It’s Not Where You Start: God Help the Outcasts

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

Today is National Coming Out Day.

Coming out is an ongoing process. The first time I told someone (out loud!) that I was gay was in 1993. It was New Year’s Eve, and for some reason I was home alone. TBS had a triple-feature of “sing-along” musicals — Grease, Viva Las Vegas, and West Side Story, each outfitted with lyrics & a bouncing ball to earn them the sing-along moniker — hosted by Tommy Tune. I watched the entire triple feature, and then some, while on the phone with my friend Amy, who was also spending the night at home, across town.

Why didn’t we just decide to meet somewhere? Neither of us drove yet, and I guess it didn’t occur to us to take a cab? Who knows. In some ways, the simultaneous intimacy and distance the phone provided was just what we needed. We were already at that point best friends. And we each had something we wanted to share with the other. So unfolded what we have come to refer to as our Epic 13-Hour Phone Call. (And yes, we called it that before epic became the most overused adjective of our generation.) I was so sure Amy was going to tell me she was gay. She didn’t. That didn’t come until many, many years later. She had a different revelation, but knowing that we each had something to share, something that made us worried and vulnerable, made it easier for me. Coming out is always a risk. Coming out the first time is terrifying. But knowing that we each were taking a risk equalized what is normally a treacherously uneven power dynamic. Of course, we both knew that we were devoted to each other and there was pretty much nothing either of us could have said that would have threatened our relationship. But that didn’t make it any less scary.  Continue reading

It’s Not Where You Start: Better

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

[Edited 10/7: Turns out that Make It Better and It Gets Better aren’t the same project. Both are worth checking out.]

Chances are, if you read my blog, then you’re probably aware of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project. In response to the recent uptick in visibility of gay teen suicides — which I suspect is just that, an increase in visibility and not an increase in suicide incidence, since every study I’ve ever read has warned of the high suicide rate of gay teens in the USA — Savage and his husband made a YouTube video talking about their own difficult teen years and reassuring viewers that life got better for them, and it can get better for teens today.

The video has spawned an online movement of others making It Gets Better videos. And since many of my friends know I like to make online videos every now and then, I started getting messages asking if I was going to make one.  Continue reading

Jewschool.com: Look, up in the sky! It’s a Jew! It’s a Queer! It’s Batwoman!

Originally published on Jewschool.com.

Batwoman from the cover of Detective Comics #854You might remember the media hooplah in 2006 when DC comics introduced their newest incarnation of Batwoman, Katy Kane, who not only kicks ass but also enjoys breast and thigh. That’s right, the new Batwoman plays for my team.

Somehow, amidst all that hooplah, I missed any reference to another revelation about the society lady / crimefighter — she’s also Jewish. Apparently, DC’s Christmas special in 2006 included a depiction of Batwoman celebrating Chanukkah with her then-girlfriend Rene Montoya.

Well, thanks to Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool for bringing this to my attention.

Why is this relevant three years later? Well, this week Batwoman steps out of the shadows to take the leading role in Detective Comics, the flagship Batman book. In issue #854, which debuted on Wednesday, neither of Katy’s identities get much mention — a chanukkiah is visible in her apartment, and there’s a backup story featuring Katy’s ex-girlfriend who has assumed the mantle of The Question.

It remains to be seen how relevant these will be to the story as it unfolds. But what is clear from this first chapter is that writer Greg Rucka and artist J. H. Williams III are great storytellers. The artwork is detailed and textured and iconic without being derivative, with pages that invite the eye to linger and indulge. The script unfolds at a perfect pace, drawing the reader into the mystery at hand with just enough details to hook you in without giving away what’s happening next. I haven’t read a DC comic in years, but I had no trouble diving into this story and knowing everything I needed to know about these characters and their world. A few of the jokier lines are groaners, but that only adds to the sense that these characters are real people.

Now, Batwoman isn’t the first queer superhero, and certainly isn’t the first Jewish superhero, and isn’t even the first queer Jewish superhero (that might be Marvel’s Wiccan, from the Young Avengers… he might not have been first, but he’s my favorite, so I don’t care). But she’s certainly the highest-profile queer Jewish superhero, and she comes to the fore at a time when…. oh, hell, can’t I just be excited at another queer Jewish superhero? When one’s identity fits into a fairly small box, it’s exciting to see that identity represented in pop culture, particularly in such a well-told story. Don’t take my word for it – go out and buy yourself a comic book.

(Yes, I know I’m mixing references with the title, but I couldn’t come up with a suitable riff on Holy XXX, Batman!)

Keshet: May God Make You Like Ephraim and Manasseh

Originally published as part of  Torah Queeries.

So [Jacob] blessed them that day, saving, “By you shall Israel invoke blessings, saying: ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’” (Genesis 48:20)

Every Shabbat evening, Jews around the world recall this week’s Torah portion by blessing their sons with the words “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh,” fulfilling Jacob’s deathbed pronouncement. I did not grow up with this particular tradition in my family, so when I learned about it, two questions immediately sprang to mind: If Jacob says that all of Israel shall invoke blessings in this way, why do we limit our use of the blessing to boys? Perhaps more fundamentally, what’s so special about Ephraim and Manasseh that we pray to make our children like them?

The Torah itself gives us shockingly little information about these two brothers, the sons of Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, and Joseph’s Egyptian wife, Asenath. We know that they lived their entire lives in Egypt, that Manasseh is the older of the two (although some scholars suggest they might have been twins), that they were born before the famine came to Egypt, and that Genesis and Chronicles disagree a bit about whether one of Manasseh’s descendants was his son or grandson. Otherwise, all we have are conjectures based on this one scene at their grandfather’s deathbed.  Continue reading

Keshet: Nature vs. Nurture: A Story of Generation(s)

Originally published as part of  Torah Queeries, and then later republished on Keshet’s Blog on MyJewishLearning.com.

Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, David Levy looks at Biblical twins Jacob and Esau through the lens of nature versus nurture.

 

"The Birth of Esau and Jacob," Master of Jean de Mandeville.

“The Birth of Esau and Jacob,” Master of Jean de Mandeville. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Toldot, the name given to this week’s parasha, has many layers to its definition. Coming from the Hebrew root meaning “birth,” it literally means “generations.” Its use in the Torah introduces genealogical lists, and also marks the beginning of important stories related to the members of Abraham’s particular genealogical line – some translations even give the word as it appears at the beginning of this week’s parasha as “story.” Toldot is a particularly fitting name for this section of the Torah, because the story begins with the birth of Jacob and Esau, and hinges on both the relationship between the older and younger generations and the question of who shall lead the generations to follow.

To me, Parashat Toldot reads like a divine statement on the “nature versus nurture” debate: are our identities and destinies somehow inherent in us, or are we shaped by the environment in which we are brought up, formed by the generation before us? In queer culture, this debate at times looms large. Are we “born that way” or are there external factors that “make us gay”? And if we adopt children, will our nurturing homes be enough to bring up a next generation in our image, or will adopted children turn out like their birth parents…whoever they might be?

While these questions may at times feel like irrelevant cocktail conversation, they also have a sinister side. If it turns out that queerness can be genetically predicted, will narrow-minded potential parents terminate pregnancies rather than bear queer children? If research points toward environmental factors, will it only fuel “ex-gay ministries” that attempt to “rehabilitate” queer people from their lifestyle?  Continue reading

Talkin’ Broadway: The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told

Originally published on Talkin’ Broadway.

Christine Power and Robin Rapoport

If you’re looking for an opportunity to ponder the big questions of mankind’s relationship to the eternal in the presence of full frontal male nudity, you’re in luck.  The Encore Theater Company has given us a bold and funny production of Paul Rudnick’sThe Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, now playing at the Plaza Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts.  The play, originally produced in 1998, originated with Rudnick pondering the anti-gay slogan “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”  What if, he wondered, God had started with Adam and Steve (Albert Chan and Jason Fenton) … and their lesbian friends Jane and Mabel (Christine Power and Robin Rapoport)?.

The Most Fabulous Story follows these four characters through a pageant of Old Testament situations from the ark to Egypt and beyond.  The format provides a frame to not only parody Biblical stories and gay lifestyle quirks, but also to examine faith in an uncertain world.  The second act finds these same characters – now stripped of their Biblical history – living in New York in 1998, dealing with issues of gay marriage, parenting, AIDS, and once again, faith in an uncertain world. Continue reading