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.
Dear younger LilyFish,
You know those letters they make you write on the first day of school every year? The ones your teacher stores to give back to you at the end of the year so you can see how much you’ve grown?
Well, I know you’ve written a lot of those, and I also know that you’re never quite sure what to write, so you generally just write questions. Well, here I am, finally writing back!
Dear 4-year-old LilyFish- Yes, it is really cool to get up and dance to the Mi Chamocha during Friday night services. No, it’s not weird that you wear a dress almost every day. If people don’t want to play with you, then they aren’t the people worth playing with- even if they seem like they’re the cool group.
Dear 8-year-old LilyFish- Yes, you will get to go to Jewish summer camp this summer! No, Mommy and Daddy aren’t trying to annoy you by always saying “whatever man or woman you marry”, they’re just trying to make sure you’re comfortable even though you already know they love you. You’ll appreciate it later. Yes, learning the Hebrew letters is important, even though it’s hard – and it’s okay to learn at your own pace. Push a little harder when the lady at the hair salon won’t give you the haircut that you want, “a boy’s haircut but for a girl”, you aren’t going to like that bowl cut she will give you instead.
Dear 12-year-old LilyFish- Yes, you can keep going to Hebrew school after your Bat Mitzvah. In fact, you can keep going to Hebrew school forever because you’re going to teach there someday! No, you’re not the only person who feels left out or anxious, and it’s not weird or lame to talk about it with grown-ups. Yes, it is a good idea to check out a book from the library about questioning your sexuality even if you’re not sure if you’re actually queer- that’s what questioning is. No, you won’t be alone forever, somebody is going to want to kiss you (next summer at camp!). Also, stop matching your eyeshadow to your shirt- it’s not a good look.
Dear 15-year-old LilyFish- No, just because you’re dating a boy, and have only kissed boys, doesn’t mean you don’t like girls. Also, stop dating that particular boy- just trust me. Yes, the butterflies in the pit of your stomach when you hold hands with your best friend are because you have feelings for her. Like, not just I-love-you-because-you’re-my-friend feelings. Talk to your therapist about it. No, you don’t have to wear girly shirts every day- but wearing men’s clothing doesn’t mean you can’t also wear dresses. Look at Jewish life on campus when you go on college tours. Talk with your little sister about sexuality. Chop off that hair!
Dear 19-year-old LilyFish- You can finally get that short haircut you wanted when you were 8. Again, just because you’re dating a boy, doesn’t mean you don’t like girls. Also, you can be dating someone and also see other people- it’s called polyamory and it’s not strange. When your friends all assume you’re queer, maybe take that as a hint? Yes, you should stop studying business and switch your major to Jewish studies and Queer studies- it will make you happier, even if dad is concerned. It’s okay if you’ve grown out of summer camp. Correcting Mom when she gets pronouns wrong is good, but yelling at her is not. She’s doing her best. Yeah, it’s a little weird to come out by texting the family groupchat, but you’re also a little weird, and you own it!
Kiss that girl, because I know that you want to. Dance. Jump. Sing loudly off key. It will make you happier.
Now I’m 21, and I still have lots of questions. Will I find a job when I graduate? Will I ever be interested in monogamy? Do I have what it takes to finish rabbinical school? Will I even have the opportunity to do those things, in today’s political climate? I don’t know the answers. But I do know that it’s okay to be confused about who I am, it’s okay to chop off my hair and wear a mix of femme and butch clothing, it’s okay to feel anxious as long as I don’t hold it alone.
I’ve tried at different points to ignore my Judaism and my sexuality, but they always come back. They’re a part of me, and I’m happiest when I’m living them both proudly.
Dear younger LilyFish; it’s going to be okay.
Sincerely, less-young LilyFish