In 2006, at age 23, I went to a gay bar for the first time.
It is now four days since the heinous attack in Orlando. In the world of cable news, an eternity has already passed. But for those of us entrusted with caring for students and congregants, the story is only now beginning to unfold—and the pain being expressed is simply searing. As a friend and colleague wrote to me yesterday, as a queer person, “I feel completely burned, charred, incinerated, like my life has been destroyed, like the world was not created for me.”
The last 72 hours are a study in contrast on what it means to be human. Jews across the world celebrated the festival a Shavuot, a time when we commemorate the gift of the Torah and the ethical teachings it contains. We count up to the holiday of Shavuot beginning with the second night of Passover and for 49 days afterward, linking our spiritual freedom to the responsibilities that liberation entails.
Yesterday, like many others in our community this month, I marched in a Pride Parade.
It’s Pride season, although I celebrate all year long! But recently there’s been a lot of talk about our gay culture and whether we might lose it by gaining our rights and disappearing into the swiftly moving mainstream.
The week before I wrote this poem I was having a discussion with my mother about how I presented my gender online. She was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make it as an agender person in the workforce and the world. When the weekend began, I went to the West Coast LGBTQ and Ally Teen Shabbaton, where I was finally able to be in a space with multiple nonbinary and transgender Jewish teens. In previous instances when I was in spaces where I could state my pronouns, I had always put “she/her” and “ze/hir” because I felt that even though I identified with it ze/hir pronouns more, other people did not see them as valid. At the Shabbaton I was also able to meet Rabbi Becky Silverstein who suggested to me that I try just introducing myself with just the ze/hir pronoun, which seemed like a revolutionary concept to me. When I tried doing so, I began to feel more like myself. Though it’s a slow process, I am trying to live more authentically in whatever ways I can.
This Sunday, May 22, Harvey Milk would have been 86 years old. Although his life was cut short, his pioneering work as a visible advocate for gay rights lives on. On his birthday, now known as Harvey Milk Day, we celebrate his work, life, and lasting legacy. At Keshet, we’re honoring his life and achievements by reprinting this excerpt from A Letter to Harvey Milk by Lesléa Newman, first published in 1988, ten years after Milk’s assassination. The story is told from the perspective of Harry, a Holocaust survivor in San Francisco taking a writing class at the local senior center. In this excerpt, Harry is responding to a prompt to “write a letter to somebody from our past, someone who’s no longer with us.”
In August, I’m going to drive across the country interviewing trans adults who live in rural areas, towns, and small cities about their experiences with happiness, hope, and resilience. (And by “trans,” I mean anyone who is transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, non-binary, and/or in any way not cisgender.) In the functional sense, I’m doing this project to create an inter-genre book built out of oral stories, photographs, and art and writing that interviewees create. There will be community-building aspects to the project, such as a letter-writing initiative where I bring letters from one interviewee to the next, connecting trans people across the country. The trip itself will be documented on a blog, and maybe an Instagram if I can get my best friend’s younger sister to teach me how that works.
Keshet recently sat down with James Miller, the Executive Director of the LGBT Center of Raleigh. North Carolina has recently been at the center of debates surrounding “bathroom bills.” James took a few minutes out of his busy schedule (OUTraleigh is just around the corner) to chat with us about his world as a Southern, Jewish, gay man.
I moved to North Carolina about eight months ago after living most of my life either above or well above the Mason-Dixon line. I remember distinctly a few weeks before I left, my parents sat me down and attempted to warn me about life in the South. Mind you, neither of them had ever lived in the South, but they were concerned that as a gay Jew, I would not be able to make a home for myself here in the way I would elsewhere. “Don’t be too loud or expressive about your Jewishness; maybe hide your Chai (the Hebrew symbol for life) necklace,” they both warned. Needless to say, I took their ostensibly dire warnings with many grains of salt, and reminded myself I was moving to Durham in 2016, and not Birmingham in 1955, or Jackson in 1860, which I think my parents were both expecting.