Is there a stigma against converts?
As you might guess from me starting this blog, I'm incredibly open about being a convert/conversion candidate. In fact, I don't think I've ever been in the conversion closet!
In my experience (over 6.5 years now), there is no stigma against converts today. Sure, there's the odd duck every so often (though I only know this through the grapevine). But if someone is going to dislike me for being a convert, then I'm not too inclined to make their acquaintance anyway. I will be better off not dealing with that kind of negative person. Also, if you haven't already guessed, I'm considered a "strong" personality, which means people tend to have very strong feelings about me. Being a convert is the least of the reasons for someone to dislike me!
But while I don't think a stigma generally exists, I do believe that there are still negative stereotypes about converts lingering in the backs of Jewish minds. To make an analogy to racism, racists have negative stereotypes about the group, but inevitably have one or two friends of that group because "they're not like the others." Similarly, born-Jewish individuals generally seem to love individual converts, but may harbor negative stereotypes about the group as a whole. Notably, these stereotypes are also held against BTs.
Let's look at the main stereotypes subconsciously held against converts and BTs:
1) "Converts and BTs are not suitable marriage partners."
This is undoubtedly the most hurtful of the stereotypes. Professional matchmakers continue to ask their available singles whether they would be willing to marry a convert or BT. This alone seems like a chilul Hashem (and/or sinas chinam) to me, but what do I know? The only time this matters is when one partner is a kohen because of the laws related to who a kohen may marry. And I'm ok with that. On the bright side, any man who says he would be unwilling to marry a convert or BT is not the kind of person I would like to marry anyway. Let them opt out of my pool, please.
However, this sentiment is rarely so obvious. Here comes a personal story! Be warned, this is one of the most hurtful comments that I've ever had, and I have a much thicker skin than the average bear. I was dating a very nice Jewish boy, and his parents even liked me! But one day, they decided to sit him down and tell him why a convert cannot be a proper Jewish wife. They said that, even though they liked me personally, converts have no traditions and that the beauty of a Jewish marriage is learning to combine your traditions to make your own tradition. They honestly believed this. The boyfriend told me about this, and I blew it off at first, but about 24 hours later, I was in tears. I have traditions! Converts have the option of choosing our traditions, but I also have traditions that are just "what I know," and I've done those things for years. It was most painful that people who liked me, and liked that I was dating their son, could still believe that I was personally incapable of being a proper Jewish wife. Basically, that's saying that I can't be a proper Jew at all. And that's what I think that stereotype boils down to: Converts and BTs just aren't "good enough" Jews.
2) "If you haven't been frum your whole life, you must have been a sex-crazed maniac at some point."
Besides the fact that the FFB community has its own problems with sex-before-marriage today, there is an assumption that any convert or BT is not a virgin. Even worse, there is often an assumption that you were promiscuous and have had many partners. This ties heavily into the stereotype above, but it deserves its own bullet point simply because even casual conversations may include comments that refer to your sexual past. Whether this is true or not is none of their business, and these kinds of comments must be objected to in every single case. It's not appropriate. Nice people generally don't realize they have a stereotype in their mind until it's pointed out. Let's be honest, most converts and BTs who adopt an observant life in their mid-20s or later probably are not virgins. However, there are many who are. And regardless, it is not an appropriate topic of conversation or jokes.
I'll share a personal story of the above so that you can see that this does happen. It was awful and embarrassing at the time, but it's pretty funny in retrospect. The place: in synagogue (conservative), waiting on the afternoon minyan to begin. We're all regulars and know each other well. I was the only non-grandparent who regularly showed up. The conversation turned to how I came to Judaism, and I shared that I had once been engaged to a reform Jew (a very long time ago now). Then one of the men said something along the lines of "She's had more Jewish inside her than I have!" Oh yes. He said it. And jaws dropped, including my own. Inappropriate. I was so embarrassed that I couldn't have corrected that kind of inappropriate statement, but thankfully, all the ladies jumped to my aid and chewed him out. From conversations with other converts and BTs, this is not that unusual of a comment, though people are usually a bit more subtle.
3) "This is just a phase, and they'll go off the derech again."
This is also an argument for why we're not suitable marriage partners, but again, deserves its own discussion. Of all the stereotypes, this one seems the most logical to me. However, having a practical perspective on life and people is different from holding a stereotype and using it against individual people. Sure, in any group of people who "frum out" (Added to the Glossary for your convenience) and turn their lives upside down, at least some percentage is likely to go back to their old life. That's people for you. But it's not right to make that assumption and use it against someone. Deal with the problem when it occurs rather than assuming it's going to happen. Who knows, you might end up pushing them to go back to the secular world by showing how closeminded the frum community can be!
In summary, converts are Jews. Period. No qualifications. It's a miztvah to treat converts with respect. It's also a mitzvah to not hold a conversion against someone.