Pink or blue or rainbow?
This is not a question about colors. It’s a matter of a type of self-indulgent behavior that is becoming annoyingly – and occasionally dangerously – common in US culture, related to gender identity.
Two extremes of behavior, both related to one’s sexuality or sexual identity, are increasingly playing themselves out in public. They are at opposite ends of the political-sociological spectrum, but are both equally at odds to anyone with a Torah-based perspective on behavior.
At one end is the “gender reveal” event.
In the old days – i.e., before our current, unfettered acceptance of narcissism, when parents of a yet-unborn child were asked by well-meaning questioners the gender of the child whose arrival was still some months away but declined to answer – the gender was known, often to the parents as well as to outsiders, only upon delivery. Even if the folks knew that the kid was to be a boy or a girl, they would keep it a secret.
The child’s gender was nobody’s business. Nobody’s, besides the parents and pediatrician.
“I don’t care” what the child would be, “as long as he/she is healthy,” was the traditional answer to the inquiries.
Today, it’s become everybody’s business.
Today, the trend of “gender reveal” events and similar ostentatious events are becoming the norm – in some parts of society. Creative, chromatic demonstrations – red for a boy, pink for a girl – have become common. Baseball players who swing at balls laced with the correct color. Colored smoke bombs and grenades and cakes.
Whatever happened to simply saying, “It will be a boy”? Or “It will be a girl”? Or passing out a non-gender-specific cigar when the kid arrives?
This current trend has become dangerous. Last week in Michigan, one person was killed when a cannon misfired in a gender reveal event.
At the other end of the spectrum is the sexuality announcement – or, strictly speaking, the affirmation of one’s sexual identity as an adult – in which an individual announces, often to great fanfare and attendant publicity, if someone, heretofore identified as heterosexual, considers himself or herself gay or bisexual or transsexual or ambiguously “queer” or some other title on the LGBT scale.
Last week, a former professional wrestling star took to social media and Instagram to announce a “transitioning” from he to she. These announcements come, seemingly, every week.
Why is this – besides the obvious, when one’s gender is an important part of one’s career – anyone else’s business?
Instead of being a private matter, one’s gender identity now becomes the world’s concern – at least the concern of people who care how some celebrity or boldface character identifies sexually.
As humorist P. J. O’Rourke observed a few years ago, the love that dared not speak its name won’t shut up.
Again, the question: Who cares?
In the old days – when men and women who had homosexual leanings kept their sexual preferences “in the closet,” often at great risk to their psychological health, posing as straight in order not to alienate their friends or family or endanger their livelihood – a person’s sexual identity was a fact of interest only to that person, and to that person’s close circle of acquaintances.
Now, apparently, everyone needs to know.
The incentive for these publicity-conscious statements is understandable. Keeping a fundamental facet of one’s personal identity a secret, denying one’s nature, must be draining, painful, living in fear of discovery or rejection, of social isolation. It must be cathartic, a relief to live fully in the open.
Today, much of contemporary society – outside of conservative, typically religious communities – is much more accepting of the LGBT lifestyle, regarding a person’s sexual identity as a mostly personal matter.
The common link of these two extremes – parents’ gender reveal events, and adults’ sexuality announcements – share one characteristic: modesty. Or, to be exact, lack thereof.
Judaism traditionally frowns on speaking prematurely about an unborn child’s personal details until the child emerges safely from the womb. Hence, no baby showers. Hence, the declarations of “b’sha’ah tovah” instead of “mazal tov” when informed of a pregnancy.
It is considered arrogant, spiritually risky, a flouting of ayin ha’ra, the evil eye, to assume a child’s health as a certainty; only G-d knows for sure. Modesty dictates that we do not take for granted what is not in our hands.
Judaism has a fair share of rites and rituals. A gender reveal party is an artificial one – what do we gain from this morsel of information, beyond the ability to buy an infant a truck or a doll, or pink or blue clothing, assuming that someone is inclined to make unisex, stereotypical, purchases?
Similarly bothersome are the public announcements of one’s sexual identity.
What is more personal than a person’s acts of intimacy, presumably behind closed doors? Discussing this behavior in a public forum – while offering moral support and role models to people who are not public figures and tend to feel isolated and powerless – cheapens the private by making it public.
These two extreme acts of chutzpah approach the subject from opposite directions – the narcissistic parents, who typically see their soon-to-be-born child’s gender as an either-or, either boy or girl; and the LGBT community, which asserts that sexuality is not binary, but a continuum of acts and beliefs, not determined at birth but asserted sometime in childhood or adulthood. In this view, biology is not destiny; sexuality is not strictly speaking correlated to physicality, to one’s genitalia, but to one’s sense of self.
Traditional Judaism is uncomfortable with either extreme. (As a believing Jew, I find many fundamental LGBT assertions to be challenging; a belief that G-d placed a person of one gender in the body of the other implies that He – although G-d clearly transcends gender, I am at ease employing the male pronoun – makes mistakes. But that is not the purpose of this essay. One’s self-perception is a reality to that individual, but must be dealt with as such.)
Through the years, I have known many gay men and women. At some point, they shared with me, in private, this fact of self-identity; there was no press conference or press release or social media posting.
Today, membership as part of the LGBT community is accepted in most parts of the country, as actions done among consenting adults, besides in conservative religious circles; there is no novelty in being gay.
Judaism clearly condemns acts of male homosexuality (the Torah contains no explicit prohibition against same-sex female behavior).
Staging events to announce a fact about a fetus that will become apparent when a child is born, or making public announcements to deny what Judaism would view as a biological fact, contradicting the person’s cisgender identity, are a violation of the tz’nius, the modesty, that Judaism sees as a given part of Jewish identity.
Judaism’s advice: Shaa! Be still. Let the world know what a child’s gender is when parents declare it in the week after birth (at the bris of a boy, or at the announcement of a newborn girl’s name from the bimah of a synagogue). And in the case of a gay person: Live your life, out and proud, without letting the world know that you have left the closet. There is enough noise in the world; let what is private, until the proper time, remain private.
This noise, generated by parents, and by “coming out” adults, is likely to continue.
Color me disappointed.
Steve Lipman, a resident of Forest Hills, was a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week from 1983 to 2020.