Broken roads: Leadership, authenticity and sexuality | Mark Shinar

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It was an otherwise normal Sunday in January when I had gotten a long-overdue oil change, a haircut, and came out of the closet. There are a lot of balls in the air, even when your world comes crumbling down and, truth be told, I’ve never been much of a multitasker.

There wasn’t anything special about that day that compelled me to send Lauren a “can we talk?” text, but I did, and that’s when I would have said that the dominoes began to fall. Nowadays, I think it would be more accurate to say that’s when the pieces started to come together. 

I have a lot to say about the life I could have lived instead of this one, but since most of the decisions we make tend to divide up into “either/ors” and “if/thens,” it’s no surprise that mine hurled me down a series of rabbit holes, each one connected to the choices that came before: becoming religiously observant, going to a Jewish high school, studying in Israel, followed by Yeshiva University, where, among the many pre-rabbinate or business majors, I studied English Literature and theater (duh!), and ultimately, working and teaching in an Orthodox summer camp and day school. 

I followed these paths, and whether purposely or subconsciously, they wove my life’s narrative tightly together. In doing so, I’ve done the very best I could to avoid facing within myself what many of my childhood bullies already knew, and although unsophisticated, their vocabulary – gay, fag, homo – was effective and painfully laced with truth. Because they harshly named it for me, I had, up until recently, come to terms with the fact that I never would. 

Living a version of my life that I assumed most people would have wanted to see, I embraced a series of complex choices, ignoring the voices that heavily and constantly pressed down on me. These gremlins have been fueled by the possibility that someone might discover that I’m a fraud, that I’m not who I say I am, that I can’t be what I’ve promised I’d be. It’s hard to describe the amount of work it takes to keep that all locked away, especially when my vision was cloudier and my back was up against the wall. The last 20 years have been filled with immeasurable blessing and success, with each road leading me to the places where I imagined I wanted to be, despite the fact that the satisfaction and joy that I have worked so hard to achieve has always eluded me.

By getting married, I denied one authenticity in favor of another. I wasn’t right, but I wasn’t wrong, and this is a nuance that my family and I will have to grapple with for the rest of our lives, especially now that they have been thrust into a new life that they had never asked for or wanted. The roads we walk lead us to the next, and then the next, and then the next. But they led me to an end, so I have chosen to start digging down and building up, creating a new path for the years ahead. Although I could never imagine a life that wasn’t this one, I have paid a significant price for it. The things I carry are the grief and trauma that come from years of hiding and also the tools and supplies for resilience that I’ve collected along the way. 

I have, over the years, spoken to my children and students about embracing their self-worthiness and authenticity. Ironically, up until now, I haven’t granted myself that same courtesy, and for that, I take responsibility. Through this blog, I invite you to join a conversation about challenging assumptions, surfacing truths, and talking about how we get from there to here. In some ways, I imagine it will resonate. In other ways, it might not. Either way, I’m pretty sure that there is enough room in this world for all of us and all our stories, so it’s time to get to work. 

Lesson number one: I am enough; we are enough. 

Dr. Mark Shinar is an educational coach, consultant, speaker and author. He earned his BA from Yeshiva University with an English Literature and Theater degree and completed a Masters degree in Private School Administration from Columbia University Teachers’ College. He taught General Studies and English Literature in SAR Academy’s elementary and middle schools before becoming Head of School at Oakland Hebrew Day School in Oakland, CA. There, he earned an Ed. D in School Leadership from Mills College. Mark returned to NY in 2009 to serve as the Director of General Studies at SAR High School for eight years, before making Aliyah with his family in the summer of 2017. Mark was the founding principal of an independent, bilingual school located in the center of Israel and most recently, he was the Head of School at Jewish National Fund-USA’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel.

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