When I was growing up, I seemed like a happy, carefree child. Although I was a good student, well-behaved and surrounded by loving friends and family, I felt alone.
I didn't want to be different, so I did my best to ignore my feelings and “fit in”. These feelings, however, wouldn't let up. By the time I was a teenager, I was so disconnected that I jumped at the chance to connect with complete strangers through a new invention - the internet.
Suddenly, I had access to new cultures and people from all walks of life. As I explored, I expanded my narrow view of the world. A couple of years later, I even made a meaningful connection. He said he was my age and openly identified as gay. Our chats were fascinating, engaging and exciting. I found myself opening up and feeling truly comfortable for the first time. I was also scared. Especially when we discussed meeting up in real life. In 1998, we didn't have Google, Tinder, social media. You couldn't even send a photo. Still, I could no longer settle for the alternative and found the courage to face the unknown.
That was an exhilarating year of firsts: befriending him and his eclectic group of gay friends, meeting their accepting families, experiencing gay spaces and events, and I finally knew I belong. My feelings were not a phase or choice, but an acceptable way of life that I could be happy in.
Still, there was discomfort around my family. When my mom asked me about my new friend and if he had a girlfriend, I laughed and said, "No, he's gay". The look on her face changed to one of concern: "What if people see you with him and think you’re gay too?". She feared I would be judged, ostracized or even harmed. She was so upset that after that conversation, we avoided speaking of it again. For years, I hid parts of my life from my parents to the point where they knew nothing about it.
It was during my first serious relationship that my mom put two and two together and asked if "that boy" was my boyfriend. That led to an open and honest conversation that dispelled her fears and many of the false stereotypes she was exposed to back then in the media. She learned I was happy and safe, and I learned that I have an ally in my mom.
My dad was a different story. He wouldn’t hear about it and successfully avoided the topic of my sexual identity, until my grandfather's funeral forced those parts of my life to collide. As friends and family gathered to share their condolences, my father met my boyfriend and was shocked to see a lovely human being. Certainly, not some monster. He watched everyone’s reaction, as they gushingly adored my boyfriend, inviting him to family events. Something in him changed. From that day on, my dad took a genuine interest in my life and welcomed my boyfriend into our home.
About 10 years ago, I started my own drag group called HaMeduzot (Hebrew for “The Jellyfish” or “The Medusas”). Starting out we performed at small private venues and today we are invited to perform at big corporate events. I am soooo proud of how far we’ve come! Our friends and family wanted to see what we do, so we decided to produce our very own drag show. We ended up performing in one of the most coveted venues in Tel Aviv in front of hundreds of our supporting fans. And it was AMAZING.
"My biggest takeaway is that while we may be afraid to have conversations that may offend or hurt each other, the reward is our connection."
I really wanted both my parents to come see this show, but my mom raised concerns that it would upset my dad, but I believed in him and how much he’d changed. Turns out, I was right. My very best memory from that night is my dad standing next to me in full drag for a photo, , with the proudest smile on his face. My mom told me he had a blast; laughing hysterically at all the jokes and enjoying the show immensely. My dad is my biggest supporter and pushes me like a Hollywood agent. "You should upload your skits to YouTube and advertise yourself more!" he would say.
My biggest takeaway is that while we may be afraid to have conversations that may offend or hurt each other, the reward is our connection.
Amdocs has definitely progressed when it comes to supporting the LGBTQ+ community. For example, last year, Amdocs held its first global Pride Hour event, hosted by a drag queen. That drag queen was me! And yet, we have a significant way to go. I’ve witnessed instances where people avoid certain topics in fear of those being controversial. Instead, we should be having an honest and open conversation about diversity and allowing for people to make up their own minds. We should use every opportunity and platform that we have in order to showcase diversity and allow everyone to see real people behind the stereotypes.
My final note to you is this - be your authentic self and trust that the people around you will accept and love you for who you are. It may not happen overnight, but just as you had to go through a process of figuring out who you are, they may need time to go through their own process before becoming your true ally.
Always remember - be proud of who you are, not just this month, but all year long.