1. Dear Sh’ma,
    While perusing a recent issue of Sh’ma, I happened to come across an article by Jayson Littman entitled “Has the Tent Become Too Wide?” In it he writes about his concern that in making space for gender and sexual identities “outside the traditional LGBT classification,” the Jewish community has opened its doors too wide, making queer Jewish spaces uncomfortable for cisgender (i.e. non-transgender) gay men. Mr. Littman is entitled to his own opinion, but I feel obligated to point out a number of ways in which I feel that his article fails to accurately represent the current situation in the queer Jewish community.

    While it is true that acceptance for gay and lesbian Jews has been improving by leaps and bounds within the progressive Jewish community in recent years, it is disingenuous at best for Mr. Littman to claim that “today, the flourishing of the LGBT movement means that most Jews no longer need to choose between their religion and their sexual orientation.” For every Jewish community that has begun the difficult work of untangling the legacy of generations of discrimination and non-acceptance, there are considerably more for whom “acceptance” of gay and lesbian Jews comes, tacitly or explicitly, at the price of their willingness to be as unobtrusive as possible and to avoid rocking the boat. Even this nominal level of acceptance is frequently lacking for bisexual and transgender Jews, whose concerns and even existence go largely unnoticed and unacknowledged by the Jewish community at large.

    Given the unevenness of LGBT acceptance in Jewish spaces–heavily weighted toward gay men and lesbians, and in particular those whose gender performance and lifestyle is not strongly at variance with the broader, heterosexual Jewish world–it is troubling for me to see Mr. Littman attempt to drive a wedge between “traditional” LGBT identities and what he sees as “politically radical” queer identities. In struggles for inclusion and recognition within marginalized communities, “political radicalism” has all too often been an excuse for relatively privileged members of the community whose identities easily fit within the majority culture to distance themselves from those of their cohorts who remain embarrassingly “different.”

    If some white, gay men find it difficult to be reminded of their relative privilege relative to others in the queer community, it is important to remember that sexual preference is only one aspect of discrimination within Jewish communities. Race, sex, gender identity and presentation all historically have important roles to play as well. To claim that “the accusation of misogyny stems from a conscious as well as a subconscious misandry” is to completely ignore this fact, and the various complicated ways in which prejudice and discrimination play out in our communities.

    Queer Jews who are privileged to have found a place of relative comfort and acceptance within the broader Jewish community should not on account of those successes allow themselves to forget the amount of work that remains to be done, or the number of Jews who are still forced to choose between being true to themselves and living in community with other Jews. Such marginalized identities represent not a threat to “traditional” LGBT identities, but rather an opportunity for new voices and new perspectives with which to enrich the ever-evolving tapestry of Jewish civilization. When has the tent become too wide? Never, not until every Jewish person has found a safe and welcoming space in which to be Jewish.

    Leiah Moser, a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

    Posted by
    Leiah Moser
  2. Dear Leiah,

    Thank you for your response to my essay, “Has the Tent Become Too Wide?” which appeared in the December 2012 issue of Sh’ma.

    Much of your response has to do with the work that synagogues and the Jewish community still have to do to be more inclusive of LGBTQ individuals. I fully agree with you on this matter. However, this is not exactly what I was addressing. Rather, I was specifically addressing the issue of how gay Jewish men have been actively made to feel unwelcome and/or guilty for fitting into a gender binary when in “queer” or mixed LGBTQ Jewish spaces.

    Speaking as a leader in the LGBTQ Jewish community, my essay is a cautionary tale. I have seen many instances firsthand; and we should be mindful of the trap when those who are oppressed become oppressors themselves. It is also important to note that the term “queer” is not interchangeable with “LGBT,” and in addition to having a completely different connotation for many in the community, the term “queer” is in and of itself a political device that excludes and is divisive.

    My intent was not to drive a wedge between “traditional” identities and “politically radical queer” identities, but to instead talk about a wedge that already exists – a wedge that appears to have originated when some of the more marginalized members of the community started to become privileged themselves. Instead of being inclusive of all members of the LGBTQ acronym, these members have at times used their newly attained privilege to be discriminatory towards the traditional standard-bearers of the LGBT movement.

    Of course it is “important to remember that sexual preference is only one aspect of discrimination within Jewish communities.” But my essay never claims to address all of the many inequalities that play themselves out within the larger Jewish community. It would be impossible to do so without a much broader thesis and significantly longer essay.

    It is our responsibility to ensure that every Jewish person finds a safe and welcome space in the larger Jewish community. This includes those who identify as “queer” and those within the traditional LGBTQ identification. We’re not there yet.

    Sincerely, Jayson Littman

    Posted by
    Jayson Littman
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