We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. The first night of Passover is next Monday. Donna and I are having eight friends over for seder. It is a feminist seder with an alternative Haggadah. I’m sorting through my recipes to decide what to cook. I’m sorting through how I am going to relate to being a transgender butch reading a lesbian-feminist Haggadah.
Second night seder is at BC and Ruth’s. It is a queer seder, with a lot of people I know from AIDS activism. I am more relaxed at it because I am not cooking. I bring one dish, home brined pickled salmon. It is easy to make; I just have to remember to start it five days in advance.
The Haggadah includes the retelling of the story of the Exodus. The story of Moses leading the Jews out of slavery, out of Egypt. It about their hesitation to leave, their doubts, and their impatience while wandering in the desert in search of the promised land. The rituals of Passover require us to experience Passover as if we personally went out of Egypt. It reminds us that liberation and transformation are possible. It reminds us that we are in the diaspora; we are still in the desert.
I am still searching for a place for myself within the Jewish tradition. I don’t want to make Aliyah to Israel or claim a birthright. I hated the gender rigidity of my synagogue and the language in the prayer-book. Yet I continue to experience myself as Jewish (cultural and culinary) despite distancing myself from mainstream Judaism and the state of Israel.
A few years ago, at second night seder, Richard challenged us to think about leaving our own Egypt. To whom, or to what, am I a slave? What does it mean to be free? From whom am I fleeing? Where am I trying to go? These are questions I’ve struggled with all year. My Egypt is not the Egypt of my ancestors; my Jerusalem is not an occupied city in contemporary Israel.
My Egypt is my shame. The shame of being a girl who wants to be a boy. The shame of being picked on and unpopular, The shame of being fat and ugly. The shame of hiding my pain while struggling to be an adult. The shame of being butch and wearing men’s clothes. The shame of my breasts, my curves, my weight. The shame of dysphoria. The shame of being a freak. The shame of feeling like a fraud. The shame of being a masculine woman. The shame of being transgender. The shame of being stared at and pointed at. The shame of being me.
There are days when I barely sense the shame, and go about my business as if everything is fine. There are days when I am paralyzed by some aspect of it. I struggle to hide my shame, because, of course, I am ashamed of my shame. I am trying to slowly loosen myself from its grip.
My ancestors crossed the Red Sea with only the clothes on their back. They did not stop to rest, make camp, or bake bread. I am also on an unpredictable journey with no map and an unknown destination. I hope I won’t wander for another forty years. I hope I will recognize the promised land when I get there. The traditional seder ends with the saying “Next year in Jerusalem”. Next year I hope to be in my own Jerusalem, wherever that may be. I hope that Donna and Gracie will both be there with me.
Note: While thinking about this post I re-read S. Bear Bergman’s essay on shame. You can find it in his book The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You.