March 27, 2020
2 Nisan, 5780
At Assistant Clergy Jay Stanton's powerful class, "Queering Jonah," last night. I learned a number of profound lessons, about the LGBTQ experience of coming out - and the painfully untenable positions queer people are too often subjected to by heteronormative society.
Jay pointed out that at several points in the story, God puts Jonah into situations that force him to deny his own truth. As a result, on more than one occasion, Jonah tells God that he wants to die: a plea that God repeatedly appears to ignore. After one last such plea in the final verses of the story, God responds to Jonah, "Are you really that upset?"
Jay then led a personal sharing discussion on how this dynamic too often plays out with queer people who are forced to deny their own essential identity by heteronormative society. During the discussion, one participant shared how profoundly painful it was to be misgendered by straight people, even as they repeatedly remind them of their preferred pronouns. Another said that whenever someone misgendered him, it consistently caused his mood to dramatically change for the worse.
As a middle aged straight sis male, I felt humbled to be allowed into this discussion, led by a queer teacher for a predominately queer group of students. It was also a reminder to me that I am nowhere near as scrupulous about this issue as I like to think I am. In particular, it drove home for me the ways that I, as part of a heteronormative society, too often play the part of God in Jonah story whether I realize it or not: i.e., routinely placing the burden on LGBTQ people to constantly remind me of who they essentially are as human beings.
This lesson is particularly important for a congregation, like Tzedek Chicago, that is committed to the core value of equity. If we are going to truly walk the walk, the straight members of our community cannot treat the issue of gender pronouns as an annoyance at best. At the end of the day, no one should ever be put in the position of having to remind others of their essential identity.
The story of Jonah ends with an open ended question posed by God. As Jay pointed out to us last night, this may well suggest that this story is, in a sense, still being written. Is Jonah finally able to stop running away from who he is? Does God ever accept his Jonah's humanity and truly listen to his pleas?
As ever, the answer is up to us.
Rabbi Brant Rosen