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Writing Contest Winning Entry 2016

Queering Passover by Ariana Davidson

My grandmother chants over the candles, my grandfather fills four cups of wine, and my family goes through the traditions of another Passover Seder. Though we are not particularly religious, there is a certain sense of comfort and community as we describe the meaning of the symbolic foods on our Seder plates and follow the traditional rituals that have been passed down in our family for generations. 

 

As we read through the lengthy Haggadah to relearn the significance of this holiday, my focus drifts to the most recent Friday Game Night that my friends have every month. It may not be an ancient custom like Passover, but it’s still a tradition I look forward to. I think of all the love and laughter that we manage to squeeze into this one little gathering. I see my friend from college sitting on my couch, her boyfriend’s head in her lap. She’s lovingly stroking his hair with her right hand; he’s leaning into her touch with his eyes closed. Her left hand is holding the hand of her husband beside her, their fingers entwined. His eyes wander down to her large, pregnant belly, and he smiles. Across the room, another friend is enthusiastically explaining the rules of a board game. She’s short, asexual, soft-spoken, and she comes out of her shell on nights like this. The friend next to me on the couch tells me about the last few dates they’ve had with some intriguing people they met at a play party. We brainstorm what they might want to wear on their next date, depending on how they feel like expressing their gender that day.

 

I’m snapped back into the present by the sudden CRACK of the breaking of matzo. My family passes the matzo around the table, breaking off pieces. We chant a musical blessing over the unleavened break, and then we get to start noshing. The matzo is dry and has little flavor, but it’s the first thing we’ve eaten since lunch. As I nibble the edges, I muse over the many communities of people in my life. My community of Jewish people, engaging in the annual celebration of freedom, telling stories of escaping oppression in Egypt thousands of years ago. My community of gender and sexual minorities and the people who support them, living their lives, fighting for freedom from oppression right now. Someone on the far end of the table launches into the story of Moses and the Jewish exodus from Egypt, and I drift off again...

 

“Over three thousand years ago, most people were free to express their gender and sexual identities however they saw fit. However, religious freedom was not yet a cultural norm in Egypt, and Jews were unable to enjoy these rights. Moses saved the Jewish people and took them out of oppression in Egypt, leading them through the split sea and into the land of equal rights. Every year we tell the story of how it all happened.

 

“For a long time, Pharaoh’s advisors warned him about the growing threat of the Jewish people. His fortune tellers predicted that a Jewish child assigned male at birth would grow up, develop a genderqueer identity, overturn the entire Egyptian empire, and lead the Jewish people to freedom.

 

Paraoh declared “All Jews shall work from sunrise to sunset… without equal pay. They will make 79 cents to each dollar Egyptians earn for the same work. While we enjoy fluidity in our gender identities and expression, they must adhere to strict gender roles according to their sex assigned at birth. Any sexual acts involving a Jewish person must be hetero, vanilla, and monogamous.” And worst of all: “All Jewish baby boys are to be forced to wear masculine attire and use the men’s bathroom!”

 

“One day a Jewish woman had a baby who was assigned male at birth. Desperately trying to protect the child from Pharaoh’s strict laws, she placed him in a basket and sent him floating down the Nile. The floating basket was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, the Princess of Egypt. Fawning over the beautiful baby in the basket, she named him Moses and raised him in her luxurious palace.

 

“Despite the fact that he grew up in the palace and was able to explore his gender and sexual identity at his own pace, Moses hated to witness the suffering of the Jewish people. One day, Moses saw an Egyptian taskmaster whipping a Jewish woman for trying to rent an apartment with her two girlfriends and the child they coparented together. Angered by what he had seen, Moses started a political campaign advocating for equal rights for Jewish people. Then, certain that Pharaoh’s followers would attempt to block his advocacy, Moses fled to Midian.

 

“Moses worked as a shepherd in Midian for several years. He was able to explore his gender identity and expression. After some time dedicated to introspection and self-discovery, Moses decided to start using they/them pronouns, wear flowing skirts, and keep a beautifully manicured beard. One day, a lamb ran away from the rest of the flock. Moses chased after it and came upon a flaming bush. Though the bush was covered in fire, it did not burn in the flames. Astonished, Moses drew even nearer. They suddenly heard the voices of queer Jews Harvey Milk, Gertrude Stein, and Gloria Steinham speaking to them.

 

“Go down to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let my people go!”

 

“Moses came before Pharaoh. “Let my people go!” they cried. Pharaoh just laughed and scorned Moses. Moses warned Pharaoh that ten horrible plagues would come upon Egypt if he did not listen to the spirits of the queer Jews, but Pharaoh did not believe them.

 

Plagues fell upon the land of Egypt, each one more shocking than the last. 

1) A terrible drought struck the land, and all the lube dried up. Lubricated condoms crackled and became dust, bottle of lube mysteriously vanished, and Egyptians were left without lubrication (be it water-, oil-, or silicone-based). 

2) A massive wave of gender roles swept into Egypt. Egyptian women were forced to be submissive, subservient, and sensitive, while Egyptian men were unable to express feelings of sadness, affection, and vulnerability. Nonbinary-identifying Egyptians were forced to adopt one set of roles.

3) Egyptians could no longer marry their same-sex partners. While the government’s institution of marriage was a debatable concept in the first place, having the same opportunities for all partners was important to the Egyptians, and this loss of rights was felt throughout the land. 

4) All relationships suddenly became monogamous. Poly families were torn apart, partners had fewer sources of emotional support, and children lost important parental figures.

5) Adoption and foster parenting was limited to two-parent households with one father and one mother. Same-sex couples, single people who wanted children, and the once prevalent poly families were unable to welcome children without parents into their homes.

6) All relationships were expected to be sexual in order to be legitimate. Asexual Egyptians were suddenly seen as “broken,” their partnered relationships invalidated.

7) For the allosexual Egyptians, vanilla sex suddenly became the only option. All practices of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism were banished. Egyptians across the land reached into their nightstands and toy boxes, seeking their handcuffs and paddles and blindfolds, only to come out empty-handed. Sexual creativity was lost, pleasure dimmed, and sexual behavior became less intimate and more mechanical.

8) Communication skills decreased, dulled, and disappeared. People stopped asking for pronouns. People stopped asking their sexual partners what they wanted to do, and safewords were forgotten. Parents stopped talking to their children about sex, forcing them to do all their learning online.

9) The ability to explore gender identity and expression was suddenly restricted. Egyptians had to adhere to strict gender roles based on their sex assigned at birth, regardless of how their identities changed. And the worst plague of all,

10) The firstborn child in each Egyptian family suddenly became an avid supporter of Donald Trump as the next Pharaoh.

 

“Pharaoh finally decided he could take no more plagues. Distraught, he tracked down Moses. “Go! Leave Egypt! And take all the Jews away with you!” Moses sent word to all the Jews that the time had come to leave Egypt immediately.

 

“The Jews walked until they reached the edge of the sea. They stopped, trapped. They could see the Egyptian army chasing after them, swinging their swords. Pharaoh had changed his mind. He had decided to chase down his former slaves and force them back into oppression. The voices of Harvey Milk, Gertrude Stein, and Gloria Steinham told Moses to stretch their arm out over the waters, and the sea split. Miraculously, the Jews were able to walk through the path in the split sea. The moment they emerged from the sea onto dry land, the walls of water came crashing down on the pursuing Egyptian soldiers. The Jews were free!”