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Thursday, September 25, 2014

LGBTQ…Or Jewish

Bobby Drubin went to a Quaker school which prided itself on diversity.  Not only were they sure to have every stripe of black, Latino, Asian, and American Indian represented; but members of the LGBTQ community as well. 

This meant an array of bull daggers, swishy boys, cross-dressing trannies; butch tough girls; sensitive, sweet gay young men, and everything in between.  Given the right day, parents might think that their tony Washington school, educational institution of Presidents’ children, lobbyists, and powerful K Street lawyers, had turned into a bad remake of the Rocky Horror show.  “We’re paying good money for this?”, said one of the few conservative parents in the school when he walked in a a particularly bad moment, and within weeks he pulled his son out of Amity Friends School and put him into St. Simeon’s, an all-boys, all-straight, and all conservative school down the road.

In one of Amity’s many ‘Celebrations of Diversity’, students were invited to line up behind a placard that best described them.  In the first session on sexual orientation, for example, Lesbians lined up behind the ‘L’, Gays behind the ‘G’, etc. The problem, Bobby thought was with the ‘Q’, recently added to the lexicon of gender descriptors. “If it means ‘Questionable’, that’s certainly not me”, she said.  Questionable sexuality had something of the devious and back-alley about it.  If it meant ‘questioning’, then she probably should join that line.  Her father had hammered away about Hobbes and Heisenberg ad infinitum, so she came by her prizing of uncertainty as a positive, not negative trait honestly.

Who, after all, could be certain about anything let alone one’s sexuality?  Was there a person alive who didn’t at least once desire a man or woman of the same sex? Or have a same-sex dream? Or even admired some particularly attractive physical feature?  Bobby lined up behind ‘Q’ not because she wondered about her own sexuality.  In fact she had been having ‘normal’ sex since junior high school and was always so hot that if there had been an ‘N’ sign for Nympho that’s where she would have gone.

The next session was on race, a somewhat less complicated affair since slave days were long over, and quadroons, octoroons, mulattoes, half-breeds, and a slew of other micro-categories of race were things of the past.  At the same time, even if one stayed within the confines of the US census, there to be a place for Samoans, Pacific Islanders, and Aleuts to berth.  Since there were so few of them at Amity Friends, the administration did an unconscionable thing and lumped together everyone who was not white, black, Latino, American Indian, or some kind of Asian into a grab bag called ‘E’ for Ethnically Other.

Lastly came religion and ethnicity.  The school combined the two because they didn’t know what to do with the Jews.  “Hey, Harry”, asked his colleague in the Admissions Office, “Is Jewish a religion or an ethnicity?”.

“Depends”, was the answer, “on whether you’re talking Torah and Talmud or chopped liver.  Both count, although not equally.”

The problem for most Jews, including Bobby Drubin, was that they were not all Jewish but half-breeds, products of inter-ethnic marriages. Bobby’s mother was Irish Catholic and her father Jewish.  According to Jewish law, she was not a Jew because Jewishness was matrilineal; but she was as Jewish as they come.  Thanks to her father, she was indeed a Person of the Book, well schooled in the Torah and the Talmud, and was a serious student of philosophy and religion. 

She sat Shiva, accompanied her father to temple every week and officiated at the ceremonies of the High Holidays.  So she considered herself Jewish, or at least mainly, if you didn’t count the equally serious Catholic training and discipline she got from her mother.  Father Brophy and his fevered sermons about the Devil, Sin, and Damnation were as vivid memories of Bobby’s childhood as those of Rabbi Bernstein.

Neither parent felt they had any proprietary rights concerning the faith of their daughter, and felt that she would one day choose between the two or go along happily observing them both. If there had been a ‘Q’ for Questioning, she would have lined up there, but since her last name was Jewish and all her classmates figured she was a Jew, she lined up behind ‘J’.

Because of her ‘Q’ self-selection in the first session of the day on gender, she got hit on by every dyke in the school for weeks afterwards.  She was fair game, they thought, since she was undecided and obviously inquisitive about her sexuality; but they had no way of knowing that Bobby was a ‘Q’ for purely intellectual reasons.  Not only Hobbes and Heisenberg influenced her thinking but also Kant and Descartes, two other favorites of her father, and of course Aquinas and Augustine on her mother’s side.  While Catholics would be outraged to find out that Bobby had associated in any way with sexual deviates (Pope Francis had made some headway on this issue, but the Church was still way behind other faiths), if they thought about it they would have been proud of Bobby’s pure logic.

In any case, she became increasingly annoyed with the constant texts and emails from every Lesbian-oriented girl in the school; but because Amity Quaker was so intent on pursuing the ideal dream of complete tolerance within a diverse environment, they couldn’t come down hard on girl-girl engagements.  Sexual harassment was in their eyes an issue of predatory male behavior, male sexual bullying, and untoward and violent sexual advances.  If a straight boy even raised an eyebrow in appraisal of an attractive straight girl, he would be hauled before the Rape and Violence to Women Tribunal, dressed down, suspended, and obliged to take six months of gender sensitivity training.

In short, no one at Amity was interested in the innocent, completely natural, and quite acceptable invitations by one girl to another. Lesbians were such a protected species at Amity that even their sluttish speech was protected.  Bobby was invited to make out in the bushes behind the soccer field with come-ons like “Want to lick some pussy?” Or “I’ll make you come like a bitch in heat”; or ‘'Finger-fuck me until I scream”; but she couldn’t complain or object.  Not only could Lesbians have free rein at Amity, their free speech was more protected than anyone else’s. 

“Lesbians have been a discriminated-against minority for so long”, the Dean of Students told Bobby, “that it is only right to cut them some slack”.

Eventually the dykes got the picture, and Bobby was left alone.  Even given the slim heterosexual pickins at Amity, she was able to hook up with some cool straight guys and she didn’t mind whatsoever that they talked dirty to her.

It seemed like everyone was intent on putting her into boxes.  In her first job out of graduate school (thank God Harvard students had more important things on their minds than finger-fucking), her Senior Vice President organized a ‘Myers-Briggs Day’ during which all employees would take the well-known psychological profiling test and find out what personality type they were.  It was all about letters, not that different from LGBTQ, and you were either ‘I’ for Introvert or ‘E’ for Extrovert, and then depending on your answers subcategorized.  You were logical or sensitive, compassionate or individualistic, caring or disciplined, etc.  It was a joke, Bobby, thought, for no one is as compartmentalized as Myers and Briggs speculated and as her Senior Vice President thought.  It was such a stupid exercise that she deliberately answered to skew the results; so instead of the test showing that she was supremely logical, organized, and even somewhat arrogant, it proved that she was a young Mother Teresa and St. Francis of Assisi combined.

She had been asked by college admission officers to check her ‘activity preferences’ a thinly-veiled exercise to diversify the school with athletes, scholars, dancers, musicians, and a whole range of other categories to complement the predictable choices of race, gender, and ethnicity.  Was she more of an athlete or artist? Was she a reader or a doer? A political activist or a meditative solitary?

Her job interviews were much the same.  The HR people wanted to know who she was, but had no clue how to assess quickness, insight, observation, humor, sarcasm and irony (traits of an intelligent mind), or even serenity and centeredness.  Nothing but boxes and prescriptive algorithms.

“Remember who you’re dealing with, Darling”, her mother counseled her.  There is good reason why your father calls HR ‘The Post Office’.  Pay no attention.  They’re dummies.”

There were, of course, complimentary terms for what Bobby was – a Renaissance Woman, a polymath, erudite, sapient, and so on – but none of them fit exactly.  Always a bit long in the sleeves and tight under the arms.

As she got older the boxes were stored away in some HR warehouse, college and graduate school were distant memories, and she was launched into an exciting world of investment and high-academia.  She had no politics or political convictions.  Her progressive friends hit on her as much as the lesbians at Amity, wheedling, cajoling, and tempting her to support movements on the environment, climate change, the glass ceiling, rape, and a hundred other familiar and tedious causes.

Her conservative friends tried to enlist her sharp, ironic wit and sarcasm in their causes – to be a more high-toned and intellectual Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.  She refused both and always demurred when asked the same old, shopworn question, “What exactly do you believe?”

“Nothing and everything”, she replied maddeningly. 

“One’s political philosophy is the most important indicator of character”, they replied. “Indifference means you have no character.”

If pushed, she would confide that she favored those thinkers who were as diffident about characterization and commitment as she was.  Tolstoy’s Nihilism very much appealed to her as did Nietzsche’s philosophy of individualism and will. She preferred Hayek to Keynes, Thatcher to Gordon Brown, and New Criticism to Postmodernism; but these only because they gave a wider berth to individual expression and were less concerned with absolutes.  She remained ‘on the fence’ as one of her friends called it.  She said she liked the metaphor not because it suggested indecision but because from that perch one could see and appreciate all,.

She always had a picture of Thomas Hobbes on her wall next to an intimate portrait of her father.  She remained a ‘Q’ for the rest of her life, happily so; and even though she those painful diversity sessions at Amity were bad memories, in a way she was glad for them.  She understood the importance of boxes for most people, and was glad she wasn’t one of them.

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