What I learned From Kissing Men
Josef Shapiro

By my third year in college, I was severely depressed. I had dead-ended academia. It was no longer a challenge, because I figured out how to play the game, and I realized none of what I learned would help me in life. I'd also dead-ended Ju-Jujitsu, which turned me into a more of a jerk, and body-building, which accentuated my arrogance probably more than my physique.

I was in the best shape of my life. And I was in terrible shape. I seriously considered dropping out.

Then I had a realization: I was bi-sexual.

The whole world opened up. My depression disappeared. I walked differently. I pierced my other ear. I felt alive with possibility.

Then I kissed a man for the first time. I still remember the way the stubble felt against my cheek, and hardness of his chest against mine. I didn't like it, but only slightly discouraged, I stuck with my new idea for a while longer. Maybe he just wasn't the right guy.

The period of exploration lasted almost a year. Discovering what it was really about took me decades. It was largely a search for meaning that covered a deep sense of existential meaninglessness and disconnection from Divinity. That was the real problem.

How can so many Americans take the side of Palestine? What causes gun massacres? Why has the percentage of non-heterosexual identification doubled in the last ten years? Why did Diane Feinstein serve as a senator literally until the day she died, at age ninety, far beyond her ability to do the job? How is the new speaker of the house an election denier who thinks the separation of church and state is to protect the church?

When things don't make sense, we look for logical explanations and this is a mistake. It causes frustration, pain, and division. We need to be curious about what goes on at the deepest level of emotion. Our world is in a crisis of meaninglessness that is at the root of many problems.

To be clear, I'm not at all saying that non-sis-gender people aren't what they say they are. Many are and I support everyone's right to explore their identity, but I'm sure I'm not the only person to have ever been confused. And if someone is deeply offended and seeks to get a professor fired for being "misgendered," well, then I'd say the degree to which you grip your identity may be the degree to which you're afraid it isn't true.

I'd say the same thing to anyone who felt they had to fight for what they believe, because fighting doesn't make sense. But it takes a long time to truly learn that. That's why we still have war.

Anti-semitism is in the news again these days and what bothers me about the word is how it encapsulates feelings, thoughts, and actions. We have laws that prevent prejudicial actions. Not-hiring someone because their Jewish is illegal. But is it okay to hate Jews if you don't act on that hate? It seems like we're not so clear about that, because we call that anti-semitism as well. Hate is protected by free speech, but that's threatened these days, especially when people redefine harsh words as violence. That's a slippery slope indeed! It's an understandable but misguided attempt to deal with a problem whose root causes have not yet been agreed upon.

Word-choice change is based on the idea that "bad thoughts" somehow lead to bad actions, but this isn't how it actually works. The repression of unclear, confused thoughts causes bad action, like when you put your thumb over a garden hose. The intense vitriol by the left against racism these days isn't healing racists, it just drives it underground to fester. They do the very thing they fight against, and become it. Wokeness is social justice fundamentalism pitted against right-wing fundamentalism.

I would love to have a beer with someone who hates Jews so much it's a hobby. That's interesting! I'm buying. I'd pay to sit down with the leaders of Hamas. I bet we would agree on a lot of the shadow aspects of the culture in which I was raised. I could tell them some stories about how much I hated Hebrew school and how the only saving grace was getting drunk on Manischewitz. I could share with them how much I disliked how my family related via suffering and complaining, how they didn't really believe the religion they said they subscribed to, and how much that sapped the aliveness and passion from our lives.

[Aside: if you're thinking I'm a "self-hating Jew" right now, you just failed to be curious. That's how quickly it happens.]

Maybe that kind of validation would make them feel heard enough so we could talk about what the real issue is, because getting rid of Jews isn't going to make them feel better and somewhere inside them they know it. They just don't realize it yet and need help. Wiping out Hamas isn't going to make Israelis feel better either, because they'll be replaced by a new group with the same views. They definitely know this, but don't know what other options they have.

It's very difficult to not accept an action and be heartfully curious about the motive at the same time. Most people cannot do this, but it's really what we need. The world is in an emotional health crisis where control is failing and all the pain comes to the surface. Ratcheting up control-based repression won't help. Thought police won't help. Taking sides won't help. We have to get curious about what's really going on, because it's at the level of our emotional wounds where we are all the same.

It took me decades to face my depression and signficantly heal it. I distracted myself from it with many more things after college. What I needed was someone who in some ways knew me better than I knew myself, someone who got and felt what it was like to be me, someone with a heart so open it made me open mine. That's what I was looking for all along. We all need that, and when we don't have it, we do bad things for understandable reasons because we're in pain. We all need someone to help us find the understandable, unconscious reasons we do things that aren't who we are, so we can become who we truly are.

Do you have someone like this in your life? Being this person for others is my favorite thing to do now. It's how we all get what we need. That's how we make the world a better place: by beginning with our inner worlds, not by castigating the worlds of others.

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