Disclaimer: I am not some whiny ingrate. I have the deepest admiration and respect and gratitude for lesbians and gay men who were activists in a 2nd wave feminist way, and I am in utter awe of drag queens. Their courage makes my life possible. This post is just about my innermost identity; it is not meant to be a political rallying cry.


When people in college used to ask me if I was “gay, straight, or bi,” I used to reply that I defined my sexuality as “pre Oscar Wilde.”

I wasn’t trying to be snotty; I was trying to be accurate. I defined my sexuality in terms of an action or an impulse rather than an all-encompassing identity. Having written one too many papers on Foucault’s History of Sexuality, I felt that Oscar Wilde’s trials of “gross indecency” wherein “homosexual” became a noun rather than an adjective–a species rather than a fun weekend activity–was a turning point in history that didn’t really work with my identity.

I didn’t want to go back to a time when homosexual actions were hushed up in polite company, but neither did I want to introduce myself to everyone according to a label that defined my entire self based upon something as arbitrary as the genitalia of the person with whom I had last had sex.

For political solidarity I could stand and march in pride parades. When on campus, I’d sign petitions and join organizations. But if someone was actually asking me in person, “what are you?” I felt the need to reply, “Pre Oscar Wilde,” and then explain what I meant.

It didn’t go over well in dive bars.

But I stand by my anti-label thing, even to this day. It’s great that more people are embracing “queer” as a flexible term, because when a word is vague like that, there’s enough space to start a conversation. When someone asks “what are you,” it’s nice that a person is asking, but a one word response in regards to sexual impulses over the course of a lifetime? Not quite enough.


In college, I discovered that sexuality is too intricate and complicated a subject for single word definitions, and now I’m learning that religion might be the same way. Defining one’s Jewish practice or defining one’s Jewish community is such a challenge when given words like “Reform,” “Conservative,” and “Orthodox.”  Even adding words like “egalitarian” can only help so much–my hippy community at the Conservative Egalitarian shul in Berkeley felt a lot different from the women in nylons and pearls I met at a Conservative Egalitarian shul in Brookline. What if I keep Shabbat but don’t go to synagogue? What if I go to different synagogues? What if I was raised with a different kind of Jewish practice than the community I now inhabit, leading me to have a different kind of Jewish knowledge and experiences?

Labels feel inadequate these days in my Jewish life–but I think that might be a good thing. I hope Judaism explodes in the same way that the “gay, straight, or bi” labels exploded for me during college. It was exciting, and it was a deeper truth than the labels that already existed. Here’s to excitement and to deeper truths.

This post has been contributed by a third party. The opinions, facts and any media content are presented solely by the author, and JewishBoston assumes no responsibility for them. Want to add your voice to the conversation? Publish your own post here. MORE