The New Queer Conscience

  • Review
By – July 22, 2020

In recent years, orga­niz­ers of mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties have been grap­pling with crabs in a buck­et men­tal­i­ty”: the ten­den­cy of indi­vid­u­als in a vul­ner­a­ble posi­tion to tear each oth­er down, like crabs attempt­ing to climb out of a buck­et, rather than hold each oth­er up. Adam Eli’s New Queer Con­science, part per­son­al essay and part call to action, draws on Eli’s expe­ri­ences as a queer man and as a Jew to tack­le this crab men­tal­i­ty in LGBTQIA+ com­mu­ni­ties. Eli observes that while the glob­al Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty is able to ral­ly in sup­port of Jews wronged despite dis­agree­ments, the queer com­mu­ni­ty lacks this glob­al con­scious­ness. His solu­tion, based in Jew­ish prin­ci­ples of pikuach nefesh and mutu­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, is for queer peo­ple to focus more on com­mon­al­i­ties and less on differences.

The emo­tion­al core of Eli’s argu­ment is a chal­lenge queer peo­ple face in com­mu­ni­ty build­ing, name­ly, that we are a com­mu­ni­ty built of peo­ple who are not born under­stand­ing that there is a com­mu­ni­ty to belong to. Where­as most cul­tures are passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, queer­ness is not, and in order to under­stand pre­vi­ous and sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions, queer indi­vid­u­als must seek out the mem­bers of those gen­er­a­tions. Even with­in a sin­gle gen­er­a­tion, it is not always easy to con­nect with one anoth­er. Yet there is the poten­tial for each lone­ly, indi­vid­ual queer per­son to become part of a com­mu­ni­ty made up of indi­vid­u­als from every coun­try in the world. There is no place or time in which queer peo­ple do not exist. Eli argues that it is sim­ply up to us to build the con­nec­tions between gen­er­a­tions and across bor­ders that will allow this glob­al com­mu­ni­ty to be more than a dream.

The New Queer Con­science is part of Pen­guin Ran­dom House’s Pock­et Change Col­lec­tive series, pam­phlets aimed at teens to edu­cate and inspire action for caus­es such as immi­grant jus­tice, gen­der aware­ness, and pol­lu­tion by plas­tics. The nar­ra­tive of mov­ing from lone­li­ness to com­mu­ni­ty is rein­forced by the struc­ture of the book, which begins with Eli’s per­son­al rec­ol­lec­tions of ado­les­cence and ends with a call for com­pas­sion that encom­pass­es the whole world. The ten action items he lists are as decep­tive­ly sim­ple as reli­gious com­mand­ments: sup­port each oth­er, be com­pas­sion­ate toward each oth­er, and for­give each oth­er. Eas­i­er said than done, but it must be done.

A lit­er­al pock­et-sized call to action, Eli’s addi­tion to the series is a good intro­duc­tion for young peo­ple, queer and oth­er­wise, who want to evolve their think­ing and reach out to oth­ers. As a call for uni­ty across nation­al bor­ders, it must be said that The New Queer Con­science could ben­e­fit from a more com­pre­hen­sive list of world­wide LGBTQIA+ orga­ni­za­tions to learn about and sup­port, as the brief list in the appen­dices is focused on Amer­i­can and Russ­ian orga­ni­za­tions. How­ev­er, as Eli no doubt would urge us to remem­ber, every­one must start some­where. The first step is to treat oth­ers as you would be treat­ed. In the words of Hil­lel: now go and study.

Sacha Lamb is the author of Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award final­ist When the Angels Left the Old Coun­try. Their next nov­el, The For­bid­den Book, is com­ing this fall from Levine Queri­do. Sacha can be found on Insta­gram at

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