Sivan- After Shavuot
Mostly, I don’t think of myself as queer. Don’t get me wrong – I am definitely, beyond the shadow of a doubt, in lots of different ways queer. However, mostly, I think of myself as someone who has dishes to do, and marking, and laundry, and exam preparations, and kitty-litter, and review notes. I think of myself as a teacher and a mom, as a housemate and a spouse. I worry about late busses, and important misunderstood text messages. I get reminded sometimes that I’m queer by lovely events like Pride and by notes from queer friends, and that’s nice – but rare.
This week, however, I’ve been almost unable to function. Despite the looming presence of exams and the fact that the marking is now untenably huge.I find myself stopping, frozen, and remembering that I’m queer. I don’t have time for this – really I don’t. Nevertheless, it’s here and so I have to write.
It’s exactly a week since the Orlando massacre popped up in my social media news feed and reminded me once again, and not in a positive way – I’m queer. That means that people want to kill me. It’s hard for me to understand. There are many people who really annoy me and yet – I never want any of them to actually be dead. Still, out there – there are people who want to kill me because I’m queer.
There are also people who want to kill me because I’m Jewish, and while I do think of being Jewish no and then (I mean, I’d just finished blogging through counting the Omer this time last week), I still don’t usually think of Jewish as equalling death threats. I was lucky to have been born when I was, and so I was spared having to live through times when I would assume that I would be killed for being Jewish. I got Jewish education enough to know that being Jewish was a reason for people to hate you and want to kill you but I don’t think of it all that much.
Events like this tell me that I’m not safe. That it’s not OK. That things haven’t changed. That the world is a dangerous, deadly place where people want to kill me for being queer and Jewish, and probably for lots of other things about me.
So, I’ve been functioning less well. I freeze in sadness, thinking of people who died for the silly reason that someone else was crazy and couldn’t tolerate who they were. I freeze in fear. I freeze in irritation – I suppose I could have chosen to pass for straight and converted to Christianity, and then I’d be safe or something – but I shouldn’t have to! I spend far too much time reading the social medias, and looking up articles to try and make sense of the senseless (it has no sense.) I sleep poorly, with my head full of images of what it must be like. I don’t have time for this! It’s June and I’m a school teacher!
And yet…emotions aren’t reasonable or patient, and sometimes out-thinking them doesn’t entirely work. So, today I decided to take more time I don’t have and write a blog. I don’t have anything useful to say really. Just want to say out loud the litany that has been going through my head. I’m Jewish. I’m queer. This means that there are people who want to kill me. There is no safe place. It’s scary.
Hopefully, by writing it, I’ll be able to put that thought away for a while, to acknowledge it, to accept it, and to move on from it. Maybe I’ll be able to think “I’m queer and I’m Jewish – I’m strange and I’m different. I refuse to be scared. I throw my continued existence, my loving, my laughter, and my joy against the world in which people want to kill me.” Maybe I can throw my regular life – my dishes and my marking – against this tragedy and say, “I live. You didn’t kill me. I live and I love and that’s that.” Maybe I can remember I’m queer long enough to make my life as a Jewish queer woman an act of courage and defiance.
I write poetry as part of Shavuot study. This is my Shavuot poem, written partly on Shavuot night, and partly – after. (I’ve included some Torah, translated by me, to put it in context.)
- For this commandment which I command you this day – it’s not magic, or tricky, or far away
- It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it and explain it so we can do it?”
- 1 Nor is it over the ocean, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the ocean and fetch it and explain it to us, so that we can do it?”
- 14. Nope. Actually, this stuff is very close to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart. You can do it!.
- 15. Look, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil,
- 19. This day, I call upon heaven and earth as witnesses that I told you so: I have set before you life and death, blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your children will live;
Don’t search across oceans, salt water filled, lonely
Like an ancient mariner floating; water that parches, makes crazy
Don’t search for bitter water, drawn from rock in anger,
Breaking relationship; ending; puckering faces and feelings
Search for sweet water drawn from wells of healing.
Taste on your lips drinking water from a friend
Choose water. Choose Torah. Choose life.
Don’t search in the sky, eyes distant and straining
Distraction, diversion, anything so as not to be here
Don’t search for storms of overwhelming emotion
Wild winds of despair and sadness; battering structure, destroying
Search for breezes that take away the stench and the heat
Breath, soul, God, joy filling up emptiness
Choose breath. Choose Torah. Choose life.
Don’t search in caves; dark, dank and winding
Labyrinths of confusion where people get lost forever
Don’t search high hills needing weapons to conquer
For mountains of things to climb; possessions that hide real glory
Search for forests and orchards filled with fruit and flowers;
Trees planted for fruit for grandchildren’s children
Choose earth; choose Torah. Choose life.
Don’t search flames that devour all before them
Hatred and war and the ‘pure’ nothing of death
Don’t search coals of resentment, glowing dark
Waiting for a spark to wreak utter destruction and desolation
Search for sunlight stronger than wind in promoting acceptance
Lightning inspiration and the spark of love in the eyes of another
Choose love; choose Torah. Choose life.