I haven't checked the weather yet, but I know it is the perfect day to chat about adult Jewish literature. I'm Sheryl Stahl. Thanks for joining me here at Nice Jewish Books. I read books with LGBTQ content all year long. But to celebrate Pride Month is June, I'm happy to welcome Jacob Gelman, author of Butterflies in the Endzone. Welcome, Jacob, can you tell me about your book?
Hi, first of all, thank you for having me. It's really an honor and a pleasure to be here. So my book is about a character named Jamie who is Jewish, and his parents find work and move to a suburb outside of Jacksonville in Florida. And so Jamie has kind of this fish out of water character who was forced to move from a very welcoming environment where he's out and proud about who he is to kind of unwelcoming environment. And that kind of pushes him back in the closet. So first day of school, I won't give away too much. But he ends up meeting a character named Alex who ends up being the quarterback of the football team. And they kind of develop a friendship. And as this friendship develops, it becomes more than a friendship. So the story is really about the relationship between these two characters,
the proverbial one thing leads to another
And you should say that Jamie moved from San Francisco, it was in the Bay Area, right.
So a very liberal area, a very liberal Jewish area, and then to a very non liberal, non Jewish area.
Right. So in the LGBTQ community, and probably everyone else to chosen family is a really big deal. So can you talk about what that means for Alex?
I think for Alex, it's really everything. So for Alex, he might not see as his chosen family at first, but he might just see it as a group of friends. But as he kind of develops and discovers who he is, as a person, as he doesn't know, he's queer at the beginning of the story, it's kind of something he discovers throughout the story, the people around him, the friends he has around him, really help him to guide him through this. And so I think, in that they become a chosen family in a very clear sense.
Yeah, I think it's wonderful how those kinds of hevruta are huvura rather, you know, these loving groups are put together. Many people don't realize that coming out isn't just sort of a once and done kind of thing. So can you talk about what that meant to Jamie and to Alex?
Yeah, of course. So for Jamie. Jamie really thought as a character. Okay, I came out to my parents, I came out to my community. That's it. And then he moves to Florida, and he's not comfortable being out anymore. So coming out for Jamie is something that is a repetitive process. It's something he's done. That was scary, but he has to do it again. And it's even scarier, because he's in an unwelcoming environment now. And he had already done the important work of coming out to himself and being comfortable with his sexuality. So for Alex, it's also a repetitive process, right? So Alex has to come out to himself first. And then Alex has to come out to his friends. And then Alex has to come out to his parents and his community. So for Alex, it's a much more repetitive slow process than for Jimmy but for both characters coming out, is really a process that happens multiple times and has multiple trial trials and tribulations. It's not, as you said, it's not a one and done thing.
This happened before the book starts when Jamie came out to his parents, but it seemed like, while it probably wasn't a comfortable conversation that he felt secure in their love and support, but that's not the case for Alex and his parents.
Yeah, so I can speak to that a little bit. So in the story, Jamie has very welcoming very liberal Jewish parents. But I felt like being from a conservative area and seeing what it's like for most queer people. I personally had that experience with my parents, but a lot of people did not around me did not have that experience with their parents. And I wanted to represent that as well, because that is part of the story of being queer in the south. So Alex is representative of these queer children. These queer young adults who are in unwelcoming environments with unwelcoming parents who may not understand them but even worse than not understand them, not accept them. And so Alex has to grapple with dealing with that and what that means
to switch topics slightly. One scene that I really loved was when their relationship had gotten to the point where Jamie brings Alex home to meet his parents, and he brings him home for a Shabbat meal. So why was it important for you to have the meat on Sabbath?
For me, it was important for them to meet on Sabbath because I wanted to represent Jewish culture, I wanted to represent it for me, Sabbath represents Shabbat represents a welcoming environment, it represents community, it represents family, it represents being accepting and being grateful. And all of these kinds of very Jewish values. And so I felt like it was just write for them to meet on Shabbat.
Yeah, it was a lovely scene, I enjoyed it. One thing that their friends did, or maybe it was a friend of a friend was to invite them to a Vogue experience. So I want you to talk about that. But I want to back up a minute and say that a lot of people think that once you come out, you instantly know all about, you know, gay or lesbian or the whole LGBTQ culture. But obviously, not ever, you know, you have to learn each thing as you go. So can you talk about the Vogue?
Yeah, yes. So I remember when I was in high school, I think I was in ninth or 10th grade, and I was watching this contra points video, where she talked about Paris is burning. And I was like, What is Paris is burning. So I looked up Paris is burning. I found the full documentary on YouTube. And I was like, What is this? I watched the full documentary I was instantly captivated. I was like, Oh my gosh, I love this culture. I love the freedom. I love the colors. I love the costumes. I love how camp it is. Everything about it. I just loved ballroom from the instant I saw parents is burning. And I would start listening to Vogue MUSIC in my room and I'd start voguing in my room. And this was even before I had came out, and I just It gave me this confidence, this freedom that I had never experienced before. So I worked with Monica Tora Sondrio, which is a local theater instructor in my area, who had actually previously made national news for being fired for being gay in my area, and we work together and we used her studio to create a ballroom scene in Brevard County. And I wanted to pay homage to that to represent like, yes, it's the south. But that doesn't mean that our freedom or creativity is stifled. We still as queer people exist, and we flourish. And so the ballroom scene was really about paying homage to that freedom that queer people exist despite what's placed upon them in southern areas.
Yeah, I thought you had ... I forgot to mark it. But I thought you had a really great explanation in the book. Something about what what taking what was despised, and it's not about right, not flaunting it, but right and embracing it.
Yes. The fact that in ballroom I feel like it's not about seeking acceptance. It's about taking what the world says you should be put down for and making it extra. Yeah, definitely extra.
Okay, so right now you're in Rhode Island at Brown University. Can you tell me about your Florida and San Francisco experiences that you wrote about in the book?
So I've been to San Francisco one time I went, I believe when I was in high school, we visited Northern California as a family. I had a great time I loved Northern California. My experiences in Florida. Were a little bit different than my experiences in Northern California. In California, I saw a lot of rainbow flags, a lot of celebration of diversity. A lot of diversity itself in Florida. It's it's it's less diverse. It's a lot more evangelical, it's sometimes I'm scared to even like I don't know if I was at Brown say I put on false nails and feel comfortable going outside. And in Florida. I sadly don't feel safe doing that. So I have to feel like I have to kind of stifle myself sometimes.
Definitely a sad statement that false nails can be so threatening to people.
So did you have to do any research for this book? Or did it all draw on your experience and imagination?
It mostly drawn my experience at imagination centered set in Florida. It was kind of writing about what I knew, I had interacted with a lot of evangelical people growing up. And so I didn't need to do much research about what they thought because they always feel the need to tell me what they think.
And I am Jewish. So I didn't need to do much research on Jaime as a character and being from the Bay Area didn't really play into his character that much. So I didn't really feel the need to do research on him being from the Bay Area, what that meant. But for my next, my current writing and progress, which I just outlined, this week, I will be doing a lot more research because that is not drawing on my experience so much.
Yeah, that was gonna be one of my other questions. If you had any works in progress.
Yes, I can speak a little bit about it. I'm so excited about my current writing and progress. So so, so excited. So my current writing in progress, I guess I can get the premise, which is these two. So it's an ancient cannon. And basically, we have the king and every year, whoever turned 18, they come to the town center and the king from the Word of God says, Who has whose their soulmates are, and everybody's always paired together. But these two young boys, well, they're not boys, they're 18. These two young men, they both do not get paired. And so the story is about them going into the Jewish underworld. So it draws a lot on Jewish mythology to go and try to find their soulmates. And there's a plot twist, and yeah, I'm really excited.
It sounds like lots of fun. Oh, one little tidbit early on, when Jamie and Alex meet Jamie comments on Alex's handwriting that he has very neat handwriting. And Alex is really embarrassed and says, Oh, you know, my teammates say it's gay. Is that a thing is neat handwriting. Is that a stereotype? I should say,
I was personally I when I was younger, I remember when you're younger. When I was younger, I remember people commenting on my neat hair, and I you know, people, maybe this isn't the culture anymore, but especially maybe in the early 2010s. When I was growing up, people could make anything gay, whether it was neat handwriting, whether it was how you did your hair, whether it was the fact that you were pink on Friday, anything could be considered gay, and anybody would hurl it at anybody as an insult. And so in my experience, yes, neat, right. Handwriting could be called gay, but So could a lot of other things.
Yeah, that's a good point. All right. Is there anything you would like to talk about from your books that I haven't thought to ask?
That's a good question.
Oh, we didn't mention that the camp that Alex is sent to it. Did you want to talk about that?
I can talk a little bit about that. So not to give anything away. But at the end, Alex is sent to a conversion therapy camp. And this actually drew from my personal experience. So in high school, I actually, I didn't think it would lead to anything, but I don't know where the idea came from. But I emailed a church that was not even kidding, maybe a mile a mile and a half from my house. It was right across from my high school. And I emailed that church, and I said, and I pretended and I said, I'm gay, and I don't like being gay. And can you help me? I didn't expect anything out of it. The church got back to me. And they said, we actually have someone who's an expert in that field to get out to you. The next couple of days, I got an email. Sure enough, I got an email from I don't know, preacher, priest. I don't know the difference. But what are the two? And he was like the the Catholic one. And he was like, hi, I got your message. We can have a meeting. And I went to a meeting with him. And I pretended to be well, they call it same sex attracted. And I pretended like I wanted to change that. And he offered counseling services. And I was like, this is conversion therapy. And I ended up writing an article about it, and it got published in the publication, queer T. And I was like, wow, and I hadn't just emailed that church. I had emailed a bunch of churches in my area, and like, I would say, 70% of them got back to me and offered services for literal conversion therapy. And I was like, Oh my gosh, this is a huge problem. And like, I don't think people realize how bad this is. So I just wanted to include that to pay not pay homage because it's not a good thing but to pay respects to the fact that this is happening and queer kids are going through this and maybe they disguise it as a troubled teen teens can or they disguise it as canceling. But at the end of the day, I mean counseling. But at the end of the day, it's just conversion therapy.
Oh, it sad that there was so many people who reached out to you and that there's still so many groups like this, since it is so clear that it not only doesn't help but is actively harmful to the people going through it. So, yeah, well, good for you for putting yourself out there, so to speak and investigating that.
Okay, so I cut you off when I said, was there anything you wanted to talk about that I hadn't?
I guess, I just want to emphasize, I see the main theme of my novel as being that. It's not simply Oh hum, homophobia is bad. It's also that the South is complex. And we're here queer people are here in the south. And we're existing, and we're not just surviving, but at times, we're thriving, despite it all. And so it's a complex place with complex people. And there's a lot to hate, but there's a lot to love at the same time.
Yeah, wonderful. So if someone used your book as a call to action for tikun olam for repairing the world, what would it be? Or you can use it as a soapbox moment for any issue you'd like to bring up?
I think it would be that we should all just be kind to one another. Because at the end of the day, you don't know what somebody else might be going through. So the default we should have with one another is kindness and empathy.
Yep. Beautiful. I absolutely agree with that. All right. If someone would like to contact you, what would be the best way?
I would say email. So it's my name, Jacob Gilman, spelled J ACOBGO. M A N and then the number firstname.lastname@example.org.
All right, great. And when are you anticipating your book coming out?
It comes out June 15th. And you can get it from Amazon.
Oh, very exciting. All right, excellent. Jacob Gelman, thank you so much for speaking with me about your book butterflies in the endzone.
Thank you for having me
if you are interested in any of the books we discussed today, you can find them at your favorite physical or online bookstore or at your local library. Thanks to do Yankee for use of their frailest which definitely makes me happy. This podcast is a project of the Association of Jewish libraries, and you can find it at Jewish libraries.org/nice Jewish books. If you would like to support this podcast, please click on the donate button in the top left corner of the podcast page, or the link in the show notes. I would like to thank ajl and my podcast mentor, Heidi Rabinowitz kept listening for the promo for her latest episode of our sister podcast, the book of life, a show about Jewish kidlet Mostly.
This is AJ Sass author of Ellen Outside the Lines. I'll be joining us soon on the Book of Life podcast. I'd like to dedicate my episode to advocates against censorship, the folks who push back against book bands and other attempts to silence marginalized voices. Your efforts are needed and so very much appreciated.
The Book of Life is the sister podcast of nice Jewish books. I'm your host, Heidi Rabinowitz and I podcast about Jewish kidlet. Join me to hear my June 2023 conversation with Andrew Sasse. About Ellen outside the lines and other books