I met Terri who was wearing a volunteer tag and assisting mobility impaired participants at a conference. Six of us met at a restaurant while waiting for separate tables, and ended up agreeing to sit at one large table in order to be seated sooner. Terri explained she enjoyed serving as a volunteer in order to be able to attend parts of it for free.
Terri was quite a tomboy with her buttoned down shirt tucked into pants held up with a big black belt. She had a flop of straight brown hair that flipped back and forth over her eye glasses, and a bright, quick laugh reminiscent of the ungendered character named “Pat“ from Saturday Night Live.
But Terri soon proved to be a much more introspective person than her casual male attire hinted at. Terri explained how she had not seen her family since she left home twenty years ago at the age of 18 because, “she was different and her parents didn’t accept it.” She said, “I always knew I was different” but explained there had been no exchange of phone calls, cards, or letters with family since leaving.
Terri wore a wedding band and explained the special person in her life was named Bobbi, who sometimes used a wheelchair due to her having diabetic neuropathy. Terri and Bobbi had been together since Terri came to California over twenty years ago. Terri proudly explained she took care of Bobbi and the pride in her face showed she thrived on being needed and wanted.
When I inquired about Terri’s job, she proudly explained, “I protect my synagogue.” She had begun working security part-time at the synagogue and had worked her way into a fulltime position. Terri proudly added that with her fulltime position, she was able to take care of herself and Bobbi.
Terri explained her conversion to Judaism which was in process, was due to Bobbi, who had fought constantly with her mother while growing up, but in the end, had left home and announced to her family she was claiming her father’s religion and was going to be Jewish from that day forward. Terri decided that she wanted to be the same religion as Bobbi.
Both women were then faced with which synagogue to join. Terri explained, “Out of the five local synagogues, we chose the one where the Rabbi had a partner. We felt it was our best chance to be accepted.” Throughout our entire conversation, no one ever used the words “gay,” “lesbian,” or “homosexual,” yet our communication was clear.
I learned something important from Terri that evening during dinner. I realized the words “gay,” “lesbian,” and “homosexual” had taken on a negativity not reflected in Terri’s spirit. It made me wonder if the usage of these negative words was intentionally injected by the heterosexual writers for the news media?
Terri now has a mission in her life and a purpose. She is caring for Bobbi, protecting her synagogue, and making a personal decision to change her religion. Terri is contributing to the betterment of herself and her community. Mazel Tov!