Being Visible as a Queer Jew
July has always been a happy time for me: basking in the longer days of summer, a break from the grind of the school year, and preparing to march in Pride. Though I've been out for a decade, the Jewish communities I have been a part of have always welcomed me as a queer Jew. Especially because so many of the communities I've chosen have also been queer.
When I was a professional queer Jew I created a laundry list of famous LGBTQ heroes: Harvey Milk, Harvey Fierstein, Kate Bornstein, Maurice Sendak, Y Love, Lesléa Newman, Rebecca Walker, and Joy Ladin, just to name a few. And certainly, many of them have performed honorable and inspiring acts. But I'm sorry to say I didn't learn about most of these people—or what made them famous—until well after I came out.
My LGBTQ Jewish heroes are less well known. They're couples who I've watched argue over parshiot, joke about the treyf zone in their otherwise kosher home, and plot to have the gayest purim costumes (I believe they decided on a Roman and a his slave!) They are the people who showed me there was more to Judaism and same sex relationships than a few verses in Leviticus, and introduced me to the five genders within Jewish tradition. I could keep adding to this list, but the truth of it is that the people on it are my friends and mentors, members of my congregation and chosen family.
Family has always been at the center of Judaism. As a closeted teen it didn't matter that I went to a Temple where the leadership actively worked for LGBTQ inclusion. I never heard them say it. I did not know anyone—peer or adult—who was openly LGBTQ. Even though my family and my congregation worked hard to teach that in Judaism men and women could do anything, the message seemed to be more about gender roles than anything else. Same sex Jewish couples were merely theoretical to me at that point. Merely theoretical may not sound like such a big deal, but imagine how it would feel to grow up knowing a central part of yourself might not exist: a young Jew who had never met another Jew. In a tradition so defined by community, how could you ever know if you were really Jewish?
I knew I could be queer and Jewish when I saw other queer people living Jewishly. My peers helped me see the many possible ways to live in the Jewish faith and Jewish communities as a queer person. My elders showed me that my journey fit well within the Jewish tradition of wrestling with God and ritual, of the soul of our peoples moving from generation to generation. I know not everyone needs the role models I do, but I think a lot about being visible as a queer Jew. I may never be as well known as the great queer Jewish icons, but I hope I can create space for other queer Jews to feel at home in their gender, sexuality, and their Judaism.
I hope to be one generation of many, many, many queer Jews.
How to cite this page
Vanessa “Vinny” . "Being Visible as a Queer Jew." 25 June 2013. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 29, 2015) <http://jwa.org/blog/being-visible-as-queer-jew>.