You Look Just Like Barbra Streisand!

Barbra and SadieWhen I came home from the beauty parlor, after my first pixie cut, my father said to me “You look just like Barbra Streisand!” He meant it as a compliment. I broke into a tantrum. I did not want to look like Barbra Streisand. I wanted to look like Paul McCartney.

The pixie cut was meant to “fix” the haircut that I gave myself with ordinary scissors. I wanted a “Beatle mop cut” but mostly I wanted to cut off my hair. I was still hoping that a hair cut could turn me into a boy.

My father adored me. My father adored Streisand. She was a poor, big nosed, Jewish girl from Brooklyn who made it big. She was a star.

I didn’t want to be a star. I didn’t want a girl’s nick-name. I didn’t like girlish diminutives or terms of endearment. I especially hated when my Grandmother called me Ameleh or Feygele; the former the Yiddishification of my birth name, the latter Yiddish for little bird. Years before I changed my name I forbid anyone to call me Ameleh or Feygele. I cringed at the sound. I didn’t want any part of being either.

Barbra as Anshel

Barbra as Anshel in Yentl

I didn’t see the movie Yentl (the 1983 musical, which Streisand produced, directed, re-wrote, and starred in). I remember seeing the trailers and thinking that Barbra Streisand looked way too much like Barbra Streisand. She didn’t look like a yeshiva boy to me. Her hair was still in a kind of pixie cut.

The movie Yentl is based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story Yentl the Yeshiva Boy. I’ve read the story. Yentl is the rabbi’s daughter, who, after her father’s death, cuts her hair, puts on men’s clothing, leaves town, changes her name to Anshel, and goes to study in a yeshiva. Anshel falls in love with Avigdor, another yeshiva boy (there is a complicated love triangle with Anshel being married off to Avigdor’s ex-fiance), and eventually Anshel confesses to Avigdor that he is a woman, not a man. Instead of living as a woman with Avigdor, Anshel deserts his wife and runs away again, to study in another town. Singer’s ending is unresolved; I was left wondering what Anshel’s life will be like, how many more times will he have to run away. Streisand changed the ending; Anshel reverts back to Yentl and gets on a boat bound for America. The movie makes a feminist statement, but the original story is a transgender tragedy.

Yentl the Yeshiva Boy made me question what I would have done in Anshel’s place. I can’t picture myself going stealth or wearing a yarmulke and a shtreimel.

Many years ago, in a misguided attempt to improve my style, I bought a black wool beret. When Donna saw me wearing it, she laughed, and said “You look just like Fernandel!” I would have preferred a comparison to a more debonair actor, but I am still much happier to be Donna’s Fernandel than her Barbra.

Fernandel

Fernandel

Notes: Fernandel was a French comic actor, starring in films from the 1930’s through the 1960’s. He was famous for his wide horse-teeth smile and his large nose.

Yentl the Yeshiva Boy was published in Commentary magazine in 1962, you can read it here.

The word feygele (little bird) is also slang for fairy or fag. The English words came first; the Yiddish usage is American, not old country. It was probably coined because of the phonetic connection.

 

 

 

 

13 thoughts on “You Look Just Like Barbra Streisand!

  1. Lesboi

    All I heard after I got my first pixie cut was that I looked like a boy (with a disgusted tone) which just made my mother more resolved to put me in dresses and jewelry.

    I did see Yentl back when it came out and was disappointed with the ending. It seemed like the movie characters like Yentl always ended up straight and enjoying being women which disappointed me. I do love Barbra’s voice though. I once had a neighbor in my old condo building that loved to play Barbra Streisand music super loud on weekends. He was an older single guy who sold used cars for a living and ran around in tiny running shorts and no shirt at home. I don’t think Barbra would have been impressed. I certainly wasn’t. One time he came over to talk to me about getting a car and when he sat down on my couch his junk fell out of his shorts onto my couch. I didn’t buy the car.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      The person who cut my hair kept trying to put those long side wisps on my pixie – and I kept trying to not have it feathery (usually it was some form of messy). I still have to remind Alan, who cuts my hair, to cut it straight across at the ears. My mother got upset every time someone assumed I was a boy (which happened all the time when I was 5 -10 years old). I could see her stiffen and hold it together until we got home, at which point she’d let it out. She was definitely humiliated by it.

      One advantage of being trans sans phallo surgery is not having to worry about one’s junk showing. I would not be impressed by your car salesman, or by an stp falling by the wayside either.

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      1. Lesboi

        I seem to remember that I was really unhappy with my first pixie cut and the poor hairdresser had to re-do it. It wasn’t short enough and I think she tried to do those weird wispy sideburn things too which I had a fit about.

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  2. Kris

    I will pay to see you in a shtreimel, but I guess that show is never going to go on the road. 😀 The movie Yentl left me feeling strangely empty. I did not know why at the time, but I can now trace it to feeling unfulfilled, wanting to rewrite and reshoot the ending. Interesting memories Barbra brings to the fore – I had to grin at Shawn’s recollection!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I don’t think you’ll get to see me in a shtreimel. The closest I’ve come is to wearing a yarmulke at a lesbian friend’s wedding. The original story is clear that Anshel will not go back to being female, and will not stay with Avigdor, even if he can study torah secretly. Today, it would be possible for him to be a gay trans man or a genderqueer pansexual torah scholar (probably in the Reconstructionist movement).

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      His nose was not his most noticeable characteristic, and he is not the most handsome rock star, but he did have a very particular and appealing aesthetic when he was in the Culture Club.

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  3. halitentwo

    Aand, my “Hebrew” name (the one my grandfather got for me from his Orthodox rabbi) is Chai Feygele! How cute. How sweet. Bird of Life? Or just faggy life? Gay life? Has always made me want to throw a tantrum. Yentl inspired a lackluster disappointment in me akin to a queasy nausea. The ending sucked. Papa can you hear me rolling my eyes.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Can we change our Hebrew names (other than pretending to have better ones)?

      When I realized part-way into the post that I was starting to write about Yentl, instead of endearments, I thought I should watch it. Instead, I re-read the story, read some reviews (surprisingly not-bad from NY Times and Roger Ebert) and then read I. B. Singers piece on why it was a terrible movie and how she changed the ending and the folly of her being on screen all the time. I looked at the trailer, and could not convince myself to either rent it (for $2.99) or steal it (torrent-stream). So I still haven’t seen it, but I’m sure I would hate it.

      I also found out that in 2014, in Washington DC, there was a stage production of Yentl that was true to the original, and that Jill Sobule (I Kissed A Girl) wrote the music for it. That, I would see.

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  4. Widdershins

    No matter what Barbra starred in she was (and is) always Barbra. (The only actor I can think of who is a true chimera is Meryl Streep) I guess that’s true for all of us, no matter where we go, there we are.
    In hindsight I can say my parents tried, but they were incompetent at best, and didn’t have a parenting clue between them.

    Yentl – the movie was fun. Babs sang her heart out, the cinematography was gorgeous, did I mention she sang? 😀

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  5. Liam

    Barbra Streisand, ah! Beautiful woman, great voice, but like you, I’d hate to be compared to her. I’m not like any woman at all, for cripes sake.
    I remember when finding out I was Jewish I was so disappointed at not being allowed to wear tallit, kippah and tzitzit. I wanted those. But instead I felt forced to wear long skirts and a snood. I never felt comfortable wearing them. Still shuddering just thinking about it.

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