“Happy New Year!” said the cute 40-something redhead, just as Rosh Hashanah services concluded last week. Her brown eyes caught mine, and then she surprised me with a gentle stroke of my bare arm and a peck on the cheek. I don’t know her, I thought, but I sure would like to.
This is something new, given that I am a transgender woman in the midst of yet another transition: exploring my sexual attraction beyond the “straight” label.
Being turned-on by this petite woman’s soft caress, my mind turned to thoughts of several sexy cis lesbians, a bevy of binary trans beauties and a few fascinating gender non-conforming folks I just met at an LGBTQ gathering in steamy Palm Springs, CA. My sexual attraction has developed a fluidity, four months after bottom surgery.
As I processed those fun, flirty feelings, I thought to myself that synagogue was just about the last place I should be thinking about sexual urges. Ah, lust; one of the seven deadly sins of Christian lore. One rabbi claimed that the original list actually has its roots in the Talmud.
I’m not one to argue, being “Newish Jewish.” I grew up Irish Catholic, and nine months ago, I began the process of converting.
It was back in my all-boys Catholic high school that I first learned of the seven deadly sins — pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. Reading the list now, they seem remarkably out of step with our modern LGBTQ experience (fuck off if you use that horrible phrase “lifestyle”). So, why can’t we come up with our own list of seven queer sins?
Here’s mine, and I’ll say right up front: I’m no angel.
I was blessed to have marched in L.A. Pride and to have been honored as a community hero leading the NYC Pride March earlier this summer. But I was sad to see corporations given priority over people. Why must everyone else wait hours to bring up the rear so that banks, beer brewers, airlines and other sponsors can step out front? I know the money raised ultimately benefits our cause, but why give our benefactors a more prominent position than our own? It’s a sin, I tell ya.
Is there an LGBTQ person alive who hasn’t felt rejection of some kind? This is one of those sins that we experience twofold: as the rejected, as well as in our rejection of others. Trans women like me too often experience this, from cis haters and gay opponents alike, especially TERFs, but it’s far worse for trans women of color. Bisexuals face erasure daily. It’s rough for NBs and GNC folx, too. And we, in turn, reject those who deny our rights and resent those who align with our enemies. Hell, I don’t lose a wink of sleep committing that sin.
Feeding My Emotions
Name your poison: Chocolate, ice cream, or better yet, chocolate ice cream. Too often, I respond to the rejections, oppressions and daily depression with doses of alternatingly sugary or salty sweets, cholesterol-centric comfort food, and I drink my share of booze, from margaritas to beer to wine. (Manischewitz doesn’t count. Sure, it’s a vice, but on those really bad days, it’s just how we cope.)
Lust, and Lack Thereof
We are sexual beings. Love is love, and although I have always considered myself straight, I do recognize I am evolving. While I have never considered masturbation a sin, it’s a relief to recognize Judaism has no moral compunction compared to my repressed Irish Catholic upbringing, especially given my newfound pleasure center. So is lust a sin? Not in my book. I think the absence of it can be, however; when we trans women suppress our natural testosterone, our sexual drive is often inhibited. For some of us, it never rebounds. That is an awful price to pay to be who we know we are.
Like rejection, we experience this sin both as victim and as perpetrator. As a woman and as a trans person, I find plenty of things to be outraged about, daily. But in recent months, I’ve tried to temper my emotions, avoid anger and embrace forgiveness. My biggest challenge, especially at this time of year: how can I ever forgive those who have made my life a living hell? Why can’t I “let it go?” I’m apparently still not done being outraged.
So much for my happy new year. My most recent dismissal fell on Rosh Hashanah, as part of a wider layoff at a low-paying but reliable marketing consulting outfit. I realized I’ve lost four jobs in the five years since I came out. This isn’t just a run of bad luck; one in four trans people have lost a job due to bias, and more than 75 percent of trans workers report some kind of workplace discrimination, according to NCTE. It’s a sin that once we finally live our truth, employers conveniently find reasons like “performance issues” and “budget cuts” to kick us to the curb.
Sorry, no shame here. As a sometimes outraged, newly unemployed, single mom of three who feeds her emotions after being rejected (and yet still feels lust), I freely admit that my yoga pants are 100 percent dedicated to couch potatoing, and not yoga. If donning workout wear without working out is a sin, I’ll just plead guilty right now and take my punishment, while remaining casually comfortable. Technically, I am only somewhat sloth-like. When it counts, I clean up pretty good.
In fact, you’ll see me this week wearing my black LBD from the back of my closet, as my children and I attend the Kol Nidre service. It’s the beginning of a 24-hour period of repentance known as Yom Kippur, meaning “Day of Atonement.”
We will fast, reflect, and mourn all those we have lost. Tradition holds that we will pray the Unetaneh Tokef, in which we will “acknowledge the enormity” of this time. The prayer suggests we must consider “who shall live and who shall die,” a line that causes a widow like me to choke up every damn time.
Unlike the faith I was raised in, there is as much emphasis on forgiving others for their sins as there is in admitting our own failures and making amends.
This is what Jews do. I am proud to be counted among them.
Oh, and I look forward to seeing that little redhead again, too.
Image via Getty