(I got the questions off Tumble ages ago and cannot remember who originally did them. I do not claim to have come up with them myself.)
This was an interesting exercise in sorting out what I felt described me well, and what details seemed most important or not.
I can still see a fair bit of the lowkey hostility I have towards both religious communities and LGBT spaces due to bad history I have with them both, but that's unsurprising given the experience I have.
It was a useful exercise and I'm glad to have gone through with it. I just wish I could find more than were easy to do from a Jewish POV.1. Describe your LGBTA+ identity – come up with an image or symbol for it if you like.
I remember, when I was a teenager, the feeling that I couldn’t describe myself as ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ – because both of those required a known starting point, and I didn’t have one.
It took me another five or six years to realize what that mean was gender-identity issues, namely that the best word I have for it is ‘agender’ – without gender, in fact a discomfort with having to align myself with one at all.
I use she/her and ‘religious femme’ presentation because it’s simple for me: I know the social rules, it’s easy and convenient to do with the body I have, and it telegraphs a comprehensible identity in social spaces. It camouflages the question marks at the heart of it, and means I don’t have to get into a complicated conversation that is uncomfortable for me.
What is my gender? I don’t have one, need one, or want one – what you see is good enough, because the English language and society demands one be used. But that’s all it is.
As for who I’m attracted to, well, that comes and goes. I’m low enough on the range of sexual interest the discourse about asexuality has been incredibly useful to me, but I’m not sex-repulsed, I’m in a relationship, and I tend to find people attractive regardless of gender. I’ll often use bisexual as often as ace; or, more generally, just shorten the whole mess to ‘queer.’
Image-wise or symbolically, nothing’s ever really clicked. I am. ‘B’tzelem Elohim’ is the closest thing I’ve found in a while for a concept, so something in the range there.2. Describe your faith, including an image or symbol if you like.
My faith, right now, has brought me to the process of converting to Judaism. My beliefs, my ability to conceptualize God, and my former religious identities have widely affected it but ultimately Judaism can encompass all of it.
I believe in the Jewish people. I believe something is in charge of this mess. I believe that questions and seeking are necessary for engaging with religion, and that a religion that fears them is hiding something.
I believe in wrestling with God, in yelling at him about what goes wrong, in demanding answers even if one knows they will not come. I believe that a communal tradition thousands of years old can make something out of the world whether or not there is a God to be found anyways.
I believe in humanity, in our desires and needs for something more.
I believe working together, we can find it.
And if we can’t find it, we can make it.3. Which did you discover first: your faith or your LGBTA+ identity?
As noted above, I knew, vaguely, that I was queer sometime around late high school, which was a long time before I knew where I would find my religious home. I didn’t really explore the queer identity until I was in my twenties, much less solidly pin it down. I got it mostly sorted out around 24/25 and have been fairly content ever since. I met my long-term partner within that same time frame, so that has mostly sorted the other half too.
My faith has been rather more of a journey. I started out LDS, which has since firmly closed the door on any chance of me going back. I moved into agnostic when I left the church at sixteen, then paganism also at 22, and, finally, am coming to Judaism now.4. Where are you in your faith journey?
Your journey as an LGBTA+ person?
In my faith journey, well, I’m due to start the ‘Conversion’ classes in September, and thus any mikveh date won’t be until Spring – but I am very certain of what, and how I want this to happen now. I haven’t found any reason to turn my back on Judaism in the past two years, and I’m very pleased by that.
As a Queer person, I feel like my questions there are all settled. I have nothing really bothering me right now. The biggest challenges that have come up recently was reconciling if I felt okay being a “Mum” to children we might have, a problem that can be tidily resolved by just having the kids call me “Ima” – because it’s the word that’s loaded, not the behavior after all.5. How has your gender and/or orientation impacted your faith life negatively? What about positively?
I am grateful, in some ways, that because of the recent ruling by the LDS church that children of same-sex partnered parents cannot be baptized until 18 and estranged, that that door is very firmly closed to me now.
I’m not realistically afraid that I might go back, but some part of me keeps thinking that because of all the little signs of progress that I should just accept and believe that it’s “not that bad” and I can suck it up. With all the cultural bullshit on Tumblr about appropriation and not stepping outside your ‘lane’, it gets into your head sometimes about ‘well what is your Good Reason™ to not stick it out where you started?
Well, here’s mine.
On the other hand – and I’m not sure again which of these is the ‘positive’ and which is the ‘negative’ – but I am aware that I will be limited what congregations I can go to because of my on-going relationship being read as queer. To be frank, though, it’s more of an obstacle that my partner is non-Jewish than appears to be the same gender as me. 6. Post a photograph, a poem, a passage of your holy book, or other art that relates to your identity as an LGBTA+ person of faith.
Twilight People Prayer
“As the sun sinks and the colors of the day turn, we offer a blessing for the twilight,
for twilight is neither day nor night, but in-between.
We are all twilight people. We can never be fully labeled or defined.
We are many identities and loves, many genders and none. We are in between roles, at the intersection of histories, or between place and place.
We are crisscrossed paths of memory and destination, streaks of light swirled together. We are neither day nor night.
We are both, neither, and all.
May the sacred in-between of this evening suspend our certainties, soften our judgments, and
widen our vision.
May this in-between light illuminate our way to the God who transcends all categories and definitions.
May the in-between people who have come to pray be lifted up into this twilight.
We cannot always define; we can always say a blessing.
Blessed are You, God of all,
who brings on the twilight.”
Rabbi Reuben Zellman, TransTorah.org
7. How have people of your faith reacted to your gender/orientation?
How have people in the LGBTA+ community reacted to your faith?
I’ve yet to run into anyone at my congregation who has any issue with the matter, but to be fair I am very private about my faith and about my orientation and gender, so often it rarely comes up. I’m a great deal more anxious at the thought of bringing up my faith in LGBT spaces than I am bringing up my partner in Jewish ones, though, at least assuming I know what Jewish space I’m in at any given time.
I’m well aware that Judaism is not perfect about LGBT issues – see the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem attempting to leverage the perceived heterosexuality of history against Jerusalem’s Pride Parade – but, for the most part, it’s much easier to find spaces that you can know are safe within Jewish communities than you can find LGBT communities that can engage with Judaism safely.8. Do you participate in any communities or groups that celebrate both your faith and your LGBTA+ identity?
If not, would you want to?
I would be relatively interested in a Jewish LGBT group, but honestly, I’ve given up on the LGBT community a long time ago. It was exhausting, and a space in which LGBT identities were treated as much more defining of the people who hold them than is true for me.
I grew up knowing my gender was ‘odd’ and a mismatch for who I am, but I also wasn’t deeply invested in finding out why. As an adult, it’s anyone’s guess if the mismatch is a case of my autism, my social anxiety, biology, socialization or what-have-you – and ultimately it truly doesn’t matter to me.
I’ve found a presentation that suits me, one that unfortunately makes me look like a person of faith who is much more conservative than I am. That, too, makes me anxious about engaging in ANY LGBT spaces because I know I will potentially make people there uncomfortable as they try to navigate if I’m safe or not.
I still remember how uncomfortable I was to be in a Pride room with someone openly wearing a large Christian cross, before I was converting to Judaism but after I’d left my first religion and moved into being pagan. It was not all that okay for me. I don’t want to do that to someone else, but G-d knows if I’ll figure out a queer presentation that works.9. What’s the biggest obstacle you face as an LGBTA+ person of faith?
I think the biggest obstacle, in my personal life, is how used to facing hostility towards visible faith practices in LGBT spaces, and how much Christianity still pings me as bad when I am in generally “faith-based” LGBT spaces. Christian theology is still hard for me to cope with, so it’s been a struggle to find a way to be okay around it.
Add on top of that the low-key antisemitism the Left is marinating in, and it feels like my options for integrating my orientation and my faith will all have to happen in the spaces built around my faith.10. What prayers, holy words, songs, ideas, etc. comfort you when people try to tell you your identities are incompatible?
I think I take the most comfort in knowing that I belong to a tradition with a vast and welcoming tradition of challenging the norm within its own community. The book Wrestling with God and Men is an old, and well-loved book on how to integrate homosexuality with Judaism and one recommended to so many.
The mere concept ‘B’tzelem Elohim’ is one I’ve seen used so many ways – “Made in the image of God.” This idea, even when I was Christian, is one that’s long been close to my heart because, if G-d made all things, why are you so very certain that what I experience about myself is NOT G-d’s plan?
What makes you a greater authority on who I should be than G-d?
The first Jewish service I went to, the Rabbi asked the congregation “Is G-d moral because he makes moral laws?” and the answers ranged from “Well probably?” to “No, of course not.”
And none of them were considered wrong.11. What goals do you have for yourself?
I want to make religious practice a regular feature in my life. I want to have a Jewish wedding with my partner, to make it formal and give us something to display. I want to be active in my community. If I can find a Jewish, or quality interfaith LGBT community, I want to belong to that too.
It will be a lot of work, given my limitations, but those are all the things I want to make of my life as time goes forward. Having religious community is something I’m more familiar with than having an LGBT community, but I don’t want to feel like I have to segregate them from each other for my safety.12. What would you like to say to people who try to put you down about your identity?
I think I would say that having beliefs in something is human, and seeking it – and a community of like-minded people – is just something we need. Whatever it is that best suits someone as a ‘like-minded community’ is going to vary, and that doesn’t make anyone better or worse on the question of how ‘real’ the belief is to others.
Similarly, not every kind of faith or belief requires someone to give up being LGBT. It doesn’t presume you must adhere to the norm, because not every community has that as a norm. There are greater and lesser degrees of acceptance, and I hope that every LGBT person who wants to believe can find a community that manages that without causing them harm.
This isn’t an either/or choice and I’m happy with the balance I have. I wish more people could be. 13. What would you like to say to other LGBTA+ people of faith who are struggling right now, or to your younger self?
I think to my younger self, I’d just say “be patient” and “you’re not broken, you really are just surrounded by assholes.”
I’d say, to others, that no you don’t have to put up with a faith that tells you you’re wrong, you’re broken, if you just prayed more or got married it’d go away. I’d say that you can have both. It’s not an either-or thing. You just might have to find another community, another faith – or another LGBT group that will allow you to have your beliefs too.
Telling someone how they should be is not okay. Constantly repeating that someone’s faith or someone’s orientation or gender is wrong is cruel and unfair. Just because it’s the best you have right now, doesn’t mean it’s the best that’s out there.
Be patient. You’re not broken, you may just be surrounded by assholes right now.
You can move on.14. What makes you proud to be an LGBTA+ person of faith?
I’m not sure ‘proud’ is a word I’d use to describe my feelings towards being a queer person of faith. I’m just being what makes me most comfortable. I fell back into religion while negotiating who I am, and where I felt most comfortable, and what happened to fit well was Judaism. My LGBT identity was part of the process, but not a vital one. It’s something that had to be accounted for within my faith, but it wasn’t a big deal.
I’m not a big deal. I’m existing. I shouldn’t have to defend that to others.
I have a right to my faith. I have a right to my queer identity.