Back­ground pho­to by Katie Rain­bow 🏳️‍🌈 on Unsplash

I was raised to believe that Judaism and queer­ness were mutu­al­ly exclu­sive, and that if I were to iden­ti­fy any­where along the LGBTQIA+ spec­trum, I would in effect be denounc­ing my sta­tus as a real Jew.” As I labored to thread these two aspects of my iden­ti­ty togeth­er, I fought inter­nal­ized shame and self-denial. My debut mem­oir, Kiss­ing Girls on Shab­bat, is a recla­ma­tion of myself and a cel­e­bra­tion of queer Jew­ish pride and joy.

Kiss­ing Girls on Shab­bat begins with my wed­ding night. At age nine­teen, I stood under a holy canopy and mar­ried a man cho­sen for me by my Hasidic fam­i­ly. The girl I was secret­ly in love with stood by, weep­ing, as my hus­band put a ring on my fin­ger to warm excla­ma­tions of mazal tov!” I became a moth­er soon after my wed­ding night and spent the fol­low­ing thir­teen years try­ing to pro­tect my chil­dren from a very real dan­ger: if I were to defect from the het­ero­nor­ma­tive rules of strict Ortho­dox Judaism, I could lose cus­tody of them. In Kiss­ing Girls on Shab­bat, I tell the true sto­ry of those thir­teen years: fight­ing to obtain a Jew­ish divorce, toss­ing my wig in the back­seat of my car as I drove out of my com­mu­ni­ty under the cov­er of night to meet women in gay bars, and ulti­mate­ly, engag­ing in a legal bat­tle for my children’s freedom.

As I wrote, I kept a stack of mem­oirs on my desk, words by writ­ers who carved a path before me, a path that I was grate­ful to find. Here of some of my favorite queer Jew­ish narratives: 

Uncov­ered by Leah Lax

Lax was raised in sec­u­lar Texas, where she wore jeans and planned to attend col­lege like her Amer­i­can peers. At six­teen, she was attract­ed to the sense of belong­ing offered by the Lubav­itch com­mu­ni­ty. Soon after that, she began to wear the garb that sig­ni­fied her belong­ing — long skirts and even­tu­al­ly, a wig — in hon­or of her mar­riage to a man that her rab­bi had select­ed. Lax raised her chil­dren in the Hasidic tra­di­tion, where she denied her own body and her feel­ings for women for decades before she allowed her­self to won­der: If I change, if I get hon­est, will you know me?” Uncov­ered is a lyri­cal Jew­ish queer mem­oir, one that touch­es the heart and soul.

Becom­ing Eve by Abby Stein

Stein was born into a Hasidic dynasty in Brook­lyn, in a male body, one that meant she was to fol­low in the tra­di­tion of her ances­tors and grow up to be a rab­bi. Stein writes about her ear­li­est mem­o­ries of feel­ing alien with­in her own skin, of know­ing, deep with­in her­self, that she was meant to be a girl. Stein takes read­ers into the lived expe­ri­ence of long­ing for one­self in a world of black coats and hats, a world where des­tiny super­sedes all else. Becom­ing Eve is a coura­geous look at Hasidic cul­ture, and a grip­ping descrip­tion of trans identity. 

The New Queer Con­science by Adam Eli

In this mini book that is a part of the Pock­et Change Col­lec­tive, Eli deliv­ers an ethos for liv­ing. The impor­tance of show­ing up for oth­er Jews has been carved into the DNA of what it means to be Jew­ish. It is my dream that queer peo­ple devel­op the same ide­ol­o­gy,” Eli writes, in a beau­ti­ful state­ment that weaves Jew­ish val­ues with queer com­mu­ni­ty. The New Queer Con­science holds instruc­tions for how to embrace new­ly out peo­ple, how to lead with com­pas­sion, and to lift up those around us. 

The Punk Rock Queen of the Jews by Rossi

I learned about Rossi when she emailed me with the sub­ject line Chasid rebel girls unite,” and told me she had just pub­lished a book about her own queer com­ing out sto­ry. Of course, I imme­di­ate­ly ordered it. Rossi was raised in sec­u­lar Amer­i­ca, where her par­ents’ idea of keep­ing kosher was order­ing fish sand­wich­es from McDon­alds. They sent her to live with a rab­bi in Crown Heights, where she trad­ed a life of bar hop­ping, smok­ing Marl­boro Lights, and throw­ing hotel par­ties for a life of long skirts, atten­dance at a yeshi­va for for­mer sin­ners,” and attempts at piety. Rossi, a chef, weaves togeth­er food writ­ing and unfil­tered obser­va­tions into her nar­ra­tive. The Punk Rock Queen of the Jews is an hon­est, fas­ci­nat­ing look into an unusu­al life and a sparkling personality. 

Keep Your Wives Away from Them; Ortho­dox Women, Unortho­dox Desires by Miri­am Kabakov

In this anthol­o­gy of essays, Kabakov, cur­rent exec­u­tive direc­tor of Eshel, high­lights sto­ries that are most often hid­den behind thick clos­et doors. Try­ing to imag­ine a future… fills me with both awe and dread – awe for the love we have for each oth­er and dread for the alien­ation we might con­tin­ue to face,” writes an essay­ist under the moniker Ex-Yeshi­va Girl.” Keep Your Wives Away From Them was pub­lished four­teen years ago, and unfor­tu­nate­ly, I hear those same sen­ti­ments expressed in my mid­town Man­hat­tan ther­a­py office all the time. It is still near­ly impos­si­ble for queer indi­vid­u­als to visu­al­ize a future with­in Ortho­dox Judaism. It is still unsafe for many to pub­lish work using their own names. Each sto­ry with­in Kabakov’s pages is cru­cial and still very much relevant. 

Sara Glass, Ph.D., LCSW, is a ther­a­pist, writer, and speak­er who helps mem­bers of the queer com­mu­ni­ty and indi­vid­u­als who have sur­vived trau­ma to live bold, hon­est, and proud lives. She lives in Man­hat­tan, with her three children.