Queen Esther, Again

I posted this blog last year at Purim time, and I find it’s just as true this year as it was last.

Happy Purim to all of you! May we remember Queen Esther, and her bravery as she stood up for her authentic self and her people.

It’s Purim, the Jewish holiday I love for its signature cookie, Hamentashen, for its dress-up potential, and for its wonderful tale of social justice and feminine strength. I’m also loving thisessay by Anat Shenker about the holiday, and her three-year-old son’s desire to dress up as Queen Esther. My son Sam dressed as Queen Esther in kindergarten, and, fortunately for Sam—and thanks to gender education in the classroom—his costume went over splendidly.

This year, Sam dressed as Anakin Skywalker from the third Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith (for those of you who have been reading Sam’s story, how’s that for gender-bending?). My husband and I went to Sam’s school yesterday for the annual Purim talent show. Near the school entrance, we bumped into the head of school. He was dressed as a woman. With his shaggy brown wig and beige gauze skirt, he looked more like a hippy cavewoman than the fabulous transwomen I see walking around San Francisco every day. But still, the sight of the head of school in women’s clothes made my day.

I’ve been trying to get the school to do a training for the entire school community–teachers, students, and parents–for the nearly three years that Sam has been there. We’ve found both a loving attitude toward Sam as an individual and an administrative reluctance to bring his gender nonconformity to the attention of the broader community. At times, particularly when he gets harassed in the bathroom by kids who don’t know any better (and should not be expected to know any better, until the adults in their lives commit to teaching them), this makes me furious. But yesterday, with the school’s Purim celebration in full swing and the head of school dressed as a woman, I thought: this school is modeling the message I want heard, in a language everyone can understand. It’s no replacement for gender training, but it’s a wonderful message just the same: Dare to be different. Gender lines aren’t fixed. Be yourself, and you just might end up a leader.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    That. Is beautiful. Thanks for reposting it as I am reasonably new here. It is so exciting to have progressive and open adults in a learning environment … equally as disheartening as it is to be stuck with a principal who may or may not be a bully.

    I am dying for inspiration!

  2. Rei says

    I think I’ve commented about bathroom issues before and just faced another unfortunate one.

    I was assisting with a field trip for first year college students, staying in a dorm shared with a ministry group. I walked into the women’s bathroom to hear one of the ministry women loudly disparaging some “deranged man” for using the women’s bathroom. I eventually realized she was referring to a female student who presents herself in a somewhat masculine manner. The woman even chewed out the person leading our trip for not controlling the students. I was watching, blood boiling, as he pieced things together and corrected the woman that the student was female. As she walked away, unapologetic, I opened my mouth to swear at her and instead heard myself call out that she was a really horrible person, which I hope is a little harder to dismiss than than profanity.

    The student said she gets it all the time and brushed it off, but it stung me, remembering my own experiences as a tomboy. I could forgive the other children for being ignorant, but to hear an adult react that way would’ve crushed me…

    -Rei

    • shoffman says

      Rei, I’m so sorry to hear about that experience. But good for you for speaking up in the best way you could in the moment–and for not swearing at her! The more we can engage in reasoned discourse, the more progress we can make. -SH

  3. SACnPhilly says

    Thanks for re-posting this Ms. Hoffman. As a boy who sensed that he was “different,” (I am a gay man, by the way), I was always too self-conscious to indulge my gender atypical tastes. Each year at Purim I would don a white robe, cotton wool beard and my grandmothers royal blue towel as Mordecai. My brother on the other hand had no such compunctions. He was Esther, Vashti and sometimes just a garden variety tsaztkileh. His costume usually won the costume contest at our synagogue’s Purim carnival. Today he is a comfortable heterosexual, happily-married, with 3 wonderful children!

  4. says

    Thanks for re-posting this Ms. Hoffman. As a boy who sensed that he was “different,” (I am a gay man, by the way), I was always too self-conscious to indulge my gender atypical tastes. Each year at Purim I would don a white robe, cotton wool beard and my grandmothers royal blue towel as Mordecai. My brother on the other hand had no such compunctions. He was Esther, Vashti and sometimes just a garden variety tsaztkileh. His costume usually won the costume contest at our synagogue’s Purim carnival. Today he is a comfortable heterosexual, happily-married, with 3 wonderful children!

    • shoffman says

      I love it!! Except the part about how you didn’t feel comfortable being yourself, which I’m sorry to hear…I feel strongly that the more we talk about these things, the more we can shift the experience for kids so that they can find the comfort you lacked. All the best, SH

  5. says

    New Reader – This is so beautiful. I struggle to get this message across to my husband (raised in Louisiana by a tyrant, enough said). If our son is gay, if he chooses to live his life different from the “norm” I’m ok with it. I love my son and all I want is for him to be happy. And above all else, to feel free to be who he IS, whoever that ends up being. Thanks for re-posting!

  6. Tovia says

    Since Purim is a biblical story, do you think the problem with people balking at the site of a cross-dressed person comes from being taught the Torah? G-d instructs men not to wear anything pertaining to women and women not to wear that which pertains to men (a man wearing a woman’s clothing and vice versa)? According to Torah we’re supposed to teach our children these things which is probably why kids object when they see a boy in girls clothes.. They’ve been trained in Torah.

    • shoffman says

      Tovia, it’s true that some people have used–and use–the torah, as well as the Christian bible, to condemn people whose gender expression or sexuality are not the norm. And yet there are many religious people who are gender-nonconforming or GLBT who find deep meaning in these texts. How can this be? I think what matters more than what the bible or torah says is how we interpret it. There is much in these texts that we no longer believe or take literally (polygamy, slavery, stoning women to death for adultery or sex before marriage). And yet there is also much that is useful and good–compassion, social justice, the divinity of all humans. If we use the torah or the bible as a means to think critically about who we want to be and what we envision for the world, I think they can enhance our lives.

      On NPR’s Fresh Air last week, Terry Gross interviewed Pastor Jennifer Wright Knust about her book, Unprotected Texts. It provides a way to look at the bible for what it isn’t (a literal guide) while finding the good and useful within.

      http://www.wbur.org/npr/133245874/unprotected-texts-the-bible-on-sex-and-marriage

      Also, this forthcoming book, by Harvard professor of religion Mark Jordan (one of the world’s experts in homosexuality and religion), should prove enlightening.

      http://www.amazon.com/Recruiting-Young-Love-Christians-Homosexuality/dp/0226410447

      • Tom says

        Do also keep in mind that things that “pertain to men” or “pertain to women”, at least as far as clothing goes, are societal conventions that evolve over time. After all, it’s not really all that long ago that women would never wear pants at all. In the early 70′s, my sister was sent home from her public school (that had no formal written dress code) for wearing pants. Can you imagine any school trying that now?

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