Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Queer Jewess, dissected
Last Friday, August 3, one of the contributors at Jewesses with Attitude wrote:
"If you didn't grow up in a time when being labeled a queer Jewess was painfully derogatory, I suppose there is nothing personally off-putting about the shidduch of these words, though I'm curious what Lillian Wald or Rose Schneiderman would think if they knew people today were using queer Jewess as an out-and-proud, self-ascribed celebration of identity."
And the words, "Queer Jewess", were linked to this here little blog. I feel like I have a responsibility to further clarify my position on these words, not to mention this label as a whole.

I will note first that I did not choose either of these descriptives carelessly.

The first time I was called a "Jewess" I was damn near mortified. The person did not mean it as an insult but I was shocked (shocked!) that he would use such a word. It seemed so antiquated and though I don't know that I had even heard the word, I assumed it was an insult, like negress. A word I had read in books written by Eliot and Dickens and Verne and Stevenson (by the way, if you take a peek around the net, you will find that there are a number of black women taking "negress" back as well)

It was more than 15 years later that I started identifying with "Jewess".

"Jewish" is a religion, a people and a culture. It is an umbrella descriptor of the entire mass of us, Ashkenazim and Sefardim, Israeli, Argentinian, Ethiopian and American, female and male, alike. I can say, I am Jewish and it usually means I was either born a Jew or converted, I am practicing or not. It is only mildly descriptive relative to other terms.

"Jewess" feels like it puts me in a league (if I may be so bold) with biblical Judith and Lillian Wald and Rose Schneiderman. It is a word that is evocative of all the Jewish women making waves in our history and today. It adds me to the growing horde of women from secular to Orthodox who affiliate themselves with "Jewess." "Jewess," shelters me under one umbrella while providing me with a home that feels more exclusive, and yet, exclusive for all the right reasons.

I was 19 years old and just had started kissing girls (other than once in high school - and that was {mostly} to freak out my boyfriend) when Queer Nation was founded. I was already an active member of ACT/UP L.A. and Queer Nation was really just the same group of angry, funny, jaded, tired, sick and catty activists.

The term "queer" stuck and has only become more accurate as I get older. I am unquestionably not straight, though I am married to a man. I am not convincingly a lesbian, as I don't have sex with women (or anyone else for that matter - a subject for a later post). I don't identify with any of the multitudes of "lesbian communities" out there. Notice, in person and in print, I will never call myself a lesbian. Queer is far more appropriate.

From the American Heritage Dictionary

adj. queer·er, queer·est
  1. Deviating from the expected or normal; strange: a queer situation.
  2. Odd or unconventional, as in behavior; eccentric. See Synonyms at strange.
  3. Of a questionable nature or character; suspicious.
These definitions, I identify with. I deviate from the expected. I seem to be a bit unconventional and I am most certainly of a questionable nature.

I am an eccentric, Jewish woman of questionable nature who makes waves.

I am a queer Jewess.

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Blogger Fluffycat said...

I think queer is a great word because you can be 100% "straight" and still be queer.

I never really thought about the word Jewess because it is so old-fashioned sounding, but your road to using it sounds good... might start having to use it myself.

Blogger Spinning Girl said...

I don't know you, but at this moment I think I love you.

Blogger MonkeyGurrrrrl said...

You *are* a queer jewess. Whereas I am simply queer.

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