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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

BLACK GAY JEWISH MOTHER: Welcoming the Stranger


I am a black gay Jewish diversity advocate. I’m a writer and I’m a doula. I live with my partner and we have two cats. I like to call myself a yogi but it’s really not so true. I don’t do enough yoga for that. I’m pretty much the same as I was as a kid: I’m extroverted. I’m social and I like to talk, but I’m 34 now.

My first crush was in high school. I lived in a little town in Ohio and didn’t know any gay people. I thought gay people were very male, very white, and super flamboyant. And there weren’t really any black lesbians that I could readily identify with. I was pretty straight for a long time. I was engaged to a man when I was 21 and I didn’t come out until I was 26 or 27, but when I did, I came out in a big way. I came out to a friend, and he said he was gay too! He is now a gay man, married to a woman, with children, because his religion prohibits him from living a gay life.
Then I started online dating. I had gay male friends, and I didn’t know any lesbians. I dragged a bunch of straight friends to lesbian bars. I ended up meeting my partner online and eventually, I told my mom about her. My mom told me not to tell anyone. She thought it was a phase. After three months, not talking to my mom (my best friend!) about my relationship became harder. Our conversations became flat and generic, “How’s the weather?” I ended up sending an email to my entire family, introducing myself as a lesbian, and also introducing my partner. That email started a huge internal family fight. I have never read the emails but I’ve decided I will when there’s enough distance, when I am 40.
I’ve been together with my partner for 5 years. She’s a good one! She’s Jewish, born and raised. She is less religious than me, but our house is very Jewish.
There’s a real lack of understanding about who Jews of color are and who they are not, and how one can be Jewish differently from other peoples’ norm. I’d rather not discuss my private details on shabbos at the table. A lot of Jews of color feel invalidated by their schools, shuls and communities. I volunteer for the Jewish Multi-Racial Network, an organization that was started 15 years ago by parents who had adopted children of color and then realized communities weren’t supportive of their families. Now it’s dedicated to making Jewish spaces safer and more inclusive for multiracial families and Jews of color. We are currently writing a diversity curriculum and I am writing the handbook and I am on the second draft now, We hold an annual retreat for families to meet with each other and for the kids to be in space where they can be with other kids who look like them.
I just did a talk for the Princeton JCC, making the JCC more inclusive to multiracial families and Jews of color. When I give talks about this subject, my desires are multifaceted. I really want people to genuinely be welcomed. We were once strangers and we should have learned from that to be good hosts. People say it but they don’t live it. I want everyone to feel like every other person in the shul. I hope for welcome. I want people to realize that their family isn’t the only way or the only vision of who a Jew is or what  Jew looks like.
This is similar to Eshel’s goal. A lot of the work is modeled on Keshet’s work on inclusion for gay Jews. The Shabbat over Labor Day, my organization held a shabbaton, and I spoke about teshuva, and ended by saying we have always been a multiracial nation. There have always been Jews who aren’t like your idea of what Jews look like. It’s not because the world is going to sh*t, it’s just because the world actually IS diverse. I also think that human history tells us that people have always migrated. It sad that there have to be niche organization to help the inclusion of Jews who are on the so-called fringes. It’s important to keep reminding people that we have always been a diverse nation.
 I said last year that I was going to do a Jewish geography project, where I would take each weeks parsha, and I would figure out where that place on the map, so we could get an actual picture of all the places that Jews have been and how diverse we are. It’s so sad that thousands of years of diversity have been whittled down to Woody Allen. No one questions a Chinese Christian. But a Chinese Jew. That’s strange!
In ten years time, I hope to be a mother. I hope to be an amazingly accomplished doula and a published author. I’d like to retire from JMM, because there shouldn’t be a need for us anymore. Because obviously there are diverse Jews, brown and black and queer. Well! I can dream!
I’ve wanted to be a mom my whole life. But coming out, it’s so scary. Holy sh*t! How do I have a baby? Mommy and daddy love each other and they have a baby. But what do I do? These days, being a doula, I am the go-to lesbian about how to get knocked up. I have a group of friends in their 30’s who are already pregnant, and another group of younger friends who look to me for answers.

I think family is really important to both my partner and me. We both want to be mothers and we both want to carry babies. I think that being a lesbian shouldn’t change your desire to have a family. I think there are friends that are happy with no kids and that experience is also valid, but for me, I want it. I really want it.
I think two children sound about right for us. Sometimes, I think I’d like a very large family and then I think I want to be able to not over-extend myself. We both had one sibling growing up, but we also think it would be interesting to foster kids. But right now, two is our magic number.
There was a study in 2011 that said that kids raised by lesbians are better off. I don’t think you need 2 people to raise a child. I think any queer person who wants to raise a child, goes through so much to get that child. Much more than anyone else. We really want it! It’s something we think about and plan for a really long time. It doesn’t just accidentally happen. I think this might be true also of anyone who wants to adopt. When someone is trying that hard, it indicates that there is thought put into it. You want this child! You are more invested. Most Jewish parents who are queer are just as committed to their kids as the straight parents I know.
 I’ve only experienced homophobia once. It was on my 28th birthday. My partner took me to the Museum of Natural History and I requested a crown and a unicorn for my birthday. My partner got me a pink princess crown that said, “Today is my birthday!” and I wore it all day. A white man with a guitar rode by us and then circled back. I was holding hands with my partner. “I hope that’s sisterly love and not romantic love,” he said. Then he started telling me how [G-d] doesn’t like gay people. But I don’t let people talk sh*t to me. I told him that the last person who G-d talked to directly was about 2,000 years ago, and I also didn’t remember [G-d] talking about holding hands. Could he show me in the Bible? Now, we hold hands in a gay area, but we don’t do a lot of PDA outside of the house, because as two women, you never know [what could happen].
As Jews, our community talks a lot about welcoming the stranger and being loving to everyone and being a light unto the nations, but if you stick out in any way, then you can be cut down in a second. Differences still aren’t fully accepted. There are plenty of opportunities to improve our treatment of others, whether they are Jews of colour or queer Jews or both.