On Tu B’Av, Rethink Your Biases about Straight and Queer Couples
Tu B’Av, while a minor Jewish holiday, has gained a surge in popularity in the last century, especially in the State of Israel. A Chag HaAhava (Festival of Love) commonly called “Jewish Valentine’s Day,” Tu B’Av is considered a particularly auspicious day for romance, expressions of love, and even weddings.
Created to commemorate the day that peace was restored between the Jewish tribes, allowing women to marry men from different tribes, many see Tu B’Av as symbolizing the freedom to love without prejudice.
Reform Judaism believes that whether a couple consists of different genders or the same gender, their love is valid and worthy of acceptance.
Frequently, though, society still imparts an implicit bias: When two partners appear to be of different genders, they are often assumed to be “straight”; if both individuals appear to be of the same gender, they’re assumed to be “gay.” But for queer couples with one or more partner who is bisexual, pansexual, or who does not generally identify with the gay/straight binary, this can cause feelings of erasure and invisibility. (Learn more about all of these terms, including how to be a good ally.)
Tu B’Av, however, can remind us that love transcends the gay/straight binary and exist in many different and beautiful forms.
We’re both queer-identifying Jews (Chris is bisexual; Mo is pansexual) in relationships with partners who identify both as straight and as different genders than we do. Judaism has strengthened both of our relationships and brought us closer to our partners; Judaism has given us both comfort in our individual senses of queerness. We see Tu B’Av as, in part, as an opportunity to affirm, cherish, and honor our respective relationships – which may look heteronormative to some but are, in fact, queer and sacred all at once.
Indeed, Tu B’Av gives us a chance to be seen for who we are – to wipe away that gloss of assumption and reveal the diversity of relationships that exist in this world.
We’ve both lived much of our lives in the shadows, at times keeping our bi and pan identities concealed – not only because of homophobia but also because of the exhaustion of explaining to others that, yes, our partners are of different genders than we are, but no, we’re not straight.
We’ve both dealt with our share of random and inappropriate questions, including, “If you’re queer, why are you in a relationship with someone who’s a different gender than you? How does that work? Don’t they get jealous? Are you even really queer?” – and the list goes on.
Tu B’Av, however, gives us a chance to celebrate our love for our partners – and for ourselves. While we gamble on the possibility of exposing our identities and receiving inappropriate questions and inaccurate assumptions, this holiday also allowed us a sacred freedom to “own it.”
When we attend Jewish events with our partners and introduce them to others who know about our bi/pan identities, we challenge norms simply by existing. We introduce people to an even broader spectrum of queerness than they are used to seeing on TV and in movies and books. We teach others that love – like so much else in Judaism and in life – is not constrictive or reduced to either/or labels.
And the personal strength it takes for us to own our individual identities (no matter who we are partnered with) allows others around us to experience – and, we hope, appreciate, understand, and accept – a part of LGBTQ+ diversity that typically goes unnoticed.
Furthermore, because Tu B’Av occurs a month before the start of the High Holidays, it’s also a chance to begin the yearly tradition of reflection before the Jewish new year. While we see this as the perfect time to reflect on our growth, both as individuals and in our relationships, we also invite others who still adhere to a gay/straight binary to challenge themselves on their ideas of acceptance and their views of “the norm.”
If we, as Jews, believe love should be celebrated – whether that love involves people of the same or differing genders – then that applies to all of us, no matter how we identify or whom we love.
Might you harbor ingrained philosophies of what couples should look like? We invite others to take this opportunity to better understand that many couples do not simply exist as straight or gay; that there is nothing confusing about a woman dating a man and one (or both) of them identifying as queer. These couples aren’t confused or complicated for having relationships that don’t perfectly align to a gay/straight binary.
In short? Love is love is love.
Happy Tu B’Av!
Chris Harrison is the writer and editor for Audacious Hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism and a fellow in the 2018 JewV’Nation Fellowship’s Jews of Color Leadership Cohort. Mo Selkirk is a mother, artist, and LGBTQ activist who serves on the board of Congregation Kol Ami in Elkins Park, PA, where she chairs the LGBTQ Inclusion Initiative. She is a fellow in the 2019 LGBTQIA+ JewV’Nation Fellowship’s LGBTQIA+ Cohort.