closet before his family in hope to live the life after that, not as actor, but as a man, not as Mr. Hyde, as Dr. Jekyll.

The fact that I am religious made my outing quite impossible. It started somewhere in the age of fourteen when I suddenly stopped ignoring the symptoms and understanding that something was 'wrong', and that I actually was attracted to boys instead of girls. In our community we do not talk about sex. Growing up I wasn’t sure if I was gay or just had low self confidence. In an effort to take responsibility for my life I tried to get help by telling my feelings to my rabbi.

I was not clear at all, instead of telling him “hey, I think I am a gay” I told him I was afraid to get married. When I came to the matchmaking age in my home I was twenty. My parents started looking for young women for me, with that hope that we would get married.

After my first meeting I understood I would not able to play this game alone any more. I called my mother and over the phone I said that I have “trouble with girls,” again not directly stating my problem.

My mother decided to send me to a psychologist and has never since talked with me about the subject. There I was told to get married and the strange feelings would pass. I was also told that homosexuality is not real, it’s all in my mind, Which I didn’t want to believe, but I was convinced to change and to be 'normal.' At last, after many matchmaking dates I decided to get married.

I am now celebrating my fifth year of being married, and now I have two lovely kids. It’s funny but I thought, if I put my gay nature in the closet and I sacrifice my live to marriage, things would work. The stress and the pain inside force me sooner or later to tour my feelings inside, and to try the taste of a male.

You might say I am betraying my wife, I say I m a survivor! I find now that no matter if I decide ignore my nature or not I will always have to deal with it.

Even though I experience lots of grey days, I am not sure I will take the step of getting divorced. First, I am not sure I will get more than I have now, but the main reason is, I am afraid to harm my innocent two daughters lives. I suppose it’s a good personal lesson of mine learning that raising children and taking a responsibility in a given situation is greater than having my own symphony.

I want to tell my story so that if there is any guy in my condition who is afraid of the fact that he is gay, that he will let other people force him (you can actually say seduce) to not deal with his feelings. I want you to know they are wrong. I do not mean it is wrong to get married, I mean it is wrong not be connected to yourself. It is your only identity you have other identities will be bad mask, secondly you will soon be forced to deal with your deeper feelings coming back stronger like a boomerang."

 

 

Closets

Each of these stories is unique in the fact that they are specific to the person telling them, but the issues are global. Men and women all over the world live in fear of coming out of the closet for many reasons, and even go to great lengths to hide their sexuality. Hopefully stories like these bring people closer to dealing with the problem by bringing the issue to light.

Last modified on Sunday, 13 May 2012 01:10
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Wes Rowe

Wes Rowe is an American photographer who has studied at San Francisco State University, California.

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