Two poems about Jewishness and queerness.

“Strangers in a Strange Land”

This poem is included in the 2018 anthology “Queer Around the World: A LGBTQ+ True Stories Anthology

The good thing about exile
is the conversations it can start.
Three Jews wandering Amtrak
One quiet woman fleeing to Amsterdam
as quickly as she left
perhaps if Judaism had not
condemned her love her sex
Israel would have been her aliyah.
One man, even more unplanned than myself,
like a Quaker he moves
when a divine spark moves him
eventually to land back in Indiana or Columbia
where he retains some heritage
it seeps out in his voice
melts over his vaguely Jewish neshama,
though he doesn’t know he has one.
The third wanderer is me,
back in exile after being
embraced by those more like me
than I ever imagined
clinging to connections:
The Jewish woman who
Finally gathered in Jerusalem
despite the woman she took as her besheret,
the families all across Israel who
invited me into their homes
hoping I would set up my own house.
It is this feeling of loss
or lost
that pushes me on,
out of Texas,
yearning for familiar.

I came out as bisexual when I was 20 years old, to very little fanfare. I was at a liberal college in a liberal city and no one was terribly surprised or interested. At the time, it mostly meant I went from hooking up with men to hooking up with men and women. No one dated when I was in college, much less had relationships.

Related

At some point, after I graduated college and went to Israel to connect on a deeper level with what it meant to be Jewish, I came back to that same city. I recall telling one of my best friends with confidence that I wasn’t sure whether I would marry a man or a woman (nonbinary identities weren’t really a thing anyone named at that point), but I was sure I would marry someone Jewish.

Flash forward five years later: I’d met the woman who would go on to be my spouse. She was not Jewish when we met, or even when we married. I say that because she is Jewish now, but that’s sort of irrelevant. She was a part of my Jewish life and the Jewish home and family we created, piece by piece, before she converted.

At this point, I’ve been married for 14 years, together with the same woman for 21 years. Yet I’m still bisexual, because I’m still me. My identity hasn’t changed just because I’m partnered with one person of a particular gender. I say this because it still seems to be something that needs to be said. It’s part of why I haven’t switched my identity to pansexual, even though that’s probably technically more accurate. I’ve fought hard for my bisexuality not to be erased, damn it—I’m not giving it up now.

“Personal Ad for My Country”

Published in “Protestpoems” (December 2012)

Married Jewish female
seeks one person
who knows how to love country
without hating its inhabitants
who knows how to cradle
both extremes while standing
astride the middle.
Married Jewish female
whose marriage is only legal
in five states, who feels
as uncomfortable with
the Orthodox of her own kin
as she does with orthodox Christians
orthodox Muslims
orthodox capitalists
and orthodox secularists.
Married Jewish female
seeks a country
where the borders don’t feel like prisons
where the talking heads
on the television
don’t preach hatred
and mistrust.
Married Jewish female
seeks love.
It’s hard enough
some days
to remain
a married Jewish female
without feeling the urge to
“fuck and run”
from arguments over whose turn it is
to change the cat litter
from arguments over which part of the population
deserves more funding
from attack ads
from bitter political debates
from a whole world.
Married Jewish female
seeks a home
Not a condominium or
a house or a mortgage
Not a rented space
from year to year
But a home
a place where my soul
can rest.

At times in my life when I didn’t have enough of a community of Jews to have Shabbat dinners together, I have had secular potlucks on Friday nights with hippie friends from work. My Jewish community of observing Shabbat and Havdalah, of taking a day of the week to rest and reconnect with what is most important, has always included Jews and non-Jews alike. The Venn diagram of Jewish values and progressive, community-minded lefties is highly overlapping. Community, taking time to acknowledge and bless the good things in our lives, taking time to just BE and breathe—these values are Jewish and universal at the same time. These two poems, one written in 1995 and one in 2012, still capture how I feel about my Jewishness and my queerness more than ever.

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