Shloimy Notik is a copywriter with a long line of top agencies to his name. His current project? A book about his own experiences in gay conversion therapy.
Coming out to his Orthodox family was one thing, writing a book about it is another. Shloimy writes of his self-discovery with clarity and deep honesty. We were honored to talk to Shloimy about his story.
How old were you when you first started attending gay conversion therapy? How did you wind up in these sessions?
I was 20, five months away from turning 21. The headline is that when I came out to my parents -- who are rockstars and exemplary people in all of their roles -- they simply did not know what to do. Would their dear son Shloimy be happy? Would people bully him? Would he not have a fair shot at marrying a nice Jewish girl, settling down, and having a family? They put out some feelers and quickly discovered JONAH, 'Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality.'
While I didn't have a problem with being gay, and coming out felt like dropping a million pounds I was carrying around for so long, it made sense to me that being straight would be an easier path. And this place JONAH said that change was possible. They even touted men who had 'successfully' gone through the program. I figured, What's the worst that can happen?, and started going.
I often tell people, yeah, my family suggested it, but it was me that took the train to Jersey City twice a week for 8 months. Accountability. It's a good thing.
As you delved deeper into the therapy, what kind of realizations did you discover about conversion therapy and yourself?
I was able to ask lots of questions. And just like in advertising, questions lead to clarity. The more I delved into who I was and how my family felt about it, the more I learned about the theories of 'conversion' or 'reparative therapy.' The more I twisted and turned the Rubik's cube and looked at it from every angle, I began to see very clearly what was right for me and what wasn't.
Also, while going to JONAH, I met Mordechai Levovitz, the Executive Director of a support group called JQY (Jewish Queer Youth). My parents and the co-founder of JONAH felt attending JQY meetings and events would “distract” me from the “hard work” I had to put in at JONAH. But I saw it as part of the experience. It gave me the ability to compare and contrast the different thoughts and feelings I had in these seemingly opposite worlds. Ultimately, after 8 months at JONAH, I left the group and my private sessions.
When did you realize that your experience was something that you needed to write about?
Throughout history, writing has always been used as a tool to bring difficult aspects of life and some very hurt people to a place of peace. By writing about it, I'm allowing myself to face the next portion of my life in an entirely different way. My writing has been a huge step towards living more peacefully, lovingly and compassionately. In a weird way, I see writing this book as closing one chapter so I can turn to the next. Because, just like reading a book, we can't really open the new chapter until we've understood the old one. Writing is thinking, so it's a way to understand ourselves.
Tell us about your decision to go public about this. What has that experience been like? What's been the response?
As Mark Twain famously said, 'Write what you know.' I know going through 8 months of conversion therapy, because I lived through it. And instead of sharing a teeny tiny isolated nugget of truth about my experience, I think it's perfectly OK to share the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Not just OK, but actually very necessary.
The response has been amazing. I posted a 'life event' on Facebook about leaving my full time job to focus on the book. Immediately there was a huge flood of people reaching out with support and letting me know how excited they are to read it. What's crazy, though, is that even people I've never met are messaging me and sharing their deeply personal stories.
Only one person has criticized me by saying a history has already been written in this field and that it feels dishonest of me to portray myself as someone who cares about making a difference. But this only confirms for me why I need to share things from my point of view. Based on a lot of the narratives that have surfaced in the press on this subject, it's very likely this individual and many others assume I have an agenda to put people in their place, and prove that I was right and they were wrong.
But that's far too simple. It's a somewhat more complicated story. People can love you, want the best for you and still end up unintentionally hurting you. And we can only play the victim card for so long.
So yeah, I don't plan to humiliate, shame or punish anyone. My book won't be an instrument of revenge, but rather a deeply personal firsthand account of my journey to understanding.
What is some advice you can give to people who might be feeling similar pressures to be someone they're not?
It takes too much energy to be someone you're not. You live once. And there are far too many interesting, amazing things to accomplish, that devoting any mental or emotional real estate to other people's ideas of who or what you should be is a total waste of time.
Working at a bunch of advertising agencies, I've learned that everyone has their own idea of what the right answer is. It's important to be open to other perspectives, but it's also perfectly acceptable to believe that our own POV is the right POV.
I've become somewhat addicted to shattering my preconceived notions. Because when I realize things aren't how I always thought they were, it gives me permission to dream bigger and accomplish things I probably hold myself back from doing.
This interview was originally published on Free Range, the Working Not Working blog.