Ten years ago, an Internet search for “LGBT Jewish organizations” would turn up few results. Slowly, though, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) voices from within the larger Jewish community have pushed for recognition and equality in every religious denomination and Jewish organization, making the LGBT social movement the most talked about “Jewish social issue” in recent memory.
Today, the flourishing LGBT movement means that most Jews no longer need to choose between their religion and their sexual orientation. And, as the Jewish community has tried to make itself more inclusive of the LGBT population, it has also begun to grapple with how best to accommodate a number of other individuals who identify outside the traditional LGBT classification. But in attempting to be welcoming to these new identities, I wonder: Has the tent become too wide?
Growing up in an Orthodox home made “coming out” challenging. When I finally accepted myself as a gay man, I knew I wanted to find my place in a Jewish community that would both welcome and affirm every part of me. But finding LGBT Jewish spaces where I felt comfortable was difficult, not because the space wasn’t LGBT-friendly but because it too broadly defined Jewish practice. Once I did find a place that suited my Jewish and LGBT identities, I realized that I needed to understand more fully the idiosyncrasies of the LGBT community I lived within.
Coined in the 1990s to reflect the widening umbrella of identities represented by what was originally referred to simply as the “gay community,” “LGBT” originally referred to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. Over the years, other letters have been added to include additional marginalized identities — Q (queer or questioning), I (intersexed), T (transsexual), GQ (genderqueer), GNC (gender non-conforming) and A (allies) — resulting in an alphabet soup acronym of LGBTIQQTGNCA.
In an attempt to be inclusive of each of these groups that are excluded from the traditional “LGBT” moniker, many in the LGBT community have started using the term “queer” to reference the community as a whole. But this solution is not without its problems. To many, including myself, “queer” has its roots in political radicalism and a set of beliefs to which many of us don’t adhere. The effort to create inclusive spaces for the more marginalized comes, sometimes, at the expense of others. For example, through my work as a producer and promoter of parties for gay Jewish men in the New York City area, I am often told that as gay Jewish men, they do not feel welcome in “queer” or mixed LGBT spaces. Some gay men — myself included — feel that these spaces emasculate them, or make them feel guilty for fitting into a gender binary or for feeling comfortable in the gender they were born into. Repeatedly, we hear that, as “white men,” we are privileged and our masculinity represents the historical oppression of the LGBT community. While many gay men are accused of misogyny, many men feel that they are victims of the opposite of misogyny — misandry. At times, the accusation of misogyny stems from a conscious as well as a subconscious misandry in the queer Jewish community.
It is not clear that it is the responsibility of a movement to make everyone who feels part of it feel welcome. But here is an abiding question: Must the LGBT movement evaluate its language and practice to ensure that all who hold up the LGBT umbrella feel included and safe — those both at the center and on the periphery?email print