Culture, Mishegas, Sex & Gender

NY Jewish Week Crosses the Line

The NY Jewish Week has decided to enter the recent heated conversation about Debbie Friedman‘s sexuality with this little gem from Jonathan Mark.
He writes,

I spoke about this topic with Debbie enough times to know that she wasn’t interested in this aspect of her private life being discussed in print.
I knew about it, other writers knew about it, and respected her privacy. There was enough to write about her — and Shlomo Carlebach, for that matter — without getting into what they did or whom they called when they were lonely.
Did some closeted Jews feel that closeted lesbians would benefit from her talking about sex?

And it continues from there. Regardless of whether you think Friedman herself should have been out or not–and outed or not–there are a couple of problems here. First, this rehashes the whole notion that being out and queer (as @itsdlevy noted on Twitter this morning) is all about what happens between the sheets (as opposed to, say, what happens under the chuppah, what happens when one brings a date to events, what happens at daycare pick-up, and so forth.) This isn’t (‘just?’) about “bedroom stuff.” It’s about life stuff. And though Marks seems to cast the story as one in which Friedman herself framed the issue as about sex, I’m not so sure I consider him a reliable witness.
But more than that, Mark appears to be making the analogy between Friedman’s (or anyone’s) non-het sexuality and the sexual abuse that Shlomo Carlebach is said to have perpetrated.
Being gay is like sexually assaulting your congregants and followers? Really?
(And if you want to talk open secrets, from Blustain’s Lilith article, linked above: “We do know that certain segments of the progressive Jewish world, until the day Rabbi Carlebach died, distanced themselves from him because they were aware of reports of his sexual behavior. Leaders at ALEPH, and its sister organization, a retreat center called Elat Chayyim, told Lilith that during Rabbi Carlebach’s life they refused to invite him to teach under their auspices or sit on their boards.”)
I take umbrage at the idea that sexual assault and harassment is about “call[ing someone] when.. lonely.” I take umbrage at the idea that the perpetuation of sexual assault and harassment is something that should not be discussed. I take umbrage at the even merest implication that being queer and perpetuating sexual harassment and assault are even remotely analogous.
If you want to argue that Friedman had a right to privacy about her life, you can argue that. But do not bring in this disgusting analogy, and do not imply that sexual abuse should ever be left a private matter.

7 thoughts on “NY Jewish Week Crosses the Line

  1. Danya, I agree, the analogy is ill-considered, and is reflective of a certain notion of queer sexuality that seems to have shifted between the previous generation and ours (at least that is how I can make sense of the dissconect happening around dlevy’s post). Yet, I don’t think your post accurately conveys the poignancy of Mark’s post. The interview excerpt he posts makes very clear the considered way that Friedman thought about and attempted to manage her public persona. Despite the terrible analogy Mark makes, I strongly commend his post to folks trying to make sense of the debate simmering here and elsewhere over the public nature (or lack thereof) of Friedman’s sexuality and sexual idenity.

  2. There are 3 types of people in the world.
    1/ People who knew who Friedman was and who knew she was a lesbian.
    2/ People who knew who Friedman was and who didn’t know she was a lesbian.
    3/ People who never knew who she was and wouldn’t care if she was a lesbian or Ms SuperDuperStraight.
    The largest group of people easily belong to group 3.
    The smallest group of people easily belong to group 2

  3. Having read one of the comments – the one by the author of that nasty comparison – about the “radical gays”, it looks to me like that’s precisely what he’s saying. I wonder how national spotlight looks to him.

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