Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Split Down the Mechitza

A post by Emet

How many times have I been asked "ben o bat?" (boy or girl) in Israel? How many times have I been stopped trying to enter the women’s side of the Kotel?

Maybe I should explain first off that I’m genderqueer. I have a female body, but don’t identify with femininity at all. The definition, according to Wikipedia:

        • having an overlap of, or blurred lines between, gender identity and sexual and romantic orientation.
        • two or more genders (bigender, trigender, pangender);
        • without a gender (nongendered, genderless, agender; neutrois);
        • moving between genders or with a fluctuating gender identity (genderfluid);
        • third gender or other-gendered; includes those who do not place a name to their gender;

A few weeks ago I went to Yedidya, a Modern Orthodox synagogue near our apartment in Jerusalem. I sat on the women’s side of the mehitza. A woman approached me. She asked me why I wasn’t wearing a kippah. I was a little surprised, but once I explained that I was female bodied, she agreed that the kippah wasn’t necessary.

A few nights ago I went to Shira Chadasha, another Modern Orthodox, though more egalitarian, synagogue where a woman leads Kabbalat Shabbat but a man leads Maariv and a minyan is comprised of no less than ten men AND ten women. I sat on the women’s side of the mehitza. A woman went up to the women I was with and asked if I was a man, and therefore on the wrong side. Once they explained that I was female bodied, it was no problem for me to stay where I was.

I don’t hold anything against the women that were policing their side of the mehitza. It’s their job, number one. Isn’t that what Judaism is about, after all? Making sure that everyone knows what side of the mehitza they belong? Vaginas belong on one side, penises, the other.

I, for one, am really thinking of starting to advocate for the brit mila mehitza. I want every man to lower their drawers and PROVE that they’re really part of the covenant before they can enter the mens side.

By the way, I’ve been on the men’s side of the mehitza. I’ll note that no one came up to me to check my brit mila situation. Even so, I couldn’t relax, couldn’t enjoy it, just couldn’t shake the fact that I felt that I was using privilege, privilege that the women that were sitting in the back of the shul, behind me, with voices so soft that i couldn’t even hear them, that had no view of the pulpit, were unable to have. And might never know, how awesome it is to have a view, how powerful it is to be surrounded by men with strong loud passionate voices singing love songs to Hashem.

So why not daven masorti, or reform? That would take care of the situation.

I LIKE davening split mehitza minyan. It’s not without its problems, but it feels like home. I like feeling surrounded by my sisters and their beautiful voices.

Many people would say to me, well you made your choice, don’t complain about it, your gender is confusing, weird, unclear, ambiguous, etc. Number one, I’m not complaining. Indeed I have made a choice. I could absolutely wear a skirt. Just like any frum man could wear one. He makes a choice also to wear pants, or a striemel, or a kippah. The reason I CHOOSE not to wear a skirt is because for me, dressing like a traditional frum woman would be as uncomfortable as say, a fish riding a bicycle. Think of the frumest rabbi you know and imagine someone not allowing him to wear tzitzit. It’s a choice, sure, lots of hilonim (non-religious people) don’t wear tzitzit. But really, it's not a choice. Some people will say, that’s not a great comparison, these are Torah given mitzvoth. But that rabbi would feel naked without wearing his tzitzit. It would feel wrong and uncomfortable for him. It's the same for me. I would feel wrong and uncomfortable in a skirt or dress. That is simply not a choice that I can make for myself.

Very few people can understand what it's like to not truly fit on either side of the mehitza. Not to fit into a frum community. Not to fit into societal gender norms. That’s my life every day. Step onto the other side of the mehitza from the one that you’re used to davening on, just for one minute, and step into my world.

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