Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
My three-year-old loves her preschool. Now in her third year there, she has friends she is close to, teachers she is comfortable with, and a sense of ease and ownership over the whole place.
When our daughter was one, my partner and I chose our local JCC childcare program because it was a) well-regarded, b) Jewish, and c) convenient to our house. I don’t remember that we gave more than a glancing thought to the fact that we might wind up being the only queer family in the program.
A few weeks ago at pick-up, a teacher I didn’t know asked if I was coming to the parent meeting that evening. I said that I wasn’t, but that her “other mother” was planning to. She gave me a strange look, and said, “You mean her stepmother?” I was totally taken aback, and stammered out, “no, my wife.” It was clearly not the answer she was expecting, but it was also clear that she had meant no harm.
After two years in this small program, I tend to assume that everyone knows everything about everyone else. I wasn’t expecting to have to actively come out again at 5pm on a random Thursday in September.
One of the paradoxes of my life right now is how “straight” it can feel sometimes: we own our house in a residential neighborhood in a small city, have two cars (Subarus, of course), a child, a dog, a backyard, a mortgage… not exactly the radical queer anti-patriarchal-but-Shabbat-celebrating commune of my baby dyke dreams. And then I remember that being the lesbian rabbi coming to bake challah with her daughter’s preschool class can be its own kind of radical act. Most of the time, I am happy to be a queer presence in a decidedly unqueer space.
But then I look at the “dramatic play” area in the classroom, and worry that my kid only has the opportunity to pretend to be a part of families that have a mommy and a daddy, or look at the books in the reading corner and wonder how many of them show families that look anything at all like mine. I get asked by a teacher I’ve never met if my child’s other parent is her stepmother, and am then forced to wonder what kind of interactions this person is having with my daughter. I have to confront the possible consequences of putting a child from a queer family into a decidedly unqueer learning environment.
Fortunately, we are lucky to have other queer families who are part of our lives. At home we have books showing all kinds of family constellations (shout out to Flamingo Rampant), and our daughter can comfortably and confidently articulate that she has a Mommy and an Ima, while her friend R has a Mama and a Papa, and her friends E and A have a Mommy and a Mama, with the same sense of different-yet-same that she brings to the knowledge that she has a dog and some of her friends have cats.
It is not always easy to be part of the only queer family in any situation, but it is also not always easy to be queer, or Jewish, or queer and Jewish.
I have to trust that the JCC’s blessings of warm and caring teachers, good friends, and living in the Jewish year were the right choice for our daughter, and that the diversely queer community of friends and loved ones we are building around ourselves will provide her with other, equally important, blessings as the years unfold.
Keshet is proud to work in partnership with the JCC Association of North America, including offering training in person and via webinars to JCCs on a variety of LGBTQ inclusion topics. Learn more about the partnership.
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