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The funny side of being gay, Mormon, and Jewish

  • h alan scott
As a child, he was raised Mormon by a Catholic father and Mormon mother. As a teenager, he discovered that he was gay. At 30, he was diagnosed with cancer. Today, H. Alan Scott is a public speaker and comedian, but has also converted to Judaism.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Aug 10, 2018

“I was raised Mormon, I found out I’m gay, I was diagnosed with cancer, and I converted to Judaism. Just imagine what my online dating profile looks like!” Sporting a tattoo of the Golden Girls on his arm, Scott shared the story of his unique journey at Limmud in Johannesburg last weekend.

Born in St Louis, Missouri, Scott is based in Los Angeles. He has appeared on The Jimmy Kimmel Show, Ellen, CNN, Fusion, and MTV. He has written for TV Land, VICE, Fusion, Out Magazine, Newsweek, and Nerdist, and is also the subject of the forthcoming documentary, Latter Day Jew.

Reflecting on his journey to becoming Jewish, Scott explained how, as a child, he had been plagued with an abundance of questions, which those around him couldn’t answer. He says, “According to the Mormon belief, Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, told him where he could find a book of Egyptian hieroglyphs, gave him a special pair of glasses to read them, and he started a new faith based on that. When I said to my religious teacher that the angel sounded like a pizza delivery guy, that didn’t go down very well.”

A boy with a fondness for Oprah, Scott’s more eccentric attributes were accepted by his family, while his questions were not. Determined to see him admitted to the Mormon faith, his family arranged for him to be baptised at 12, an occasion which marked his last day as a Mormon.

“There I am in what is effectively a jacuzzi, dressed in nothing but a thin white robe. The whole congregation is watching me, I can think of nothing but how attractive the young presiding priests are, Joseph Smith is the furthest thing from my mind, and I am expected to leave this ceremony, and embrace a Mormon life. That was my last day as a Mormon.”

Scott went on to complete high school and enrol at university. It was here that he began to learn more about Judaism, reading texts, and speaking to people who offered him answers to the questions that had plagued him for years.

He was diagnosed with cancer at 30 after moving to Los Angeles, and, while undergoing treatment, delved fully into learning about Judaism.

“My exposure to Judaism had been very limited,” he says. “There was a Jewish boy in my high school class, I knew Barbra Streisand, and Schindler’s Listthat was it.” It was while recovering that he realised he had to change his life and invest it with meaning. Judaism became his chosen path, and he began to convert to reform Judaism.

Starting his religious journey involved much learning and reading, but Scott says it felt standard – almost formulaic – to him. It was only when he entered the mikvah that the significance of his decision really hit him. “I had something like a panic attack in the mikvah,” he says. “I was both literally and physically up to my neck. I knew no one else who had done this before. I then realised that this was not panic, but a realisation of the change I was undergoing. I understood who I was, and that I was becoming part of something special.”

It was at that moment that he began living the life he knew he was supposed to live. Although his mother and father had been separated for some time, his siblings and mother were very supportive of his journey, and continue to encourage him.

“My mom existed in her own way as a Mormon,” he says, “but she embraced her gay son, gave him chocolate when Mormonism prohibited it, and let him be weird. Her courage defines the type of Jew I am. She feared I’d be rejected as a Jew, and didn’t really say much about my decision at first. Today she supports me every step of the way, and she remains a role model for me.”

Scott says he has found his niche in the world of Jewish humour, which forms the basis of his career and further bolsters his Jewish identity.

“I can’t work at a desk job. I don’t understand it, and I eat other people’s food from the office fridge. I chose to be a script doctor, and I help people make their jokes funnier. I am a funny, gay, cancer-surviving Jew, and I have found my place.”

He says that regardless of our differences, Jews are all part of a special community that can share a common experience and connect on different levels. “We can come together in different places, and connect with each other in different ways,” he says. “I am part of something unique, and have learned what kind of person and Jew I am.”

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