Saturday, June 26, 2010

What constitutes a family?

There has been a lot of talk regarding families this weekend. At yesterday's seuduah slishit (shabbat 3rd meal), table talk was dominated by the invisibility of older unmarried Jews in the observant community; this morning, deficiencies in our current dating cycle were discussed over coffee with a friend; this afternoon I went with another friend to see "8: The Mormon Proposition".

Before this year, in my life before med school (BMS), I was obsessed with getting married and starting a family. When a child walked by, my gaze would follow. Every new dating potential was analyzed for acceptability as a co-parent. Through this year of med school though, I've noticed significant change in my desire to parent. There is much less urgency in my need to get married and have children, and almost a sense of complacency developing.

I can rationalize many possible factors accounting for this change. (1) Increasing awareness that the path to becoming a doctor is isolating and lonely- and that I am, without much of an option, putting my career before my social life. I may very well still be single by the time I complete residency, somewhere between 33 and 38 years old; the older side to find a partner and start a family. (2) Genetics made me really appreciate G!d, and question how a viable, healthy, functioning child can ever develop from the combination of two gametes. My waning faith in the ability to create viable offspring is marring my hopes of ever trying. (3) Already feeling guilty that I would put myself, my career, and my patients, before my family. What effect will being an abortion provider have on my future children? What about the fact that they will likely have two moms? I know intellectually that these are silly barriers and surmountable obstacles, but Jewish guilt is a force to reckon with.

At the seudah yesterday I looked around the table to see my friends, in their late 20s/early 30s, growing into their adult selves. Over the 4 years I have known them I have heard stories of first dates, celebrated their engagements, danced at many of their weddings, and knit hats for the children that are slowly being added into our community. Our roads are diverging: they are throwing themselves deeper into family life as I sink into all consuming medical training and activism. This is not to say that I can't have it all, but choosing to attend med school in the South has significantly limited my ability to meet other engaged queer Jewish women, subsequently slowing my love life to a trickle. As much as I can accept the idea that maybe I wont have a partner and children, I also worry that this will cause me to loose my place at the table. To loose my standing in the Jewish community.

The contrast between this fear and the message of "8" is stark. The movie addressed the lack of space for homosexuality in religion, particularly in Mormonism. The heart breaking reality of those who think their religion would prefer them dead or miserable to creating a loving relationship with someone of the same sex &/or gender, breaks my heart and infuriates my inner activist. I know at my core that I am b'tzelem elohim (created in G!d's image), and my sexual orientation is part of that image. Even still I have worried, and sometimes still do, about my future family being marginalized in shul (synagogue) or the such, but I know enough non-heteronormative families to believe that it is possible. I also believe that there exists more space for familial variability then for singles and those who choose not to parent. How can I use these realizations to help others though? And in helping others, how can I continue to educate myself that whatever happens with my personal life will be absolutely okay?

In this week's haftorah we read:
הגיד לך אדם מה־טוב ומה־יהוה דורש ממך כי אם־עשות משפט ואהבת חסד והצנע לכת עם־אלהיך
"It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the LORD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." (Micah 6:8)
But do we really believe this? How does family, and this tie between religion and family, come about? If doing justice and walking humbly is enough, why can't organized religion make space for every human, regardless of who they love and what type of family they choose to (or not to) create? I know there is more to it than this, there are more texts to cite, and more religious discourse to scrutinize; but the idealist in me wishes it was this simple- and would like to believe the world would be better if religious organizations spent $22 million on health care, education, and global hunger instead of on political campaigns that breed hate.

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