Kol Nidrei, for those of you who don’t know, is the service where we pray for those who cannot pray for themselves. We pray for those, who if they admitted who they were, would face certain death. Judaism does not ask us to become martyrs…Judaism demands that we live so that others may live, so that our collective memory lives on…and so if you have to lie to save your life, you are obligated to do so. Under Jewish law, life comes above almost all else, and if it will save a life, you are required to violate a commandment.
Kol Nidrei is my favorite service of the year. It comes before Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the day of judgment, where we admit our transgressions in public, where we beat them upon our chests with our fists to admit that we have sinned, that we have transgressed, that we have fallen short. Yom Kippur is the day when even the hosts of heaven are judged, and the angels tremble in awe.
I have sinned this year, I have transgressed, I have fallen short: this has been an incredibly tough year for me. I could have done much better. Part of that is for not being in my community…for not doing enough, for not volunteering, for letting my responsibility fall on the shoulders of others instead of carrying my fair share, for not making enough of an effort.
I have heard, often this year for whatever reason, that the Gay Community (and for that matter the LGBT community as a whole) doesn’t have heroes…that we don’t have role models. I’m 25, according to my other, older, queer friends I’m a kid…kids need role models, and I have to say, from my perspective, from my personal narrative, nothing could be father from the truth: I have never been without heroes.
Leonardo da Vinci (widely thought to be gay), Walt Whitman who is the American Poet and my personal ‘patron saint’ as I read his Leaves of Grass outside and in every season, Alan Turing the code breaker in World War II who broke the code of the German Enigma machine and was then later chemically castrated because of who he loved, Oscar Wilde who should need no introduction…these are but the tip of the iceberg for my gay heroes.
America the Beautiful was written by a lesbian, Katherine Lee Bates and Abraham Lincoln was known for sharing his bed with other men who would sleepover from time to time. Speaking of Lincoln, in the book The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War the author, Thomas P. Lowry, goes through Army and historical documents and, among other things, shows that there were gay soldiers…and that those gay soldiers had someone who loved them. We have been around since the start of history, and though it isn’t always recorded, we have been at every battle, we have been at the rise and fall of civilizations, we have been lovers kept in secret, we have been in the background and the foreground, we have been in villages and in castles, in farms and cities and in tribes.
However, and perhaps more importantly than the names and stories of the heroes that we know are the names and the stories of the heroes that we don’t.
There are a lot of other heroes who will never see a memorial that has their name…the gay men who lived through the 80s, not knowing why their friends were getting sick…having to wonder if it would be them next…not knowing what they could do to avoid being infected with HIV/AIDS. The gay men who wiped, changed the diapers of, and took care of their sick friends because they were thrown out of their homes and only had the gay community to call their family. The gay men who were fired from their jobs, the gay men who were beaten and attacked, the gay men who were spit on in the streets for ‘shoving their sex life down other people’s throats’ by doing nothing more than merely holding hands walking back from the movies on a Friday night.
Everyone at the Stonewall Rebellion which on a summer night in New York City, June 1969 changed world history. Every campy drag queen and every twink who are our front line foot soldiers and also take a shit ton of flack from our own community. Every gay man from the dawn of time to present day who has had to hear a heterosexual, white male (a member of the least oppressed group on the planet) tell them what our community does or doesn’t have and what they should or shouldn’t do. Every brave forerunner who has made my path that much easier. Everyone who had to take a hit so when I was at university I could stand on a stage in heels and a dress. Every gay man who had to make his way in the world to show me that, if God forbid my parents didn’t accept me when I came out, I could do it on my own if I had to. Every gay man who served in the IDF before me so that eventually, by the time that I enlisted, it would be totally legal for me to serve “out loud and proud.”
Every fag hag, fruit fly, and flame dame – and make no mistake either, our straight guy friends get far too little credit – who has been a member of our community, who has been a shoulder to cry on, who has been support and muscle when we needed it most. Everyone who has ever held a placard at a demonstration, rally or march who didn’t have too, but came out to show their support for the LGBT community because it was the right thing to do.
…all of these people are heroes.
“A hero is made when you make a choice.” – Superchick
So I have plenty of heroes, I have historical heroes, I have unsung, unnamed heroes, I have my friends who are LGBTQ who paved the way for me and formed my second family, I have my friends who are straight and who are straight allies of the gay community and who have stood up for me, and I have my family who has accepted me. But since there are countless martyrs, and because some of our heroes and martyrs go unsung, let it never be said that we don’t have them.
So on this Kol Nidrei, when we pray for those that can’t pray for themselves, when we pray for those that don’t have the freedom to be who they are, may we pray that it will be the last Kol Nidrei that we will have to pray. This Kol Nidrei may all closet doors be blown off, may we find or rekindle our inner strengths, may we all be a light unto the nations, and may 5770 be a year of loud, awesome, voices.
From my family to yours, L’Shana Tova (Happy New Year)!