Some years ago I was grocery shopping with my then young son Asher during the weeks leading up to Christmas. As we were checking out, the clerk smiled and said to Asher, “I hope you’re being a good boy so that Santa will visit you.”
Asher replied, “I don’t have to be good; I’m Jewish.”
December can be a difficult month for non-Christians (and for Christians as well, but in different ways), because Christmas is in the air. The Christmas music, decorations, warm “Merry Christmas” greetings from strangers – these all contribute to a feeling of invisibility for those who are not going to the party.
LGBTQ people well understand this feeling of invisibility as our identity is often unseen. We are asked about other gender spouses/dates we don’t have or want; about childhoods in a gender that wasn’t ours. People use the wrong pronouns. Our sexual orientations and gender identities are about so much more than sex/gender. It is often painful for this important aspect of our selves to remain hidden.
How to deal with misidentification? A few years ago, I decided that December would be my personal Jewish queer “out” month. I wear a rainbow yarmulke and various signifiers of my Jewish and queer identities – pins, t-shirts, jewelry with various combinations of Jewish/rainbow symbols and declarations. You’d probably be surprised that all of this outerwear has almost no impact on the assumptions of Christmas celebration and heterosexuality. But I feel better in my personal resistance.
And occasionally, even when I am not in the Bay Area bubble, someone does notice. That someone is often another Jew or queer who understands and gives me a knowing comment or nod. They say, “I like your chai necklace,” or “I bought the same shirt at Pride last year.” We share a moment of mutual recognition and acknowledgement. I am seen.
Even more rarely, someone who is not a member of either of my tribes notices and comments: “You’re Jewish – well, Happy Hanukah, that’s right isn’t it? That’s what you say to Jewish people, right?”
“Right,” I respond. “Thank you.” No need to go into a long explanation of how Hanukah is not the Jewish Christmas and was a pretty minor holiday until Jews felt like we needed something to deal with the December onslaught. It really is enough to be seen and correctly identified, even a little bit.
Rabbi Jane Rachel Litman
Coordinator, CLGS Jewish Roundtable