Yesterday I spoke with someone writing an article about Jews and kink; it seems after speaking to a couple of people, my name kept getting raised (gosh, I wonder why) and she reached out to me. In our discussion, she told me she kept talking to people who felt like there was a troublesome contradiction or conflict between their Jewish and kink identities – that it wasn’t possible to be both and be at peace, or be happy.
Naturally, I don’t agree. But as we spoke, I realized this relates to one of my long-standing feelings about the spiritual seekers in the kink community. There is a sizable population of seekers in the kink scene. It’s only natural, we are a fairly romantic and passionate bunch, coming from a place of isolation and doubt and discovering fellowship and community in what we feel is a group of not only like-minded folks but supportive and nurturing types. Thousands have written about the leather and kink communities as a “coming home” for them, a discovery of self and value.
And nowhere is it clearer to me than among the spiritual seekers, who I (with affection) call the Woo folks. We are full of woo. Sometimes, honestly and poignantly — sometimes with full-on appropriation and startling amounts of ignorance and privilege. I’m not interested in calling out a particular style, act, group or example here. I did my calling out live and in person at Southwest Leatherfest and am comfortable with what I said there. (And let this be a lesson to anyone else who wants to invite me to be a keynote speaker. If you want to read it, I’ll post a link in the comments below.)
Over the years I have been invited to and sometimes nudged into the middle of many ceremonies and rituals which were of meaning to a faith or tradition I did not share. Sometimes, it was harmless and fast and ultimately about as intrusive as singing a national anthem. Or, they were interesting as learning experiences. But other times, it was downright uncomfortable. I don’t pray that way. I don’t believe the actions performed have meaning. I don’t share the values and wishes expressed. Or, it was so diluted and muted that it lost any specific feel of an origin or culture and became a conservative’s nightmare of multiculturalism, where everything was made so general and palatable and equal there was no way to discern anything other than “Let’s all feel good about being here.”
And yet, we fetishize mythological styles of behavior and powerful words with real-life historical meaning (and baggage) and we embrace the toxic culture of One-True-Way *at the same time* that we water down religious identity and ritual.
As some of us search in vain for the Ye Olde Guarde Collaring Ceremony, we ignore the fact of an actual ritual for keeping a slave by consent – a hell of a lot older than The Leatherman’s Handbook. We plumb the depths of Emily Post to find out how to set a table for a Formal Dinner – and there’s a ritual meal so much older than even the fork, waiting for us to take our seats and requiring us to talk about what it means to be a slave or to be free.
Which is what led Karen and I to make the Seder.
Because we’re seekers, too. We found both meaning and a “tribe” to use another term often thrown around with a somewhat careless panache, right where we live.
Part of the maturation process is examining the traditions and values, the beliefs and rituals taught to us when we were children. Many sexual minorities are cast out, literally, from the places they came from. Others break away in rebellion or anger or completely justified self-defense. That’s part of the seeking path – to turn away from what gives you no meaning, no hope, no safety or comfort.
But just as we’re free as kinky people, as queers, as sexual outsiders, to choose identities and paths from the array offered *and name new ones as we make them* – so are we free to examine what we might have otherwise thrown aside for what’s worth keeping.
A Passover seder is the number one thing even the least affiliated Jews will still continue to participate in, even after leaving a synagogue, stopping all other ritual observance, even in a time where they no longer feel as though they identify as Jews. There are so many reasons why. Family obligation, or familial love. Bubbe’s food, Baba’s stories. A sense of community. To share familiar moment with others the world over, and know that this night, this week, thousands are doing the same thing, singing similar songs, eating similar food. From every corner of the world, there will be people sitting down and breaking a matzoh and recalling the same story.
That’s some real old guard shit right there.
And when the story told is about the very things we grapple with for pleasure, the words we use for identity, the struggles we have with history and the human habit of forgetting or gilding the past, how could we not embrace this ritual and make it meaningful in a kinky context?
It’s almost like it was made for us.
Of course it’s possible to be Jewish and kinky. We are, therefore it’s possible. But can it be healthy? Can it be meaningful and fulfilling? Can we be free from shame or guilt over who we are and what we want AND open the (many more than four!) questions about what we’re doing and how we do it in the context of a people who are called to celebrate freedom from slavery every year – *as though we ourselves have experienced it?*
Yes. And we do it every year.