Freak Flags Flying
Being a parent is an endlessly surprising enterprise. My children perplex me in ways that are both deeply disturbing as well as off-the-hook, beyond brilliant. I can say with absolute surety that, at this point in my life, they are my best and most important teachers. In the last few weeks, as the spate of queer, (by queer, I mean different—whether that difference is regarding sexuality, nationality, personality or whatever), youth suicides have made the news, my parental instinct to protect my children from bullies, inside and out, has increased to level red.
Bullies are a dime a dozen. More often than not they are tragic creatures themselves, living a half-life, feeding on the insecurities of others, which is really no way to live. However, the bully I fear the most, both for myself and for my kids, is the bully within–that miserable inner voice that whispers in our mind’s ear, “Who the hell do you think you are?” Which is a question that, for some inexplicable reason, many of us don’t actually know how to answer. And we freeze, and implode, and a great desire to flee sets in, and sometimes we do flee, altogether…. Which is bonecrushingly sad. So, when I read about kids who have gotten to that point, I wish I could have introduced them to my son, Michael.
When Michael was six he was part of a study on peer relations and wellness. The study included my filling out a voluminous annual questionnaire. Michael was in kindergarden, where he was busy laying down the foundation of a social life in which I had little or no part. One of the questions was, “Do other children tease your child?” And honestly I didn’t really know if Michael was getting teased or not, so I asked him, “Michael, do other kids ever tease you?” To which he pertly replied, “Oh yeah, but everything they say is true, so it doesn’t hurt my feelings.”
I was stunned. With knitted brows I asked, “What do you mean, honey?” And Michael said, “Well, they tease me sometimes, but everything they say is true, so it doesn’t bother me. Sometimes they call me a slowpoke. But, I AM a slowpoke. Now, if they said something that wasn’t true, well, that would make me mad.” There is a oft repeated phrase in Hebrew liturgy, “Adonai Elochechem Emet” (God, God of You, is Truth.) In fact our rabbis teach us that above all, God is Truth. Above God the warrior, God the father, God the judge, God the cosmic psychopathic wild card—above all of these, God is Truth. And we are created in Its image.
So, I have to think that Michael managed to internalize a core spiritual concept at an early age, and we would all benefit by doing the same. We need to gag that inner bully, and let our freak flag fly, because whether they like it or not, those bullies need to get a life and quit taking ours. And we need to find the internal strength and external community to know who and how we are, without flinching. Ever since my conversation with Michael I’ve been practicing: I AM a slowpoke. I AM a Jew. I AM a trans-man. I AM!
Michael is 13 now, and so far, so good, despite the fact that he is a very quirky guy. Amazingly, he continues to be comfortable with himself, which in middle school is something of a super power. I asked if he would feel comfortable letting me tell this story, and he said “Of course, be my guest.” I asked, a little tentatively “So, is that still how you feel?” And he said, “Indeed. Though no one bothers to tease me anymore.”
May it always be so.
Jhos Singer (www.jhossinger.com) has served as the service leader at Coastside Jewish Community in Half Moon Bay, California, since 2000. He received s’micha (ordination) from his community to act as their rabbi in 2002, and at the same time his teacher, Rabbi Gershon Winkler, conferred upon him the title of maggid. Jhos is a frequent contributor to Jewish Mosaic’s “Torah Queeries” commentary. He lives in Berkeley, California with his lovely wife, Julie Batz and their three delightfully wily children and one lazy cat. He is a Koret Jewish educator fellow and is pursuing his master’s degree in Jewish studies at the Graduate Theological Union.