Eight lights, eight nights. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness. The candle-lit menorah is a symbol of freedom—freedom from oppression, freedom of worship, freedom to be ourselves. It is a celebration of freedom for all who desire it. You do not have to be Jewish to participate in our holiday. Everyone deserves to be free…

Everyone.

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Family is what you make it. Soulmate and I do not fit easily into this large family of sisters and brothers who share a mutual blessing, but we’re trying. I write from the perspective of someone who has never truly experienced the full price that living your truth may impose upon the majority of our tribe.

But I do know what it is like to be Jewish and a little lonely at Christmas. What does it feel like? Like being openly queer in the American South. You are very much in the minority and there is no escaping that fact. Adapt, persevere, and just move forward as best you can. Southern culture needs us: they just haven’t figured that out yet.

It has never been easy to be “one of us.” That is why Goddess blesses only a certain few with the precious gift each one of us shares.

What is it like to be Queer? It’s kind of like being Jewish. Shalom, friends…

The past two years of renewed darkness upon our tribe has had at least one beneficial effect. In an age of 24/7 social media, self-constructed firewalls, and equally self-constructed bubbles, the younger members of our community (especially the ones who do not remember the days before the Internet) are discovering the true meaning of “we” in regards to the LGBTQ+ community. We truly are sisters and brothers in the times we all presently live in, especially during the holidays.

Those who have recently come out are likely discovering that their previous relationships with kith and kin may have changed since they began living their truths openly. Darkness is what you make of it too. There are very few scarier things in life than when the people you thought you knew turn out to be just as human and as afraid as you once were.

I know more than a few of this younger set, and I have told them that they are part of my family now. All I ask is that they do the same when they hit my age and to keep an eye out for their queer elders. When all else fails, we have each other.

That’s the golden rule…leave no one behind. It is a special responsibility entrusted to a special people from day one. Jews have a saying for this: “Dor L’Dor” (Generation to Generation). It is how we survive and thrive in a world that often does not seem to want us.

The price of being a people set apart is often loneliness. More than a few of us are trapped inside prisons of someone’s design—often ones of our own—and I admit to being in this spot too. I plan to fight the darkness that occasionally engulfs me by reaching out to some of my Queer family more freely and admitting that I need their company, because I am tired of trying to navigate this transition nearly alone.

We truly are stronger together, and I will try to let my guard down just enough to let someone else who understands what it is like to be just a wee bit different in this heterosexist world surrounding all of us try to be a real friend to me. I am terrible at getting to know people for a host of reasons, but this must change, and the upcoming holiday season will be a good time to start.

We are slowly transitioning from a tribe of survivors into something else. I was pleasantly amused recently that one of my twenty-something queer friends did not understand why I referred to another one of our kind as “family.” She had never heard of that, so I explained. It was a code word back in the day. This must change too. It must become something far more real as the survivors of the AIDS generation grow older and our younger siblings grow bolder.

What does it mean to be queer? It means sticking up for each other when times get tough, reaching out when you need support, and making an effort to be true mensch (good person) when someone is in need. It means trying hard to be an extended family, and it’s very much like being Jewish.

Be free.

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We light eight lights over eight nights…

To remind us that miracles happen no matter the odds…

To remember our freedom was fought for and must always be cherished…

For allies who embrace a people they may never fully understand…

For friends and soulmates who were just as scared as we were…

For families of choice, and for unrequested blessings.

 

Happy Hanukkah.

 

Julie Chase is the pen name for a local trans woman.

 

Other recent articles by Julie Chase:

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