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.
Last month, 76 teenagers, 9 college-aged CITs, and 18 adult educators from across the country joined together for our largest to date gathering at a Keshet LGBTQ & Ally Teen Shabbaton. The weekend was exhausting, but exhilarating, and I cannot wait to do it all again in just a few weeks!
This year, I will be spending most of Pesach (Passover) in a small town in southwestern Missouri. I will be with people I love dearly, but not a whole lot of Jews.
We are two women who for very similar (yet different) reasons are starting off envisioning and planning our wedding without the history of years and years of tradition to tell us what to do. We both have our relationships with the faiths that we grew up in, the ideas of God that we grew up with, and our family and friends, and all of them have loud and insistent voices. Whether we allow those voices that speak in shame and judgment in or not, they are all coming to this party.
Keshet recently sat down with Emma Canter, a 15 year-old from Chicago. Emma runs the Instagram account f.em.inist and recently attended her first Keshet LGBTQ & Ally Teen Shabbaton. Pictured above is Emma reacting to the news that her account hit 10,000 followers.
At Passover, we retell the story of the Israelites’ journey to freedom from mitzrayim, “a narrow place.” Telling the story of this journey, the very act of giving voice to our struggle and our redemption through the ritual of the seder, is at the center of the holiday. In the LGBTQ community, we know how powerful it can be to tell our stories—we know that storytelling, and the retelling of our journeys toward freedom, can be a sacred act.