(1/15/22) BESHALACH (EXODUS 13:17- 17:16)
This week we get a lot of the meat of the exodus story. We get the Israelites fleeing Egypt, complaining a LOT, being chased by Pharoah, the parting of the sea and destruction of the Egyptians, a whole victory/war song, Miriam’s song, miracle after miracle (manna, water from rocks, water made drinkable, etc etc) … all sorts of stuff. All that stuff- all of those miracles, seem to happen because the Israelites are complaining (rightfully so perhaps who knows) that they are starving, scared, dying, etc, in the desert, and left the thing they knew- even if it was a bad thing, and now they’re in this potentially worse place. They may be free, but at what cost? In the FOX translation he talks about this as a metaphor for the Israelites growing up. He says “The wilderness stories embody a key process for the Torah story: Israel’s passage from enslaved childhood to troubled adolescence, with a hopeful glance toward adulthood…” (p. 341)
But, of course for me, this adolescence reads differently. As I’m sitting here, in the middle (or maybe still beginning?) of my second puberty, I feel the pangs and discomfort of adolescence again. Medical transition, for trans people, and for me, often means a second puberty. I AM happy about this. In lots of ways. MOST of the time. I am happy to see my body reflected in the mirror in a way that feels right, FINALLY. I am really, REALLY beyond THILLED to see the right things changing in my body. The word that feels right to describe it is more like RELIEF. But it is a really slow process. I find myself looking in the mirror every day trying to see changes, even though I know it doesn’t work that way. Because I’m 41, I feel even more desperate for my facial hair to grow in. I know I don’t look my age, and I get reminded of it constantly. Multiple times a week people will be surprised when my age comes up naturally in a conversation (for example if it comes up that I have a child who is old enough to drive). People are so shocked. 21 year olds constantly tell me they thought I was the same age as them. I get carded for alcohol. When picking up my daughter from HS they literally thought I was a student. Trying to explain this to cis people often results in the same response: “How great to look so young!” But I don’t want to look young. I mean, I don’t want to necessarily look old either. Every time someone is confused about my age It’s a reminder that I’m trans. And I just want to BE. And I just want to look like me- and me is a 41 year old man.
Puberty is a weird, liminal space- a time when you are not one thing or the other. And that’s how I feel constantly. When you’re a teenager people treat you either like a kid or like an adult but you’re neither, or both, somehow. And that’s how I feel a lot of the time. Like I’m not a woman, but obviously I’m not like other men either. Often I feel like I inhabit some space in between. I’m not nonbinary, but I definitely understand a feeling in that direction.
Interestingly, “liminal” has always been the word I used to describe this feeling, and it’s also the word that Fox uses to talk about what the Israelites are going through, specifically referencing people undergoing transformation via liminal experience- spiritually and geographically- in order to be changed into something new. He says “The desert is the site of liminality par excellence…” which “leads the wanderer into truer conversation with nature and the divine”. I feel like this is the perfect description to what I have been trying to say for the past few months about my relationship with g-d (divine) , and also my relationship to my body (nature).
When my husband and I had kids, and we started celebrating Passover, we designed our own Haggadahs, because we struggled to find ones that fit us and includes all we wanted to include. They have grown every year as we added things and changed things. One of the things we always remind ourselves every year as we remember the exodus of the Jews is that just because they were made free, doesn’t mean they took that freedom easily. Many of the Jews stayed, that perhaps some of the plagues were also meant to push the Isrealites to leave. For many it may have felt easier to stay in the familiar confines of slavery than to risk the unknowns of freedom. In TQ this week, Michaelson says “As many Jewish scholars have noted, freedom is the beginning of the Israelite quest, not the end of it” (89), and that’s just it. When I came out everyone expected me to feel great- but many of the hard parts were still ahead. The real transition was still ahead. And I think that’s why so many of us wait so long. Because although the coming out part, the freedom part is hard, those 40 years, those adolescent years, are maybe harder.