Thursday, December 16, 2010


(Poster from "Ain't I A Woman" in The New Women's Survival Sourcebook, 1973)

I learned today that Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal may cease publication. I was reminded of how important it has been to me for the past 20 years. I once had a poem of mine printed in an issue along with Adrienne Rich, among others.

I thought about the theme of that poem, which touched on strong feminist theory about nurture vs. nature -- i.e., how I am not and never will be a Jew in the same way someone raised from birth as a Jew is Jewish. No matter whether you believe in conversion (my cousin Sally has converted) or that Jews are a race, the issue is conditioning as a member of a group set apart from other groups and, not incidentally, targeted for oppression. I did not receive that conditioning, and my joined life with Jews as an adult may have made me somewhat intimate with that reality, but intimacy laid on top of prior "outsider" conditioning does not remove or even necessarily subvert that conditioning.

The feminist position on recognizing and undoing conditioning (Biology is not destiny) accorded each of us with the responsibility of naming and sorting through the ways in which we were targeted or privileged according to the insane categories of the patriarchy. This involves diving into the wreck, and the ever-present tool of that era was the consciousness-raising group. Jokes aside, they were phenomenal places of revolution and transformation. To take the assigned label of girl and woman, explore it thoroughly, discard the lies and reinvent it for ourselves in the company of others similarly assigned was an act of empowerment that I personally believe you cannot skip or condense.

Imagine if we as white people did that around our racist conditioning, instead of the liberal color-blindness which infects progressivism, and you have a sense of the power it offers.

But when you claim a genetic or biological identity, there is no similar mandate to undo your conditioning and rename your own self outside any previously agreed-upon boxes. The American myth of self-invention takes over, with as much success as the myth of class mobility in this country. It wastes generations by divorcing them from actual radicalism instead of house parties and academic enclaves.

The poem I sent to Bridges had in its title a reference to an early (mid 70s) important essay by Rita Mae Brown from Quest, titled "It's All Dixie Cups To Me", which contained the funny but prophetic line "A dogmatic Lutheran will become a dogmatic Lesbian." By age five, we have overwhelmingly become who we are raised to be -- and if we later flip over to the other side of the coin, it is not an act of revolution per se, because that coin strike pattern is still the shape of reality. We must loosen all the seams which hold the package of patriarchy in place and face chaos in so doing. It helps to do this in company, despite it being a solo journey, and our new identity must be reasserted daily as long as the patriarchy exists. Or as Judy Grahn said, "Look at me as if you had never seen a woman before." Because you have not, not the woman I have spent decades becoming.

Which I assure you is NOT the recipient of "cisgender" privilege. Take your old and new binaries elsewhere, my life and movement is dedicated to exposing them as humanity-destroying whitefolks cages.

So, instead of being a Jew, I am a lifelong ally to Jews who will fight endlessly for your liberation and never stop examining/cleaning out the unwanted anti-Semitism of my upbringing. I will not ask you to alter your definition to include me or make me "comfortable", and I will find those parts of my own identity from which I can join you in a stance of truly equal intimacy. Wouldn't you rather have that?


Always first on the scene,
someone you’d call from the pay phone
outside the doctor’s office when
the diagnosis is not good,
I have never been a substance abuser,
have no problematic memory deficits,
am not afraid of your anger,
think you are dressed fine whenever we go out.

I have been brave.
I apologize easily.
I don’t believe the reason I am alone
is because there is something wrong with me.

What a relief it was to run across my first Jews
when I hit 21 and the West Coast,
secular dykes who never once in their lives
believed in heaven or hell.
This world was what they made of it,
and I slipped gratefully into their rallies, their living rooms
transferring my latent fundamentalism
to our Revolution.
And even before they noticed
I had painted on my eyelids
the either/or of damnation and redemption,
I conscientiously began troweling out the lies,
the ridiculous theology of dying for someone,
the culture-killing mandate to proselytize,
the presumed right to judge.
With every autumn’s blast of the shofar
I presented another long list of straightened scars.

But the worst wound
remained buried.
I was still an anthropology student,
noticing how this myth
supported that practical habit,
even as I loved Judith after Rachel,
lit the candles, braided the bread,
every April rehearsed the countless verses of Dayenu
while driving to work:
it was one people’s way to survive,
a clever tikkun olam organizing style, something as much in transformation
as definitions of family or how to eat smart.
I was loved for my willingness to try,
trusted, distrusted,
argued with, given soup, teased.
I crossed over. I knew I would do
anything at all
to keep us -- them -- us
But I did not convert. No one required it,
and I was always enough.

I am still enough.
I can bear my reluctant belief
that this carnal smorgasbord
is better than any energy state,
that entropy is unpersuadable,
that our lovely blues and reds
are consensual hallucination.
My mother is dead,
and I don’t want another womb.

But my steroid-soaked imagination
is no substitute for the glimpse I have of faith.
Sometimes the prayers make sudden sense.
I still want a sign, a click,
a dream I can’t explain away, but I’m not willing
to go on believing
I’m the ultimate in evolution.
I want an immortal to need my love.
I want to sing
and believe something hears me
besides the other half
of my steadfast, sentimental brain.

© Maggie Jochild, written 6 April 1998, 1:15 p.m.

1 comment:

liza said...

I wanted to link a video that's part of the following post from Jewesses With Attitude, but it didn't work. Anyway, the whole thing is good.

Mags, I love your take on being an ally not a convert. so radical