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Cafeteria Judaism and feminine queer identity

Author:
jewish queer

By Kara Sherman

“Man shall not lie with man as man does with a woman. For it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22)

Religion isn’t always easy. I often like to pretend it is — buzzwords like “interfaith” and “pluralism” pervade my discussions about faith. But every now and again, I’m reminded that the history of my faith is not so easy. Judaism was, in fact, built on questions. How do I find support as a woman from a faith founded on patriarchal texts? How do I reconcile ancient laws with a modern identity of queerness?

When I think about the concept of pluralism, the center of focus is usually external — I’m trying to be welcoming to a new community member, school of thought, or way of practice. But pluralism, the acceptance of multiple truths, gets a little trickier when it becomes an internal struggle.

There are plenty of arcane biblical laws that many people don’t practice anymore. It’s no longer commonplace for fathers to sell their daughters into slavery, and many Jews around the world don’t worry about the potential of G-d’s wrath when they turn on their stoves to make breakfast on Saturdays. How people go about ranking the importance of the many laws in our ancient texts largely remains a mystery to me, but it’s apparent that the act of picking and choosing — “Cafeteria Judaism,” if you will — is common practice.

When discussing obviously outdated parts of the Torah, like Leviticus 18:22, my head and my heart suffer a kind of cognitive dissonance. My Judaism is the most important part of who I am, but I have a difficult time reconciling the history of my faith with my identity as a bisexual woman. How do I practice my religion while remaining accepting and proud of my sexuality? How can I identify with a history and a text that directly contradict my values?

In these instances of reflection, I remind myself why laws like these were instilled in the first place. I believe that many traditional religious texts, whether it be the Torah, the Talmud, or the New Testament, were written for the purpose of procreation. These texts are ancient guides to prolonging human societies and bloodlines. If abortion was banned (except in cases when the mother’s life was in danger), the next generation would be born and its mothers no longer deemed important. If homosexuality was considered an abomination, populations would, in theory, continue to grow, instead of being stinted by relationships that couldn’t produce children.

G-d does not hate me. I have to keep in mind that these texts were written by men; men who just wanted their tribe to keep on trekking. No higher power came down from the sky and declared that me, and people like me, have no right to live and love like others. To believe this is to misunderstand the origins and intentions of religious texts — and to overlook their deeply loving central themes.

Leviticus has taught me that while Jews will never be entirely free of the oppressive aspects of our history and texts, we are free and encouraged to question, and to reinterpret our religion through a lens of contemporary values. I’m proud to be part of a progressive community of spiritual people that allows me to celebrate both my Jewish and queer identities, and that doesn’t see them as mutually exclusive. I’m proud to be Jewish because of the struggles and the questions that come along with the identity. It is inherently Jewish to disagree, but some things are just better together.

This content has been provided by the Jewish Women’s Archive

PBG’s Top Queer/Feminist books 2017

Author:
1 we are never meeting in real life the militant baker samantha irby jes baker

By Anna Hill

Do you like feminist and queer books? I’ve read some really incredible stuff this year – some are just new to me in 2017 and some were published in 2017!

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samanth Irby

I read this at the very beginning of the summer and it was so enjoyable, incredibly funny and heart warming. It had me crying and laughing regularly. I also loved the honesty with which Samantha Irby talked about her life as a marginalised person – the book is a collection of personal essays basically talking informally about Irby’s life as a queer poor fat black woman and about life (lessons) in general. Some of it was so relatable! Some of it was a little heartbreaking and tender in this very self-depreciating voice.

Irby is so so funny and I would 100% recommend this to everyone but especially people who enjoy reading memoirs by women. There is some cissexism, especially in the first chapter and ableist slurs used throughout as well as some depictions of abuse, vomiting and drug/alcohol use.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

This is such an incredible book!! It’s a mix of memoir and queer theory and it focuses a lot on pregnancy and motherhood. Nelson’s style is really poetic and the work she does in making space for motherhood to realise its queer potential is really beautiful, and I personally found it pretty accessible.

Her work comes down to a discussion about caring, how we care, who cares for us – that’s something we all need to consider within our lives. Never to undermine or erase carers or care work but also to see the radical potential mothering has. I really think all feminists should read this and also all queer theorists – most of whom love to misogynistically disregard mothers as heteronormative and disregard people with wombs as irrelevant to true queer futures!! Which they aren’t!!

Sea-witch Volume 1 and Volume 2 by Never Angel North

Sea-Witch Volume 1: May She Lay us Waste is an experimental trans-memoir graphic novel about love, community, girl-ness and pain. It speaks to the experience of Sara and the time she spent living inside a witch god named Sea-Witch. It’s also about family and Sea-Witch’s community of sisters and the 78 Men Who Cause Pain (78MWCP) via making laws and being cops and fighting against so called monsters like Sea-Witch. The story is told through scribbles and sigils, words, quotes, drawings and photographs.

Sea-Witch Volume 2: Girldirt Angelfog is just as weird, interesting and beautiful as the first one! Both are so expansive and monstrous, creative and painful, confusing and challenging. The second volume continues Sara’s journey but linear narratives aren’t particularly important to Never Angel North, who is such a fearless breathless author.

These books are for all the freaks who love mythology and all the sapphic witches and lovers of the sea. Its for all the people invested in caring for one another and in creating and sharing hope even in the face of holding pain.

I was lucky enough to read the second volume via pdf because I support Never on patreon, I would just say its difficult to content warn for this series because it so tumultuous and open but there is definite discussion about trauma and pain laced throughout both volumes. I’m so excited for the third volume to come out in 2018!!!

Small Beauty by Jia Qing Wilson-Yang

Small Beauty is a short but poignant and affecting novel about grief, processing and ghosts. The book tells the soft and introspective story of Mei, a mixed race trans girl, whilst she is mourning and evolving, unearthing the lives and deaths of some of her relatives. Its also about this deep love and community, about support and identity, rage and, yes, sorrow too. The writing is subtle and quiet and lyrical – I marked so many of its pages because I found it so beautiful.

The novel is an own voices story and it consistently refuses to cater to cisgender people, Mei isn’t forced into narratives that eroticise or fetishise or simplify what being trans is like and Mei and all the other characters, including a transphobic dyke, are treated with forgiveness and represented with nuance. It’s a book for folks who are growing but not grown and for those who are new to adulthood. Content warnings for grief and death as well as a depiction of a transmisogynistic physical assault on pages 66-67.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

This year I became invested and interested in care and mothering in a way I never was before and as such I couldn’t resist listening (via audiobook) to this novel about a woman named Yejide and her husband, Akin, trying to get pregnant and have a family together.

This was on the shortlist for the baileys women prize for fiction and that’s how I became aware of it, and I’m glad I did! It’s a very readable book chronicling tragedies and peaks in Yejide’s attempts to create a family and its complex representations of the behaviours and wishes of people are interesting and emotional. The prose is animated and so is the dialogue – it’s a very enthralling if sorrowful read. 

Power And Magic : The Queer Witch Comic Anthology edited by Joamette Gil

I loved this comic anthology so much!! All the comics are centered around queer witches, were made by women, demigirls and bigender writers and illustrators of colour. The 15 different comics all vary in tone and size. Some are adorable and sweet and others are sad but powerful or healing and kind, they cover themes of love, community, family and recovery.

My favourites were Your Heart Is An Apple by Nivedita Sekar which was a fairytale inspired love story including an ex-mermaid who was now a cane user and a girl with an apple for a heart. I cried at its utter loveliness. I also really enjoyed As The Roots Undo by Joamette Gil, especially the line “They called her witch. I called her moon.” And lastly the tender and gorgeous Songbird for a vulture by Naomi Franquiz. There are content warnings for each story on the contents page.

Here’s to a 2018 filled with beautiful, educational and healing reading!! If you want to diversify your reading in the new year you could continue looking for suggestions via this list of books to be published in 2018 by women of colour!

Happy Playland webseries review

Author:
happy playland

By Anna Hill

Do you like musicals? And stories that centre women loving women? Then oh boy is this the webseries for you!! Made by the incredible Candle Wasters who have also made great and queer inclusive adaptations of the Shakespeare plays A Midsummer Nights Dream, as BRIGHT SUMMER NIGHT, Much Ado About Nothing as Nothing Much To Do and Love’s Labour Lost as Lovely Little Losers. Their latest creation is the brightest and most charming of them all!

Happy Playland is the story of 3 people (Billie, Cris & Zara) who work at a children’s play gym – one of those ones you might have played in as a child; with a ball pit and obstacle courses and climbing nets. The story is told in multiple ways – from social networks outside of youtube (namely Cris’ Instagram) as well as within the episodes themselves. Sometimes we glimpse Billie’s internal monologue, or her dream. In another episode Cris is on skype but she’s present within the shot and it works really well – Cris even has a whole song in another episode where she orchestrates some romantic entanglements and narrates them, dancing the whole time. The webseries also shows a really sensitive and accurate representation of what anxiety looks like for some people, which was a bittersweet surprise!

For someone who is interested in arts I found a lot that reflected my experience in terms of chasing my own dreams. I am currently part of an art collective, so when Billie says her parents said that “anything with the word collective in it wasn’t a real job” it hit pretty close to home! How do you “follow your dreams” without losing people you love? And the discussion of success and anxiety was really pertinent too – the idea that you have to “be successful to make it worth it” has made me consider how I approach my own artistic success (whatever that means!).

The characters are so enjoyable to watch and the dialogue is funny and relatable. Zara and Billie are a lot more fleshed out than Cris but in some ways that’s refreshing because Cris is the token straight character in the series. She’s helpful in furthering the development of the two queer women together and is also some comedic relief – mimicking the way that queer characters are often used (and dehumanised!) in mainstream plots.

The aesthetics of the show are super fun! A riot of colours! With each character loosely wearing one of the primary colours (so Billie is yellow, Zara is red and Cris is blue), the clothing and colours make the whole show even more alive and vibrant (plus I have fringe envy over Billie’s cool punk pink/black hair).

The music in the show is melodic and varied and there are some really intense moments that show how talented everyone involved is! The harmonies are really great and the lyrics are generally painfully relatable and/or funny. You can listen to the music here. My favourite songs I think are I’ll Be Here and For Once and also maybe Stop and Think!! (this is hard, they are all so good and fun)

One of my favourite lines comes from Zara: “she talks in all lowercase letters, do you know how sexy that is? that’s like the modern day equivalent of Marilyn Monroe breathing too much when she talks”. This show was probably made for me – a lowercase writer, a queer femme musical lover; its so incredibly awkward and enjoyable (I think lots of us will have felt like the “stakes are too high forgotten how to flirt”). The bittersweetness of the way it represents relationships is what has brought me back to it to watch over and over again.

Five YouTube feminists to check out after unsubscribing from Laci Green

Author:
riley

By Pip Williams

Laci Green taught me a lot about my own body and sexuality when I had no one I could turn to in life. As a teenager at an all-girls boarding school, coming to terms with my bisexuality was difficult. The school servers blocked all content flagged as having explicit keywords, meaning I couldn’t access the most basic written resources about LGBT+ topics. In this instance, I turned to YouTube, where I found Green’s welcoming, inclusive Sex Plus series. Learning from her was a hell of a lot less embarrassing than trying to find answers from friends, parents, or the school library.

Green has messed up a few times in the past. Until recently, the self-appointed sex educator has been pretty good at kissing and making up with the online feminist community. 2017, however, is a whole different kettle of fish. Whilst still insistent that she’s a feminist, Green’s trajectory has taken her down a pretty concerning wormhole of “red-pilling” and transphobia.

As someone whose queer identity was shaped by Green’s cheerful sex positivity, seeing her parrot transphobic rhetoric on Twitter is hurtful at worst and embarrassing at best. I can only imagine how trans former fans are feeling.

To try and ease some of Green’s newfound grossness, here are some of my favourite YouTubers who cover sex, sexuality, and feminism. Hopefully some of them will be able to educate you in lieu of how Green educated me.

Riley J Dennis

Riley is the first person on this list for a variety of reasons. She’s an incredible trans YouTuber and feminist, but she’s also been the victim of a sustained online hate campaign. As a result, the amazing video linked below has a depressing thumbs down ratio. Ignore it. Riley breaks down the myth of “biological sex” in seven minutes, in an incredibly accurate and educational manner that takes into account the discrepancies in the usual chromosomes/genitals approach. Like, subscribe, and support this amazing creator and educator.

Marina Watanabe

Marina Watanabe’s “Feminist Friday” series tackles a massive bunch of topics, from cultural appropriation to racism, but on top of these videos Marina has in fact made a couple about Laci Green. These serve to outline the issues with Green’s recent changes of heart, and to provide constructive criticism in some of the areas she sees Green’s arguments falling down. They may be directed at one person, but there’s plenty in here the rest of us could do with paying attention to as well.

Stef Sanjati

Stef is the cool older sister everyone needs in their life. Talking candidly about her transition, her channel is a window into the daily life of a trans girl. She makes videos about all sorts of things, from makeup to dating to sex toys. In the video below, Stef chats with Chase Ross about their personal experiences as trans people having sex.

Ash Hardell

Niche questions about sex are often some of the hardest to find answers to elsewhere on the internet. Despite admitting to being uncomfortable talking about sex, Ash Hardell makes some great videos about it. This one, where Ash answers a bunch of questions about their own sexual experiences, touches on a lot of stuff I needed to hear, to know that my own experiences are totally normal – if different to those of the people around me. Ash’s channel has plenty more great stuff to offer along these, and many other lines – expect plenty of LGBT+ topics alongside personal vlogs.

Siv Greyson

Hailing from South Africa, Siv Greyson is a non-binary vlogger who makes videos covering all sorts of topics, plenty of which are approached from the viewpoint of an activist. Their video about sex addresses sexual safety and education in a culture where sex is considered taboo. It’s important to consider that the majority of resources shared and circulated regarding sex and sexuality come from US- or UK-centric viewpoints, and to uplift the voices of creators and educators from elsewhere in the world.

Ellen Jones

Recently recognised as Stonewall’s Young Campaigner of the year, Ellen Jones is a UK-based activist who makes videos about LGBT+ issues. If you want videos that feel like having a chat with a super well-informed friend, Ellen is your girl. She regularly hosts guests on her channel (with her Dad being a recurring star!), particularly in her LGBT+-centric “Queeries” series.

Queer pop goddesses are dominating (and I’m loving it)

Author:
kesha

By Christiana Paradis

There are a fair amount of music snobs in the world and while I love many of them, I find myself constantly having to defend the amount of female talent that exists in current pop music. “Autotune? Ew.” “It’s just teeny bopper crap.” “Are there any real instruments in that?” “Why don’t you listen to real music?” First, I do listen to real music, but that’s beside the point.

We are living in a time where queer (and out) female pop artists have been stunning us with their impressive vocals for multiple years, but many are struggling to receive recognition for their talents. For those of you naysayers out there I have compiled a list of the top five queer and out female pop icons, so that you don’t have to spend even one minute looking (because that’s literally all it would take) for proof that we have some queer goddesses roaming around the world of pop. So, stop what you’re doing and read, watch and listen. (List is in no particular order).

  • Lady Gaga: Since her first single release Lady Gaga has dominated current pop music. Though it took a lot of weird outfits to get much of the media to notice her, true monsters knew she was legit from the start. When she arrived on the music scene in 2009 she was openly out as bisexual. In the last two years Lady Gaga has rarely performed anywhere that she hasn’t received critical acclaim, but just in case you still need proof, check out Born This Way being performed acapella. Yeah acapella.
  • Halsey: Newer to the pop scene, Halsey’s start came from… YouTube. Though many of us have been there since the beginning or jumped on the bandwagon when Badlands released, a lot of people are most familiar with her song Castle which was used in the trailer for Snow White and The Huntsman: Winter’s War. Halsey, born Ashley Grangipane has been openly bisexual for much of her career and recently released her newest album hopeless fountain kingdom. Need proof her voice is flawless? Check out this stripped down version of the song Eyes Closed from her new album. Additionally, you can find plenty of queer friendly songs on her new album including Bad at Love and Strangers, which was recorded with Lauren Jauregui, also a bisexual pop star.
  • Kesha: Constantly lumped into the pop genre and reduced to “party music” at best, Kesha has long been underrated as an artist. Not to mention the ongoing legal battle with Sony Music after asking to be released from working with the producer who she has consistently claimed sexually and emotionally abused her. Despite many pop stars, including Kelly Clarkson, coming to Kesha’s defence it took several years for these court proceedings to come to an end with Sony finally beginning to nudge Dr. Luke out this past April. Throughout these series of events Kesha remained strong, she played at Pittsburgh’s Pride Festival as an out bisexual artist in 2016 and just released an anthem that has resonated with sexual assault survivors across the world in less than 24 hours. This is the Kesha we have seen all along and the one we’re glad the rest of the world is seeing now for the true artist that she is.
  • Miley Cyrus: Whether you agree with her tongue wagging or not, one thing is for sure you never quite know what Miley Cyrus may say or do next, but you can be assured she really doesn’t give a crap about what you think. Since her escape from Disney, she has continued to do what she wants and that has included being an out pansexual pop star that is not letting the rest of the world define her. Often seen as just another Disney star gone rogue, she has continually been reinventing herself over the past several years. She received a ton of positive feedback from her appearance on A Very Murray Christmas, and for her folk cover of Jolene. Perhaps it’s time we move on from her performances years ago and start giving Miley a real listen.
  • Sia: Though she first caught the attention of many during her performance at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, Sia has been stunning audiences for years. Breathe Me released in 2004 has been used in countless movie soundtracks not to mention the endless slew of songwriting credits she has earned throughout the years. Often getting attention for her ability to remain predominately unseen through various wigs, costumes, etc. Sia has long been a powerful musical force. Self-identifying as queer, Sia has being open about her struggles with alcohol and drug addiction and has released several songs that chronicle these addictions. With one of the most unique and haunting voices in music today, just close your eyes and let her voice touch your soul.

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