Gaytheist: Coming Out of My Orthodox Childhood by Lonnie Mann, art by Lonnie Mann and Ryan Gatts

Gaytheist: Coming Out of My Orthodox Childhood by Lonnie Mann with art by Lonnie Mann and Ryan Gatts is a coming-of-age graphic memoir about discovering that you are gay while growing up in an Orthodox Jewish community.

Lonnie has always been told that it’s not okay to be gay in his Orthodox Jewish community. This was never an issue for Lonnie until one day it was. Lonnie grew up in a devout family. He went to school at a yeshiva, a traditional Orthodox Jewish school. As a result, he learned the rules of the Orthodox Jewish community, at times even loving and strictly following them.

Eventually, Lonnie realizes that he likes boys. This puts him into a crisis of identity and religion, as he has always been told that being gay is a sin. When he learns that ‘having those feelings’ is fine but acting on them is the sin, Lonnie is even more confused. He’s lost. He wonders about what kind of life he will be able to live within the Orthodox Jewish community, which turns to him wondering if he even wants to stay within the community as an adult. Once Lonnie expands his life beyond yeshiva and his family, the world and more possibilities open up. He attends a theater camp, takes college classes in the city, and has movie nights with friends he meets. These new experiences open his eyes to the type of life available to him. The caveat: the life he wants isn’t possible within the world of his parents or his religious community. Not wanting to deny his identity, Lonnie embraces his true self, builds his own chosen family, and defies everything that he has been told his entire life to find his true happiness. This struggle to separate identity and religion consumes Lonnie, something that still lingers.

This graphic novel memoir was great, leaving me hoping for a sequel. The ending was a bit abrupt. I was left wanting to learn more about Lonnie’s experience separating himself from his Orthodox Jewish community. How did attending college influence him? How did his friendships and romantic relationships shape him? How did he become an atheist? I was also interested in hearing about his relationships with his parents and other family members, if he has any at all. While I have all of these questions, I recognize that the author doesn’t owe me any answers. They shared what they are comfortable sharing. What helped bridge this gap for me was the list of resources available at the end. In the author’s note, he lists books, documentaries, television shows, and websites where readers can learn more about other people who have escaped from Orthodox Jewish communities, as well as resources for people who may need help or a welcoming community.

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