Last night I had the pleasure of being invited to headline at what was described to me as ‘a queer-Jewish open mic night’. Over the past few years, being queer has become something more and more central to my identity, whereas being Jewish has begun to fade slightly from the way I present myself to the world. The struggle between these two communities is not one that should be ignored. It does exist. The stabbings at the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, the existence of gay conversion organisations such as JONAH, or the ultra-Orthodox Jews I saw with my own eyes protesting at the NYC Pride parade this summer: to deny the existence of these tensions is to become part of the problem. Identifying as LGBTQ+ and identifying as a Jew are two things I am not prepared to give up, but being both isn’t always an easy task, and this is a shame, because the two communities have more in common than they would ever like to admit.
As I said last night, being queer and being Jewish are both things not easily defined by those labels:
– I say I am queer, and this requires further explanation. I am bisexual: to me that means that I am attracted to multiple genders. Sometimes I am only attracted to men, sometimes only to women, sometimes I am attracted to no one at all, sometimes I am equally attracted to both, and sometimes not. Sometimes I am more sexually attracted to men but more romantically attracted to women, or vice versa. It’s complicated.
– I say I am Jewish, and this also requires further explanation. I am a Jewish-Atheist: to me this means that I identify as a Jew in terms of my historical, ethnic and familial background, but that my Judaism does not involve a relationship with a deity. I don’t believe in a god, but I believe in the morals and the way of life that I have learned from being raised in a (fairly liberal) Jewish family: learning, kindness, charity, and celebrating life. It’s complicated.
Above all, and perhaps the most important thing that Jews and queers have in common, is the celebration of survival. Jews and queers both have a strong history of people trying to kill us and failing. Jews and queers both pretended to be straight Christians to save their lives. Jews and queers sat side by side in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Jews and queers are both survivors, consistently fighting back, fighting for the right to call ourselves what we are.
Last night had a profound impact on the way I see being queer, the way I see being Jewish, and the way I see being both. To me, events like last night, where fifty or so queer Jews (and gentile allies) gather in a radical bookstore in London, are the best way to fight against the forces that would tear our communities away from one another. By gathering last night, and sharing our stories, our poems, our music, our love, sends a message that we’re here, we’re queer and Jewish, and we’re not prepared to give up either one. It is a message of love, a message of community, and a message of fighting to the death for what we believe.
I was overwhelmed by the performances last night, and overjoyed at the kindness and excitement people expressed after hearing my poetry. I felt full of love and pride, in all senses of those words. I felt proud of being Jewish, proud of being queer, and able to do both. I am grateful to every single person in that room last night, for reminding me that I can do both, and that I’m not the only one.