Raise Game: Jewish and LGBTQ Heroes

By | Tagged: Joy Ladin, LGBTQ

“Raise game.” When I began rabbinical school, a friend of mine who was already ordained offered me these two words of wisdom when I asked for advice about how to handle the instantaneous increased authority that comes even from studying to be a rabbi. The point is clear: when more is expected, more must be delivered. Grow into the shoes you’re being given.

A rabbi is our quintessential token Jew. Unlike other forms of tokenization, this one is voluntary. Those of us who pursue a rabbinic path do so by choice. We’re signing up to be tokenized and scrutinized. We volunteer to be knowledgeable representatives of our religious culture. The title “Rabbi” is a giant “ask me” button.

Against this new backdrop of my everyday life as rabbinical student, I place my queerness. For me, my queer identity and my Jewish identity are inextricably linked; I process Judaism as a queer and trans individual and queerness as a Jewish one. My Jewish ethical sensibilities are improved by my queer understanding of marginal perspectives, and my queer politics are honed by my Jewish desire to build a better world. To me, these linked identities enrich each other.

At some points in life, I have fallen into roles where I have been tokenized as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. At others, I have done everything in my power to avoid that role. I feel quite fortunate that I am not constantly tokenized as a queer and trans person at school. Even when I have taken a leadership role in the LGBTQ+ community where I know I will be tokenized, I haven’t enjoyed the responsibility. And I think it comes back to these words: raise game.

As LGBTQ+ persons and our allies, we are constantly expected to raise game even to survive, let alone to move closer to full respect and inclusion for LGBTQ+ persons both within and outside the Jewish community. And, for the most part, we have done so.  We have raised game to mitigate stigma, raised game to draw the world’s attention to AIDS epidemic, raised game to develop the politics of being out, raised game to fight for our basic human rights, raised game to reduce the suicide rate of our youth. And that’s just for starters. Now, as we face being governed by leaders who led the homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic backlash to the progress toward equality the LGBTQ+ community has made recently, we must again raise game to protect our gains and to move forward to our vision of full inclusion. We must not act as though our synagogues, Jewish youth groups, and Jewish community centers are immune to this backlash. Raising game is our only option.