Leaving Egypt

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 Sinai Desert - Wikepedia

The Sinai Desert – Wikipedia

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.

29 thoughts on “Leaving Egypt

  1. amediablogger

    I think you’re amazing. I love reading your posts because they’re so well written in the sense that you share a part of your deep self. I’m enjoying learning about you and how brave and courageous you are. I admire your self awareness and I feel sad that you are faced with so many emotinal challenges. I wish life wasn’t so superficial at times and that we lived in a society where “just being” was a recognised norm. That way we could all “just be” and love would rule. I hope that made sense to you my friend. Big hug and kisses.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. Deep self is much easier to share on paper than in person. In person I can be very quiet, and it is unlikely that I would talk about my shame this way to anyone directly. Fortunately I loosen up at the keyboard. It is an interesting question that you indirectly pose, “if you could just be, without any constraints, without any norms, what would you be?”

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      1. amediablogger

        I’m sure it’s the deep you that everyone who’s around you loves. Of course many people cannot be so open amd deep about such things without developing both trust and an awareness of being safe whilst vulnerable. I’m glad you’re able to loosen up on your blog and show this side to me and all your other readers.
        I’ll answer your question: but not on here. I’m tempted to write a blog post and at the same time I’m tempted just answer briefly here.
        I’d love to try somethings; once I met a top transgender he/she if you like (that’s how he/she identified) breasts on top and penis down below. That individual was stunning and passed as a very feminine woman because of the physique. We hung out together; retail therapy, general therapy, spas etc. We even had some sexy time together; I was about 26 at the time and had just broken up with my first ever gf. That individual developed strong feelings towards me but I couldn’t deal with it. I was young, immature, I couldn’t see beyond gender I was afraid. I did care so much about that person but I couldn’t say that we were in a relationship at that time because in my head everything had to be black and white. I had only come out a year earlier to a few friends so was still trying to accept my sexual orientation and to try to discover who I was.
        Then there’s me as maria and there’s another side, some of my close friends call me Michael. That’s from my childhood, I used to swear that was my name and that I was a little boy. Everyone said I was a tomboy, I still am a tomboy and I’ve realised that my masculine side comes out when I’m in a relationship. I’m the gentleman although the feminine girly or sporty one but still. I can be very old fashioned when I’m in love but as a gentleman. I also lack the tact and often I don’t notice the things women wish I would so I’m told my characteristics are more masculine than feminine at times, for the most part.
        At times I long for a boyish woman, smart in appearance but boyish in looks. I feel awkward though when I’ve dated boyish women in the past not because of their appearance but the ideas of sexual exclusivity and being part of the scene and active. I’ve often felt pressure to conform when I’ve been in a relationship with a boyish woman.
        I hope that’s answered your question. I’m looking forward to your thoughts and answer to your question.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        If I was completely unconstrained, I’d probably want to be some form of Peter Pan and have Donna be my Wendy forever. I’d want to be part adult part child, and be more spontaneous/adventurous.
        I’ve always been an emotional romantic and monogamous by nature (my affection drive is high but my sex drive was always on the low side which makes it easy to be monogamous – in this way I am not at all typically masculine). I don’t know how much of that is my innate nature and how much of that is how I was raised (nurture or lack thereof).
        I’m a “one man dog” to completely mix up my metaphors.

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  2. txbridgefarmer

    “I am ashamed of my shame.” Those words hit home. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought that exact thing while running through a very similar list of my own imagined “defects”. Here’s hoping that next year we can all find ourselves in our own Jerusalem, my friend!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Old shame has a very strong pull, particularly homophobia and gender non-comformity phobia (not exactly transphobia but the childhood version of it). My adult brain knows that I am fine, but my kid brain thinks there is something wrong with me because I’m not like everyone else (even though I don’t want to be like everyone else). I’d like to think that because I am out and proud I should be “over” the shame, but it is just not that simple.

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  3. urbanmythcafe

    The farther that you wander from a faith, the more that you can look from the outside and see the power, and universal nature, of its rituals. These rituals survive because they say something very deep about what it is to be human, what it is to be alive, what it is to be part of the universe.
    Throw out the dogma, the sexism. Keep the Yom Kippur, the Purim, the Pesach, and the Shavout. Throw out the bagels, blintzes, and callah (if you want to stay thin!). Keep the chutzpah.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Funny, it is the food that I like the best (bagels and rugelach). During Passover I don’t eat wheat flour products except for matzoh (which is only tolerable with lots of butter or peanut butter). So no beer, bread, cookies, crackers, or cake unless they are special for Passover. Under normal circumstances I am a bread freak (I know intimately all the good bread bakeries in the city); the 8 days of Passover are a challenge for me. I have a couple of good potato recipes that I save for the holiday, and I treat myself to some good cheese, fruit, and dark chocolate to take my mind off baguettes. And I’ll super-size the chutzpah.

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  4. anexactinglife

    This post really spoke to me. I think about these issues all the time with respect to my genderqueer child. Where are they going? How will they know when they get there? It is truly an unpredictable journey, as you say. Your tag Authenticity sums it up.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      At least we are not worshipping idols or waiting for G-d our father to hand down the commandments on a tablet and tell us what to do!
      Authenticity is both a blessing (it makes me stop and think about what I am doing) and a curse (I can never do anything the “easy” way), but in general whenever I try to change I always end up reverting back to being me.

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  5. timethief

    This is another outstanding piece of self reflective writing. I am honored to have been given the opportunity to read it. And, I’m putting Bear’s book on my reading list.

    With love always,
    titi

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m glad you enjoyed reading it and I’m glad that I have a place to publish my thoughts. Otherwise they just kick around in my head – this way they get some fresh air.

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  6. Lesboi

    I feel you being ready to burst into your true self….whoever that ends up being. I’m also proud to be travelling this road with you. Your words are inspirational.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. It is also good for me to know that there are other people in middle-age struggling with the same issues that I am – it is not important to me exactly which route they take – I am interested in their process and how they are thinking about gender/presentation/body image/relationships etc.
      Look forward to reading more of your posts when you are ready and have time to write.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you for the comments and the link to the book – I’ve heard Melanie speak but I haven’t read the book -but it is now on my stack. I like the ring of a “righteous Pesach” – sits much better than a “Happy Passover”.

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  7. BC Craig

    “…what if mitzrayim was not a place, or not even a set of expectations, or societal norms, or
    religious prohibitions, or legal limitations. What if mitzrayim was your own body? And every
    time you looked at your reflection, every time someone called you by your name, you knew
    that you were imprisoned, enslaved in a body that was not your home. And like the generations
    of our ancestors born in Egypt, you were born into that narrow place. And even though you had
    never known anything else you knew, in your heart of hearts, that you did not belong there. The journey of a transgender person, like the journey of the Children of Israel, involves leaving
    everything known for the promise of something completely unknown. And even if what is
    known is mitzrayim, it is terrifying. And their lives depend on it. And even when they are ready,
    they still must contend with Pharaoh who does not want to let them go. “

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    1. BC Craig

      Sorry, I should have cited it myself. I came across it in my endless search for haggadah text and when I read your post it made me think of you. Looking forward to being in and out of mitzrayim with you soon.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for the link to the haggadah, I downloaded it and will take a good look. I grew up with the “Maxwell House” haggadah, which was boring and very “g-d our father”. I was angry that I never got to ask the four questions since I was the youngest child (my older brother got to do it every year which seemed unfair) and I knew how to chant them. It has been a long time since I’ve sat through a seder that did not use either a feminist, queer, or liberation haggadah. So long, that I’d forgotten that it isn’t traditional to go around in a circle reading, and that usually my Dad read the whole thing himself (except for the four questions). Thanks again.

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  8. RonaFraser

    I love the “to what am I a slave?” question. I will be pondering that today, though I currently suspect for me it is money. I do not consider myself at all ruled by money — I do not value money in itself or standing… but most of my work is done/charged hourly, so I am always having to pay attention to how much time I am spending on this and that… until I feel like everything I do is for that — no time for myself, as I do not pay myself…

    Re shame, have you read any Brene Brown?

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Not familiar with Brene Brown but I took a look at her website and book list. Is there one that you would especially recommend to read? I’d give it a try. Thanks.

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