I Am Always All Parts of My Identity - and I Hope You Are, Too
As I think about identities and intersections, I believe there is a tendency to use words to demarcate one’s whole into easily digestible parts and to see those parts as separate entities that then “intersect.” I, however, resist that framework.
I am Black, I am Jewish, and I am a lesbian, among other things – and I am all of those things at all times in every context; not parts that intersect, but a whole person who fits into different worlds and spaces. I am not at odds with myself but rather with situations, people, and environments that choose to identify me as only one thing/identity.
I contribute my simultaneous respect for all my identities, in part, to being raised by strong women who fought for themselves and their children, who made hard choices and moved continents in order to survive. I stand on their shoulders and always look to them for strength and models of courage.
I was born in Jamaica, a country where, as a child, I learned and believed that anything was possible for people whose skins were my hue, so I grew up with no shame about my Blackness. And very early in life, when I realized my attraction to women, I decided that I would not live in shame or silence about it. Within a couple months of realizing that I was a lesbian, I was openly serving as the co-director of my college’s Lesbian and Gay Student Alliance.
There was a very small amount of time when I did not fully reveal myself in all situations, but it was because I was trying to understand my lesbian identity: how I could speak of it to my family, how I could protect myself from those who would choose to harm me because of who I love. I don’t view that time as hiding, though. Rather, it was a necessary time to grow a skin and consciousness to align with new information about myself and my reality.
In many ways, discovering my Jewish heritage provided me with a similar consciousness. Discovering my Jewish heritage was very similar to discovering my lesbian identity.
Judaism, as I practice it, means finding a purpose, answering life’s questions, finding strength in my history and heritage, and seeking spiritual transcendence in ritual, liturgical poetry, and music. There have been times, however, when I’ve found challenges engaging Jewishly because of the color of my skin; when I’ve felt pressured to leave pieces of me behind as I enter certain Jewish spaces.
Because I am everything at all times in every context, though – because I choose to be whole and have no shame about who I am – I seek out Jewish communities that embrace and celebrate all of me, communities that don’t shy away from the challenges, hard work, and t’shuvah (repentance) inherent in that generous task.
To anyone reading this who may be dealing with similar situations: Don’t let anyone tell you who you are, how or who you should love, how to be yourself, or what being you looks like. Trust that who you are is enough, all the time, no matter what. Live in that truth, walk with it every single day.
Imagine what being your whole self can feel like for you – and then figure out a way to live it in real-time.
Want to hear more from Everlyn Hunter? Check out her episode of Wholly Jewish, a podcast about our complex and nuanced Jewish identities. A new season will air this spring.