Keshet: Keep On Coming Out

Originally published on Keshet’s Blog on MyJewishLearning.com.

In honor of National Coming Out Day, we bring you the coming out musings of David Levy, long-time Keshet member and board member, who explains why he doesn’t think the coming out process is ever over… and why that’s not a bad thing.

creative-commons-paul-lowry-300x200

Creative Commons/Paul Lowry

Coming out is such a profound aspect of the LGBT experience for many of us that it’s taken on a special place within queer culture. When I was growing up, coming out stories dominated gay fiction and cinema. Swapping our own stories of coming out is a frequent characteristic of gay dating. But there are two questions that come up in these contexts that always aggravate me:

“How old were you when you came out?” and,

“Don’t you wish we lived in a time when no one had to come out?”  Continue reading

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It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy! Vagina by Naomi Wolf

Originally published on It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy!

 

I’ve started reading Vagina by Naomi Wolf.

Toward the end of her introduction, she offers something of an apology for her handling of the book’s subject matter entirely from a heterosexual point of view. She suggests that it was not a matter of heterosexism (although she doesn’t use that term) as much as it was an acknowledgement that lesbian and bisexual women’s experience of their vaginas (in general) and sex (in particular) merit their own handling rather than being lumped together under one rubric.

I understand what she’s saying here, but I’m not sure if the argument that by lumping them together, lesbian and bisexual women’s experiences would necessarily become the afterthought is accurate. They become the afterthought because the author privileges the heterosexual experience. Is lesbian and bisexual experience of body and sex and sexuality so different that the book would balloon beyond a reasonable scope should they be included? I’m certainly not the one to say.

But even if you accept her argument, I’m not sure that it should give her the free pass to write the rest of the book as though lesbian and bisexual women certainly don’t exist. I am fairly certain that a responsible author can cordon off a section of the topic as out of scope without pretending it doesn’t exist. The heterosexism of the language is incredibly off-putting for me, and the apology in the introduction intensifies my feelings rather than mollifying them.

Wolf’s complete erasure of transgender people (who, surely, have a lot to add to a conversation about vaginas) is further troubling, since she doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. I can absolutely understand why the myriad was vaginas and embodiment in general for transgender people—those of various genders who have vaginas as well as transgender women who don’t have vaginas—interrogate, challenge, and threaten Wolf’s hypotheses. But simply writing them out of existence without so much as a half-assed apology makes me angry, and it makes it difficult for me to read the rest of the book without their absence informing my reading.

I am not the target audience of this book by any measure. I’m only a few chapters in, and it’s already clear that this book is written for the same audience that made Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues a hit. Things that I take for granted as obvious parts of the human experience (e.g. “Women’s bodies are different from each other, so one woman’s experience of her own vagina might not match another woman’s experience of her own vagina.”) are presented as great revelations. Maybe there are a great deal of women in America who just assume that their own experience of, well, anything, can automatically be generalized to all women everywhere ever. But I thought by 2012 we had all moved past that.

There a lot of book left to devour, so stay tuned for further updates. After the first page or two I tweeted that it’s hard to read this book without live-tweeting the experience, and I wasn’t kidding. Whether I’m frustrated or intrigued, this is the kind of book that calls out for the reader to say to anyone who will listen, “would you believe this?!” And isn’t that what Tumblr’s best at anyway?

JewishBoston.com: What’s Jewish about Gay Pride?

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

Last Shabbat, I was invited by Rav Claudia Kreiman to give the drash (sermon) at Temple Beth Zion in Brookline for the GLBTQ Pride Shabbat. She asked me to speak on the question of why gay pride is a Jewish concern. Here’s what I had to say:

Falsettos - Broadway PlaybillIn 1992, the summer before I started high school, I saw Falsettos on my second-ever trip to Broadway. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it was the combination of two earlier, ground-breaking off-Broadway musicals by songwriter William Finn: March of the Falsettos, which told the story of Marvin, a Jewish man in his forties who had left his wife and son for a male lover, but who wanted a “tight-knit family” that included all of them; and its sequel, Falsettoland, in which Marvin’s son struggles with becoming bar mitzvah while Marvin’s lover struggles with the disease that would come to be known AIDS.

I don’t know that there’s ever been another show — or ever will be — that spoke so directly to me. A large part of that is simply that it’s the first time I can remember seeing gay lives portrayed, well, anywhere. I didn’t know any gay adults, and while I had an inkling that some of my friends might also be gay, none of us had yet spoken the words out loud to each other.

I’m just young enough to have missed Billy Crystal on Soap, and Tom Hanks in Philadelphia was still a year away; Ellen wouldn’t come out for another five years. So in 1992, gay boys who loved Broadway musicals had Falsettos, lesbians had newly out of the closet country singer k. d. lang, and that was it. The gays of Falsettos were Jewish – and I don’t just mean Jew “ish” – the opening number of the show is called “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” which really sets the tone for how the rest of the show unfolds… that these characters’ sexuality and domestic struggles were wrapped in the familiar neuroses of my community intensified the resonance. Continue reading

Jewschool.com: Debbie Friedman and the Tragedy of the Closet

Originally published on Jewschool.com. This is unquestionably the most controversial piece I’ve ever written, and it provoked a lot of strong, emotional responses. I regret publishing it as close to Debbie Friedman’s death as I did; my only explanation is that I was feeling her loss emotionally as well. Many misread this post as a criticism of Debbie’s choices, but that was not my intention at all. It’s a critique of the society we live in that created a situation in which she made the choices she made. A couple months after this post, I had a long phone conversation with Debbie’s sister Cheryl, who I am so sorry to have hurt with my words. I am grateful that she reached out to me to try to understand what I was trying to say, and I think after our conversation ended, she did. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced such incredible openness of spirit as I did from Cheryl that day, and I hope that I can find such grace in the face of people I’m challenged by in my life.

When I heard that Debbie Friedman had passed away, I was sitting in a conference room at the San Francisco Federation, participating in a board meeting for Keshet, a nonprofit organization working for the full inclusion of GLBT Jews in Jewish Life. I learned of Debbie’s passing via a message posted on Twitter by a lesbian Jewish educator with whom I used to work. The news hit our meeting hard. We stopped for a moment of silence. After all, she was one of us.  Continue reading

It’s Not Where You Start: Not On Your Nellie

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

I don’t believe I have ever voted against a Democratic candidate for office, unless you count the primaries when we choose one over the other. For years I was registered to vote unaffiliated — in part because my parents brought me up to value maximizing my flexibility. In Massachusetts, where the Democratic candidates are often (but, alas, not always) assured victory, it can be strategic to vote in a Republican primary. But several years ago I decided to make my Democratic affiliation official. The party gets my support at the polls, they deserve to be able to count me in their membership rolls.

I did not vote for President Obama in the primaries, but once he became our candidate, I have supported him wholeheartedly. But that doesn’t mean I have supported him blindly. Continue reading

It’s Not Where You Start: The Day After That

Originally posted on It’s Not Where You Start.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be an ally. With the recent surge in online awareness-raising around GLBT teen suicides, I’ve noticed many of my straight friends are hearing the word ally used in this sense for the first time. But I’m going to reflect on myself as an ally, specifically with regards to transgender inclusion and rights.

Some of us in the queer world say “GLBT” out of habit all the time, when the truth is, we often only mean “gay,” or “gay & lesbian,” or somewhat less often, “gay, lesbian, and bisexual.” Gender-variant people — whether they identify as a gender other than the one that usually goes with their biological makeup, or they experience gender in a way that doesn’t fit neatly into the two boxes our society provides — have a lot in common with GLB people in terms of being second-class citizens. But the ways in which transgender, genderqueer, and other gender-variant people are threatened in our society are unique — and often exist within gay/lesbian/bisexual spaces as well.

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It’s Not Where You Start: By My Side

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, particularly online, for the various movements to stem the tide of GLBT-suicides and anti-GLBT bullying. From It Gets Better to Make It Better to Do Not Stand Idly By to Spirit Day, my Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds have been overwhelmed with friends, acquaintances, and strangers proclaiming their support.

In the past, I have generally been somewhat skeptical about these sorts of campaigns. What real impact do we make by proclaiming our support for something that most people who know us already assume we support?

But this time around, for me, it’s been difference. The recent string of gay teen suicides has really upset me. I’ve been involved in GLBT activism for years now, so the abhorrent statistics about GLBT teen suicides aren’t news to me. But the juxtaposition of these suicides against the news of the day — the battles around Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell, gay marriage, even the publication of gay wedding announcements!! — it was too much for me. It reminded me of the days in 2004 when we waited for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision about gay marriage. Although I felt the arc of history curving in the right direction, I had to stop reading the newspaper every morning. The pages were filled with quotes from the anti-marriage people filled with such hatred — how could I not take it personally?

What has sustained me through this current crisis has been the public support of so many friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Instead of taking the words of the haters personally, I have chosen to take the words of those expressing support personally.

Continue reading