Molly Meisels Talks Labels, Identity, and Being “100% Queer”.
By Hadassah Penn.
Molly started questioning her sexuality at 12 years old, but, like many queer kids growing up in religious communities, she refused to acknowledge it. “All my life I was always the rebel. I couldn’t also be queer; I just thought it was too much. So I buried it.”
“It was so scary,” she says, summing up years of trauma with heartbreaking simplicity.
Everyone at Yeshiva University (YU), a private NYC-based Orthodox Jewish university, knows Molly, because of her leading role in September’s “We Too Are YU: Students March for LGBTQ+ Representation,” a groundbreaking LGBTQ+ visibility and protest march for Yeshiva University students. The event took both time and emotional strength to plan, as it was met with pushback from both students and administration every step of the way.
At the combined rally and march, hundreds of queer, allied, and closeted YU students gathered, calling out YU’s tendency to ignore and suppress its queer community. “When you’re saying that LGBT people cannot be in Orthodox spaces, you’re saying that they can’t be Orthodox,” Molly says.
In the past, Molly had always implied that her investment in YU’s LGBTQ+ community was one of allyship– which, in itself, is a controversial stance to state publicly at conservative YU. “I was always supportive of LGBT causes. So when I got to YU, I made friends with LGBT people. I thought, I’m such an ally. And all of my friends said, ‘you’re gonna come out soon’.”
Her friends were right. During the rally, in front of hundreds of people, Molly came out as bisexual, to thunderous applause.
That admission was “a very big deal,” and had been a long time coming for Molly. She speaks lightly and with a surprising lack of bitterness of her status as an “ex-Hasid” from an insular Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Boro Park. “The community that you watch about in documentaries, you know?” But it’s clearly more complex than that.
“I didn’t come to terms with [being bisexual] until I was 19,” she says. “And it was really scary at first, but I did have [queer] friends who were at YU, so I started realizing that it was normal.”
Her Hasidic upbringing had conditioned to both crave and fear community. Coming out at YU meant risking the fragile, promising community she’d begun to build there, all for the sake of authenticity.
Beyond that: “It was thinking that people would treat me different. Which is interesting because I usually do things regardless of how people think of me.” This is true: Molly has handled backlash before– when she started YU’s first-ever Feminist Club, for example. But “there’s an environment of fear on campus around being LGBT.”
Her circle of friends has been steadfast, and coming out has further cemented Molly as the main spokesperson of the YU LGBTQ+ fight for representation. This status has been “liberating.” But, on the other hand: “It’s very emotionally draining. People will personally attack you, [or] put all the pressure on you [to enact change]– turning you into either an angel or a villain. I think that’s something that no one can deal with.”
But Molly does deal with it. She looks to her friends for support; she listens to music constantly–catch her around campus with her red wireless Beats–and, although she no longer identifies with traditional Orthodoxy, she loves the Sabbath as a time to recharge and center herself. Now that she’s come to terms with her romantic and sexual orientation (which she considers to be fairly fluid) she’s been playing around with her gender expression.
What matters most, much more than labels, is that Molly truly cares. “I would die on the hills that I fight on,” she says, and you can tell that she’s serious. “When I left the Hasidic community, I felt like I left people behind. I think because I had no way of helping those people, I feel like I’m obligated to help as many other people as I can, whenever I can, to make up for it.”
Of course, Molly won’t be at Yeshiva University forever. Her goal for the rest of her time here is simple: to establish a school-sanctioned club for LGBTQ+ students and allies. “Once that happens, people on campus will feel so much safer. They’ll feel like they have a community.”
“You become the cause” she says. “And the cause is not over until it’s won, and it’s not won.”
And once it is? “I’ll need to relax for a little.”
Photo credit: Leo Skier