Keshet ["rainbow" in Hebrew] is a national grassroots organization that works for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Jews in Jewish life. Led and supported by GLBT Jews and straight allies, Keshet offers resources, trainings, and technical assistance to create inclusive Jewish communities nationwide.
The very first thing we did at Keshet’s National Training Institute for Jewish educators, youth professionals, and community leaders was share our names and preferred pronouns. As in, “I’m Julie and I prefer she and her.”
Five minutes into the training, and already I was in a space very different from any I had been in before. To be asked for my preferred pronoun meant that no formal assumptions were being made about my gender. This was new, and, honestly? I liked it. While I identify as female, most would say I “look” female, and I have a common female name, it was surprising that in twenty six years, no one had stopped to ask, to confirm how I identify—even if it is (or, rather, especially in case it is) not what society says I look like, sound like, or seem.
But that was just one activity. Something that set the space apart for the entirety of the two-and-a-half day training was that it was both queer and ambiguous. I was “in the closet” as straight, until I chose to come out. This was an experiential part of the training that could never have worked using PowerPoint or a flip chart.
Over the course of our time together, most of the participants revealed their sexual orientation—but not all. I know that the sexual orientation of my peers at the training had nothing to do, to slightly distort what Zach Wahls said so well, with the content of their character… but I was seeing everything, for the first time, through a queer lens, and I wanted to know where people were coming from. I couldn’t rely on the usual norms. It felt both challenging and refreshing to understand that I couldn’t know something so private unless it was shared with me—that orientation, like gender, is not something you can just tell or assume.
Depending on who you are, this all may seem obvious, simplistic. To me, it’s putting together a puzzle that I’ve wanted to put together for a long time. I’ve had many of the pieces—but I didn’t understand them. The Keshet training was educational and informative, and I since have a lot more confidence with the language that I use. But even at the training itself, I was so, so self-conscious. How could I consider myself an ally but say the wrong word, inadvertently use pejorative slang, say “husband” and not “partner”?
And while I’ve gained more confidence, I still have a ways to go. For instance, I thought, leaving the training, that I would only say “partner” from now on… but the word doesn’t pass my lips; it trips, and stays behind.
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