It was the first week of November, 2008. Barack Obama had just been elected president a couple of days before. And California’s gay marriage law had been annulled.
It was one of those rare times in my house when the TV wasn’t tuned to Disney or PBS Kids. We were watching the news, and a story about California came on. The girls were just about to turn six. I wasn’t sure how much they would understand, but I told them to be quiet and watch the TV.
When it was done I explained to them that gay people are not allowed to marry in most states in this country. I explained to them that California had decided to let gay people get married. And I explained to them that in this election, California had become the first state in our history to take away rights it had given to its citizens.
Then I said, “This is important because we’re a gay family.”
“No we’re not,” said Delaney, with utter certainty. “We’re Jewish.”
I had no answer.
For my daughters, at this point in their lives, being Jewish was a matter of identity. They had no notion of this force people call “God.” But they did celebrate Shabbat every Friday at their Jewish Community Center preschool. And they knew they were different, that most of the people in their kindergarten classes were not Jewish.
For them, also, being gay was a matter of identity. They have two moms. They do not have a dad. And there was only one other child out of 80+ kindergarteners who could say the same.
So, for them, being Jewish and being a gay family were sort of the same thing. We ARE. And we are.
And they’ve never hidden or been ashamed of either of those facts.
Fast forward to December 2011. They are now in third grade, halfway through their elementary school years. (And, yes, I’m very maudlin about that.) Somehow Dixon got into a conversation with two girls in her class about church.
“I don’t go to church,” she said. “I’m Jewish.”
The little girls’ reactions were apparently to look at her in shock and horror.
As Dixon related it to me later, they said to her, “You hate God.”
And, as she told me later, she just looked at them and thought, “You people are crazy.”
My first response was, “Welcome to the world of small-minded people.”
My second response was, “They were shocked that you were Jewish, but not that you have two moms?”
“They’re kinda new,” she said. “I don’t think they know that.” Then she flashed my grandfather’s mischievous grin. “But I might tell them tomorrow.”
This conversation threw me back to sixth grade in Las Vegas, when, at recess after show and tell, I was cornered on the playground by a little blonde Mormon girl named Shana and two of her equally blonde friends. For as long as I could remember, my mother had thrust a menorah in my hands every December for show and tell. I believe sixth grade may have been the last time.
“You killed Jesus,” Shana said to me, her face twisted up in triumph.
“I didn’t kill Jesus,” I said. “I didn’t even KNOW Jesus.”
I don’t remember the specifics of the rest of the conversation, but I do remember thinking exactly what Dixon thought oh so many years later: These people are crazy.
Some time ago I looked back on this and realized that growing up it didn’t matter what I was taught about Judaism. It didn’t matter whether we kept kosher or not. It didn’t matter how much I understood who Jesus was and why we didn’t believe he was the son of God.
What mattered was this: I knew I was different. And I was taught to be proud of that.
And that is partly why it’s easy for me to be gay. I don’t value and yearn to be part of the mainstream. I’m not chasing some idea of what I’m supposed to be. And I really don’t care what people think of me. There will always be little girls and big girls telling me I killed Jesus. And there will always be people telling me that my sexuality is an abomination.
These people are crazy. I’ve known that since I was 12.
Dixon is just about to turn 9. Last week, we were walking down the street, enjoying a holiday festival of shopping in Andersonville – a neighborhood of Chicago with a rather large lesbian population. Out of the blue, Dixon said, “Next Halloween, I’m going to be a menorah, because I’m proud to be Jewish, no matter what anybody says.”
Then she started singing Hava Nagila. Loudly. And she asked me to sing the words she didn’t know. The three of us were walking down a street full of holiday shoppers belting out an old Yiddish folk tune. I don’t know if either of the girls noticed some of the looks we got. If so, it didn’t make them stop.
They’re proud to be Jewish. They’re proud of their moms. They’re proud to be different. And they’re not going to let these crazy people tell them what to do.
And the conclusion I came to is that it really didn’t matter whether Delaney understood, three years ago, the distinction between being Jewish and being gay. What she understood is that we are who we are.
And we are.