Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Are You On the Masculine Side of the Gender Spectrum, Or Are You a Mouse?

A band of men formerly known as women now calling themselves Schmekel (link here for translation from Yiddish) want to know. Well, they don’t really want to know, especially not band member Simcha Halpert-Hanson, who, according to the New York Times, “prefers not to be identified with gendered honorifics or pronouns.”  These “klezmer-core punk band” artists are on the frontlines of absolutely everything, so they already know all they’ll ever need to know. They’re “100% trans Jews” (not to be confused with trannies); they’re New Jews; they’re Old Jewish; they’re “a sea-change in mainstream Judaism.”

As they finished their set at the Jewish Community Center’s Halloween show, they made a smooth transition from an original song, “Surgical Drains,” to “Hava Nagila.” As one, the crowd joined hands and began to dance the hora. Androgynous individuals in butterfly costumes and women in traditional Orthodox dress whirled joyfully through the auditorium, a perfect vision of the world as seen through Schmekel’s eyes. . . .

They are not fractious rebels storming the castle of traditional faith, though they are fierce critics of homophobia, transphobia and misogyny in organized Jewish life. They see themselves as grounded in a strong Judaic tradition, even if the rest of the world doesn’t—yet. But they are reaching out, and the mainstream is reaching back.

Apparently so. “What has become so particularly amazing now,” says the Jewish Community Center’s director of programs, “is all of the places you get to layer your identity” (which explains why they’re celebrating Halloween at the JCC). “The Venn diagram on musical, Yiddish and queer leads to a very small shaded area, but they live in it. . . . This is à la carte Judaism. Or you could do a different frame, and it’s à la carte queerdom.”

And if you can figure out what she means by that, you’re a better mouse than I.

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