Wholly Jewish: Standing in the Closet Doorway

Hosted by Jewish performance and ritual artist Shira Kline (she/her), a.k.a. ShirLaLa, this season features interviews with LGBTQIA+ Jews from the Union for Reform Judaism's JewV'Nation Fellowship. Follow along as they share their experiences in Jewish spaces, how their queerness and their Judaism intersect, and their visions of a more inclusive and equitable Jewish community.

Being queer means something different to everyone who identifies this way. Mo Selkirk (she/her), a queer Jewish mother, spouse, and activist, to name a few, discusses how her grandparents inspired her to embrace Judaism, what it means to be in a queer family, and how presenting as straight has been a blessing and a curse. “My [queer] invisibility is my personal superpower,” she says, “because people will say things to me [when] they don’t know who they’re talking to, and…I have the have the opportunity to educate them.”

Three ways to listen:


Morgan Selkirk [00:00:00] I'm not queer enough for queer people, and I'm not straight enough for straight people, I kind of straddle the line between everyone, and that's a blessing and a curse, at the same time.  

Rabbi Leora Kaye [00:00:13] Welcome back to Wholly Jewish, a podcast presented by ReformJudaism.org. What do we all have in common? We all live and balance complex and nuanced identities that when braided together, make us wholly ourselves and wholly Jewish. This season, Jewish performance and ritual artist, Shira Kline, speaks with LGBTQIA+ Jews from the Union for Reform Judaism's JewV'Nation Fellowship, to share their experiences, insights and how their identities enrich and create a more vibrant Jewish community. Today, Shira is speaking with Morgan Selkirk.  

Shira Kline [00:00:52] Hey, everyone. Welcome to today's episode of Wholly Jewish. This is Shira Kline, I use she/her pronouns. I'm really excited to be here with Mo Selkirk, who I am speaking to. I'm here in New York. Mo, you are outside Philly, is that right, Philadelphia?  

Morgan Selkirk [00:01:05] I am right outside of Philly. Yeah.  

Shira Kline [00:01:07] Awesome. Awesome. Really thrilled to be here with you today. And Mo, Mo is also a mother and an artist and LGBTQ activist. And I'm definitely looking forward to hearing more about your path. For now, would you mind just taking a moment to introduce yourself to our audience here today, and tell us how do you identify? 

Morgan Selkirk [00:01:28] So I use the pronouns she and her and hers. I, first and foremost, identify as a mother. I'm a spouse, a friend, I'm an equal rights activist, very liberal. I'm outspoken. And I always say I'm a native New Yorker. I'm queer and I identify as a pansexual. However, I don't enjoy using that word. So, I say queer.  

Shira Kline [00:02:02] What's a pansexual?  

Morgan Selkirk [00:02:05] It's defined as someone who doesn't use gender as a defining factor in their attraction towards others, I guess is a best way to say it.  

Shira Kline [00:02:19] OK. All right, fun. And I want to know, so is it, is it that the word doesn't roll off your tongue very simply, which is fine. It's funny to say, like the word “sexual” in our identity. Like we don't say homosexual or heterosexual. But pansexual, is it that the word itself, or is it, are there, you know, is it political connotations or a cultural...  

Morgan Selkirk [00:02:41] You know, I equate a pan with cooking. So, I guess, you know, it just doesn't, it doesn't speak to me. But when I say queer, I feel very good about it, so, I just use that word.  

Shira Kline [00:02:54] You know, tell me about these different parts of your identity and how they sort of are at play with each other. You know, so from your identity as a mother, which I'm sure extends beyond, you know, your bio family and your beautiful children, but also, you know, your Jewish identity and how you feel within your community and also your queer identity.  

Morgan Selkirk [00:03:21] Well, that's a handful. So, I guess everything, everything overlaps, but everything is separate. Judaism has always been important to me. I did not grow up super religious within my immediate family. My parents were not super religious. My grandparents, however, who played a very strong role in my life growing up, and as an adult, they're the reason I'm here in Philadelphia. They…my grandmother instilled my love in Judaism. She just, she made it sound so magical as a child, as a religion, as a culture, as, as a, as a way of life. It just means, it means a lot. It’s part of who I am. It's part of everything I do. Everything, everything from down to, you know, the most minute decisions I make, I think have, my religion has an impact on it. Not consciously, but I think because of what I've been taught and what I've been shown and what I do, it's, it's part of who I am. And that, that shows through with everything. That shows through with my children and shows through with, it shows through with what I do with advocacy. It shows through with no matter what I'm doing.  

Shira Kline [00:04:46] Tell me a little bit more about that.  

Morgan Selkirk [00:04:50] I live a very outward facing, heteronormative lifestyle. I, from the outside looking in at people...or, for people looking at me, they see a very hetero normative looking family. And for a long time, I let them. And I let them wonder why I was involved in LGBTQ work and wonder why I knew as much as I did. I had experiences to use as examples. And I didn't, I didn't really let people in, I didn't let people understand. And when I started working and trying to connect dots or actually just connecting dots with Jewish values and using them as examples to have people understand…Everything started to feel like I didn't want, I didn't want to make people wonder anymore. I would be asked constantly, why do you, why is this your cause? What is this? Why is this your thing?  

Shira Kline [00:06:12] Wow. 

Morgan Selkirk [00:06:14] And I would always answer, in the past, I mean, we're going back a long time, but in the past, I would say, well, why wouldn't I? It's an important cause. You know, this is, this is life or death for a lot of people. And I started saying, because it's my community, because it's, because I'm queer. And the interesting thing is, is the responses didn't change. The shock on people's faces didn't change. But for some reason, I felt empowered to move forward with it. And, I can't explain why. Other than the fact that I felt comfortable within my community of Jewish people, it worked.  

Shira Kline [00:07:01] Beautiful. Wow.  

Morgan Selkirk [00:07:03] And I've said, I actually said this to a friend of mine not that long ago, we were talking, I said, ”I'm not, I'm not queer enough for queer people and I'm not straight enough for straight people”. I kind of straddle the line, between everyone, and that's a blessing and a curse at the same time. And because I don't fall into stereotypes and, which has allowed me…You know what I find very interesting is.. 

Shira Kline [00:07:34] Tell me. 

Morgan Selkirk [00:07:35] When people think I'm an ally, and when people thought I was an ally, they listened harder and they listened with intent, far more than they do once they know I'm not [only] an ally.  

Shira Kline [00:07:49] Ok, so, quick, quick definition, just literacy moment here. Tell us, what do you mean by an ally?  

Morgan Selkirk [00:07:54] So an ally is someone who, is not necessarily a part of the community you're trying to speak about or to teach on, but who is someone from outside helping the community. So, for example, for the queer community, you know, anyone who identifies as a heterosexual but still fights for the rights of LGBTQ people can be an ally. Same thing with any other marginalized community that's looking for help. If there's, if they don't belong to, if they're not part of that community, but they are still helping and they’re, they believe in the work to get done, then they're an ally to the community.  

Shira Kline [00:08:46] OK. Thank you. And so, you're saying that you found in your experience that you had a stronger ear if you had, you know, people were… 

Morgan Selkirk [00:08:56] Yeah. So, in the secular world, when I was talking, it felt like people listened. And then once they found out I was part of, you know, if I said to them, “well, I'm queer”, you know, they’d be like, “oh, so you're just you know, you're trying to help yourself”. I’m like, “No, that's not exactly like that”, you know what I mean? But it was, it was a lot of that. And I felt like, so I felt - I feel - like straddling that line, standing in this doorway of that closet, is beneficial when it needs to be and, and isolating and suffocating at other times. So…  

Shira Kline [00:09:37] And how has that changed? You know, how has...So you've learned to leverage. Sounds like you've learned to leverage that privilege and, you know, and you're conscious of it. Which is major part of your, your path. And I'm curious, you know, how is the intersection of your Jewish identity and your queer identity changed over time? Like, when did that, how has it changed your work?  

Morgan Selkirk [00:10:01] I feel like as I've gotten more involved, more over years of in the Jewish world of it all, I felt more empowered to be true to who I am. More than it did beforehand, because I have found myself in, in text.  

Shira Kline [00:10:26] Mmmhmm. Do you have a memory of any of those texts and is that what I heard you say, like, you found yourself in, in a Jewish text?  

Morgan Selkirk [00:10:38] I should have pulled the book, but there, there is a lot, I felt like there was a lot more room to find yourself in Mishkan HaNefesh, which is the...You could probably explain what that is better than I can, It’s the book we use at High Holidays.  

Shira Kline [00:10:58] It's the prayer book that’s, um… 

Morgan Selkirk [00:11:01] Prayer book, thank you. 

Shira Kline [00:11:02] A relatively new and quite gorgeous, like, new prayer book that's used in the Reform Movement over the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish New Year. Yeah. 

Morgan Selkirk [00:11:09] You know, I mean, there is a blessing in there for us. And I wish I could remember it offhand, but I can’t, but I know that that made me feel empowered and it made me feel good and it made me feel like I could, I could make a difference. And then when I saw the willingness and the, I mean, this was in my community, in my suburban Philadelphia community, the, the want. I mean, we put on at our, we put on a couple of conferences on, on queer inclusion. And we had 80 people from surrounding synagogues and Jewish spaces there. And it showed me that people want to learn, and it showed me that people care. And they found, they found purpose within Jewish spaces.  

Shira Kline [00:12:10] It's everything to be seen. I mean, it's everything. And I really appreciate you speaking about it. And I can only imagine the ways in which, just, just, you know, to see yourself in the text or, you know, and can really help your work blossom also as an activist and, and in everything you do. I, I wonder, you know, if you could tell us a little bit more about your work these days and, you know, where are we at in the Jewish world, on inclusion? Are you seeing any major challenges? Like, what's happening?  

Morgan Selkirk [00:12:50] I think our biggest challenge just, this is not just specific to, to reform Jews. It's not just specific to any group, but it's keeping, keeping the momentum going is our biggest challenge, because there are so many places we can be putting our efforts towards. And so many causes and so many, so many people who need justice that it's hard for one group of people to keep everyone else's attention. And that being said, I don't know if it's fair to ask that of any group of people. I think that the reform movement had done an amazing job with making LGBTQ inclusion a priority. And we are using that. And we are, those of us who are working on the ground with it all, trying to keep that momentum going. And it is difficult. It's difficult right now because there's just so many things happening. But it's difficult to keep people's focus on multiple subjects at the same time, because there are so many other things we need to concentrate on right now. And there's so…and none of that means that you should be taking your concentration off of those other topics. But it, it means that you have to just concentrate on everything. And I think that's the hardest part.  

Shira Kline [00:14:29] What would you say that the queer community and queer identity in general just brings to the Jewish world today?  

Morgan Selkirk [00:14:38] I think the queer community has brought a different perspective than what people were used to. Maybe. I think that, I think we have possibly opened people's minds to the idea of understanding that the binary system and the ways in which the world functioned as a social norm doesn't exist anymore. And while people might not be, we're not…Let me fix that, while some people might not be ready to completely embrace that, they can't deny it's real. And that's something that we can bring as a community and we have brought as a community and we will continue to bring, because you can't deny that someone - you can try and you can say it - but it doesn't make anybody less real when they are standing in front of you.  

Shira Kline [00:15:50] Yes. Yeah. Thank you. Really well said. And I, I wonder also how about our understanding of queer family?  

Morgan Selkirk [00:16:05] I think, I think queer family, I think that term is being redefined because of everyone who exists in this world. Because I think that 20 years ago, when someone who is not familiar with some…if someone was to think about what does it mean to be a queer family, they would see, you know, in their head, two dads or two moms or a family with a child who identifies as homosexual. You know, it's not, it was a very clear-cut definition in people's heads 20 years ago, even 10 years ago. Now it can look like anything. Queer families, there is no, you can't assume anyone is anything you think they are, from what they look like to you. Does that make any sense?  

Shira Kline [00:17:06] Of course. I love it. I'm just, I'm smiling over here thinking like, yes, these are the gifts. I really appreciate hearing you articulate it. The other gifts that I heard you mentioned is, you know, you told us a little bit about your grandmother and the magic that she offered. You know, that she was able to show you so much magic in Judaism. And I wonder, as a mother in today's world and as a queer mother, you know, what kind of magic, what do you feel you're offering your children today?  

Morgan Selkirk [00:17:47] Oye. I hope I'm offering them things that, you know, I, I you know, all you can do as a mother is hope you're teaching them the right things and pray to God that that is happening in their brains as they develop. I, I try to explain to them my values. They know tradition based on my grandmother and we use my great grandmother's candlesticks to light Shabbat candles every Friday. And they know that they're my great grandmother's and they know the traditions that I have followed throughout the years. And they actually love their Judaism. And one thing I've always tried to teach them is we’re more than a religion, it is who we are. To the core. And I've tried to instill that in my children. I think it's working. They seem to like it. They seem to understand it. And when it comes to being queer, they know how I identify. They know what I do. They're proud of me. My son was 9 years old the first time he protested Field Day because they did, um, they, for tug of war they put them boys versus girls. And he said, “that's not fair”. And he sat out. And so that makes me know that what I talk to them about and what I try to teach them and the values and the people I, they know to look up to…It's working. At least for now. God knows what's going to happen in their teenage years. But for now, it's working.  

Shira Kline [00:19:39] Amazing. Wow. Boys versus girls. Not fair. I love it. I love that protest. That's, that's amazing. It's really, it's like such a pleasure speaking with you and uh, I’m gonna, we’re gonna round this out and then come back to you and your own personal magic. And thinking for a second about how these identities, specifically your Jewish identity and your queer identity. You know, how you queer your Jew and how you Jew your queer… 

Morgan Selkirk [00:20:14] I love that. 

Shira Kline [00:20:15] Oh, you know? You know what I mean. And I want to know, like, what is your queer Jewish superpower?  

Morgan Selkirk [00:20:22] Oh. I would think I'd say education, because I truly believe in the power of teaching others by example and by actual training and teaching, but I actually think my personal, because I think that can be anybody's superpower - everybody can be an educator, everybody can be a trainer who understands and believes in the cause...But I think personally, like I said before, my invisibility is my personal superpower because people will say things to me, that they don't know who they're talking to. And then I can, I have the opportunity to educate based on that. And while it's my superpower, it's also probably my kryptonite because it's taken me to very dark places. But I think, I am surprised at myself that I'm saying this, that this is what's coming to my head, but I think my invisibility is my superpower.  

Shira Kline [00:21:35] I do really. I really appreciate this. And I'm so glad you were able to share this time with us. So, thank you very, very much for joining us, Mo. Thank you.  

Morgan Selkirk [00:21:46] Thank you!  

Rabbi Leora Kaye [00:21:50] Thanks for joining us for this week's episode of Wholly Jewish. Tune in again for our next episode. And in the meantime, you can find daily ongoing conversations about Jewish holidays, pop culture, current events and more at ReformJudaism.org. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/ReformJudaism and on Twitter, our handle is @ReformJudaism. Hope you have a good week and L'hitraot.