12 December 2009

Passing Jewish

Late this afternoon, I took a walk that extended to well after dark. That's not hard to do at this time of year, just a few days before the Winter Solistice.

My walk, which began with no particular plan or direction, took me to the northern end of my neighborhood, where a Con Ed power station is the only thing between the rowhouse-lined side streets and the almost metallic waters of Long Island Sound, near the point where it meets the East River.

I stayed on the side of the street with the rowhouses, many of which were garlanded with strings of lights. Reindeer and sleighs made from chicken wire, around which spiralled more strings of those lights, stood guard at some of those houses. Most of the people who live there are second- or third-generation Greek-Americans or Southeastern European immigrants who, by whatever means, scraped together the down payments. Some of them have more than one generation of family living in them.

The one exception was a house on the bay side of the avenue, a few blocks past the power station and a row of other industrial buildings. It's just around the corner from the old Steinway piano works and looks as if it has been holding out the same way for the past fifty years or so.

In each of the second-floor windows was a Magden David made from blue, white and silver lights. And, in one of the ground-floor windows stood a lit figurine of what appeared to be a cantor.

For a nanosecond, I thought of knocking on the door. They were most likely the only Jewish family in that neighborhood, and they were displaying their identity on...well, if not their sleeves, at least in their portals to the rest of the world.

It made me think of what it is like to "come out." Or, more precisely, I found myself reflecting on what it means to have one's identity known, how that comes about and what the consequences might be.

Now, being a Jew in Queens, or anywhere in New York, hasn't been so unusual in about, oh, 15o years or so. To be sure, there are anti-Semites here, and the part of Queens in which I was walking has never exactly been known as a bastion of Judaism. Still, I don't think very many people who know them give it much of a thought.

Then I realized why: Among all of those highly-, sometimes gaudily-decorated houses, I saw very few people. They were walking their dogs and they probably lived those houses. But as soon as their dogs do whatever they need to do, they go back into their houses.

Maybe what I saw isn't typical of that part of the neighborhood. Still, I couldn't help but to wonder how much people were getting out and interacting. If they weren't, that might well be the reason why that Jewish family could display their faith so publicly during their holiday: Perhaps nobody was there to see it. Or they just didn't notice.

If that's the case, then I'm struck by how much that parallels what many trans people think of as "passing" and what many of us want in our lives in our "new" gender: for others not to notice. So we get dressed in a nice outfit and put on our makeup--so we won't be noticed.

Of course, it's odd to talk about that in my blog. Then again, most of the people I see--and will most likely never see again--have no idea about me or my history and, if they got a glimpse of me, will not give me a second glance. That is normal; that is what I experience most of the time. And, honestly, I wouldn't want it any other way.

I guess it's a variant on an old fantasy of mine (which I still sometimes indulge in): that lots of people would read my writing, but only a few would recognize me on the street and even fewer would give me a second glance.

Well, I guess the second part of that fantasy has come true. To most people--if they catch sight of me--I'm just another middle-aged woman passing by and passing through. Not that I'm complaining about that.

Now, to get that book published...