Queer Jew comes out again — as celibate, Orthodox

When David Bianco came out of the closet, he lost one friend. But when he said he was adopting celibacy to live as an observant Jew, he lost two more friends — and incurred the ire of many in the gay community.

The issue they have with Bianco is that on the path to becoming more religious he hasn't given up homosexuality, he just gave up sex.

Bianco, who currently lives in Las Vegas, has been invited by Chabad of S.F. to speak at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Congregation Chevra Thilim in San Francisco.

Chabad hails Bianco as someone who gave up homosexuality because of religious beliefs. But Bianco said he does not claim he's straight, or "ex-gay."

"I'm not having sex with men because I think the Torah doesn't let me, but I'm not letting them say I'm straight or ex-gay; I'm still queerer than thou."

However, Michael Sarid, a member of both Congregations Sha'ar Zahav and Beth Sholom in San Francisco, blamed people like Bianco for undermining the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community's advances in the Jewish community. He called Bianco "marginal," adding, "no one I know takes him seriously."

The 32-year-old Bianco is vice president of Q Syndicate, a wire service he founded that provides the gay media with news and feature stories.

Bianco eschews labels for both his sexual and religious identities. But if forced to choose, he identifies as queer and bisexual rather than gay, saying that he has been attracted to women in the past and hopes to marry a woman someday. ("God willing, the next time I have sex will be on my wedding night," he said.)

"'Gay' implies I was born this way, that I couldn't help it, but 'queer' is a choice," he said. But since he's "come out" as celibate, the queer community is not so keen on claiming him as one of its own.

"Ironically, I'm 'queering' the queer community by challenging them to keep a celibate, bisexual frum guy as part of the community."

Raised in a Conservative family in St. Louis, Bianco came out during his freshman year at Stanford University. There he remained Jewishly involved, serving as a United Synagogue Youth leader.

After getting a master's degree at Stanford in history — his topic was how gays and lesbians perceive the Holocaust — he began writing a column for the gay press, which then morphed into his current business.

Bianco started to question certain aspects of his behavior in the fall of 2001. He thought perhaps becoming observant would give his life more meaning, and he asked himself, "Where are the biggest holes in my Jewish observance?"

He came up with three things he could do: keep Shabbat, stop having sex with men and live in Israel.

"I started keeping Shabbos first, that was the easy one," he said. "And amazingly, within a month, I was also no longer having sex with men. It's hard to articulate how keeping Shabbos helped, but it did. It's a discipline."

Noting that America Online has replaced bars as the gay man's preferred vehicle to find casual sex, Bianco remarked that once he kept his computer off on Friday nights, "it helped teach me that I don't need to go looking for sex every night. If I don't have to on Friday, I don't have to on Sunday, either."

He's been celibate ever since.

Rabbi Yosef Langer, director of Chabad of S.F., compares Bianco's struggle with his sexuality to his own transition from secular Jew to Chabadnik.

"I feel we have free choice to change, to be masters over our destiny and that's the power of the Jew," said Langer. "That's the power of the godly soul, that the godly soul is not controlled by the animal soul."

Langer outraged many in the LGBT community by his appearance in "Trembling Before G-d," a documentary about Orthodox gay and lesbian Jews. In the film, the rabbi explains his belief that God doesn't give anyone more than he can handle.

Bianco said Langer has been unfairly branded "the villain of 'Trembling Before

G-d'" and called him a "warm, special holy man who has been unfairly castigated for being human."

While Bianco and Langer could indeed form their own mutual admiration society, Bianco is not receiving the same kind of praise from members of the LGBT community.

Bianco was in San Francisco recently, at a Shabbaton sponsored by Sha'ar Zahav, and many there found what he had to say morally repugnant.

"Gay people can be who they are and Judaism can be what it is…and no one has to change what they are," said Sarid, the Sha'ar Zahav and Beth Sholom member. Rabbi Camille Angel, spiritual leader of Sha'ar Zahav, said Bianco's message "underlines the importance of mining the tradition…[We must] see ourselves as gay and lesbian Jews rooted in that tradition as opposed to being repressed, marginalized or invisible, or have our desires denied by it."

Which is nothing new to Bianco, who says he is becoming more observant all the time. "My whole life has been a journey to listen to Sinai."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."