a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Kids These Days

Posted on: February 23, 2012

Living in a metropolitan city like New York you are always surrounded by different types of people.  People who do not look like you, people who speak a different language than you, people you may not ever associate with are suddenly sitting next to you on the subway.  Even if you never speak to these people New York forces you to see them-and the subway is often the best seat in the house.

When I ended the 20 hour journey from Tel Aviv to Brussels to New York I was relieved to see brown faces again.  I boarded the subway at the worse possible time, just as the New York City schools were letting out.  Far worse than rush hour at 8AM or 5PM, the 2-o’clock hour is a special type of New York public transportation experience.  I’ve overheard high school aged girls talk about my hair (make fun of it) in faux whispers, I’ve watched teen aged boys fake slap teenage girls.  I’ve heard language and conversation that is so shocking that I vow never to raise my children in NYC.  I reach to the farthest corners of my mind and try to remember what I was like as a fifteen year-old.  Did I swear as much as these children?  Did I talk about sex as frankly and openly as these children? I’d like to say no, but I probably did.

When you’re a teen in the Midwest free time is usually spent roaming the mall in packs of ten or more girls.  The mission, of course, is to look at the boys who are doing the same thing.  We’d go into stores and try on piles of clothes leaving them in a giant mess for an annoyed sales person to clean up.  We sat in the food court huddled around two large plates of french fries drinking each others Cokes and talking about boys we’d made out with, boys we let up our shirts and boys we let down our pants.  We compared notes and talked about things in a whisper, afraid that a parent’s friend or, gasp, a teacher was sitting at the next table.

Kids in New York are a completely different story.  Maybe not as bad as Kids, the movie, but pretty up there.  Which is why it was a relief to spend the evening last night with some really amazing, really self-aware, really inspiring kids.

I joined two members of Brooklyn Boihood, along with a white-bodied Latina woman and another gentlemen at the Hetrick Martin Institute (HMI) to sit on a panel about what it’s like to pass.  In honor of Black History Month, HMI wanted to talk about the historical significance of blacks in American passing and relate it to what it means to pass as LGBTQ people in 2012.  Like spending the afternoon in San Francisco in a room of racially diverse Jewish teens, spending time on Astor Place with these New York teens was nothing short but inspirational.  Listening to their stories and the conviction with which they told them was eye-opening.  One one hand, I think that growing in New York means that a lot of the innocence that traditionally accompanies childhood is lost.  On the other hand, growing up in New York means the opportunity to express who you are much earlier.  With that comes a level of self-awareness, self-expression and self-confidence that I didn’t have growing up in Toledo.  I can’t imagine coming out in high school, let alone at age 7 as one of the folks shared.  While the same difficulties of coming out with all of the familial strife that often accompanies the process, having places like the Harvey Milk School and HMI provide safe havens to many teens.  An outlet that I didn’t have access to.  Just as coming together as Jews of Color, having a space for queer youth, especially queer youth of color, is vital to fostering education and community.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to “pass” since last night and will share a post tomorrow about my thoughts/reflections.  Until then, thank you to HMI for having me and exposing me to the wonderful teens in your community.


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