Fringes Episode 2: Pidge
Pidge is such a gem! Getting to hear what their experience has been growing up trans in a reform synagogue right now, how they chose their tallit, and what wearing it feels like for them was a delight.
They passed along these photos of their tallis (one with their cat!):
With any questions or comments, reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bar/Bat/B'nei Mitzvah: a ceremony held in the synagogue, usually on Shabbat, to admit as an adult member of the Jewish community a Jewish boy/girl/person or people of 13 years who has successfully completed a prescribed course of study in Judaism. B'nei Mitzvah is plural, often meaning multiple people are participating in this ceremony, but has been used more recently as a more gender neutral word to describe this event for trans and non-binary people doing it.
Goyim: or "goy" in the singular, is the Yiddish word for a non-Jew/gentile.
Fringes Podcast Transcript Episode 2
Transcript by Tim Hipp at www.transcribeyourpod.com
Emma June: Hello. I’m Emma June, and welcome to Fringes, a no frills kind of podcast where I talk to trans and gender non-conforming Jews about our experiences with tallitot and tzitzit. Tallitot are essentially Jewish prayer shawls, and tzitzit are the knotted fringe on the end of them. For deeper definitions, check out the first episode. In today’s episode, I had the pleasure of interviewing someone who, for the purposes of this podcast, is known as Pidge. They will introduce themself.
Pidge: Sure. My name is Pidge. I’m a sophomore in high school. I’m a Reform Jew and my pronouns are they/them and he/him. That’s kind of it.
Emma June: Awesome. Well, I guess I start with everyone I’ve interviewed so far, I’ve asked just like the first things they remember about a tallis, because I’m just curious to know where we first remember them. So, what are you first memories with them?
Pidge: I think first memories would be probably when I used to go to… There’s an Orthodox or conservative shul that we go to up in New York with some non-nuclear relatives, and I can vaguely remember being there and having my dad’s tallis draped around me, and braiding the tallis strings together, the tzitzit. So, that’s kind of the first I remember of it in general. When I started realizing the sort of… When I learned the kind of religious connotations of it was probably when I was about 12, before my b’nei mitzvah.
Emma June: Yeah. Did somebody sit with you and teach you about it?
Pidge: Yeah. We have a fantastic cantor who helps train kids for b’nei mitzvot, and I was… I mean, there’s obviously the blessing that you say over it at the b’nei mitzvah, and that was… There was kind of an explanation of it there. There was also one given to me by the tallis shop owner.
Emma June: Wow. Where did… So, you got one for your b’nei mitzvah?
Pidge: I did. There’s a shop in… G-d, I think it’s Brookline. A traditional Jewish shop that I went in and I looked at, they had racks and racks of tallitot, and I picked one out from there.
Emma June: Wow. How did you decide which one you wanted?
Pidge: I wanted a less traditional color scheme, so I started off by looking at ones that weren’t white and blue, and then I filtered out the ones that weren’t all black, and I ended up finding one with a really pretty dove motif on it. It’s yellow. It has gold and white and orange stripes, and it has these cute little golden, glittery doves along the borders, and I thought that went really well, because my real name vaguely translates to Dove in a language I’m not going to say, because that’ll definitely give my real name away and out me to everybody. But I thought it was fitting.
Emma June: Yeah. That’s very beautiful sounding. How do you… Do you wear it if you go to services now? Or do you wear it in any other circumstances now?
Pidge: I mostly wear it at services where I know there’s going to be a Torah involved, like Rosh Hashanah celebrations, and Yom Kippur, other b’nei mitzvot, stuff like that. But I do wear it from time to time in everyday services, like Friday night services, stuff like that.
Emma June: Yeah. Did you have an understanding for yourself when you were being b’nei mitzvah-ed, that you were non-binary, or trans, or whatever word you use for yourself? I’m sorry, I didn’t ask before I asked the question.
Pidge: No, that’s fine. I use non-binary as a more specific term, but I do consider non-binary a part of the trans community, so I can use either interchangeably, really.
Emma June: Sure.
Pidge: I did have an understanding of that, yes. I wasn’t really out and I was still trying to figure everything out. I wasn’t sure if I was gender fluid or if I was just questioning, or what was going on, but I knew that I wasn’t completely the gender I was born in at that point.
Emma June: Yeah. Did that feel like it affected… Did knowing that feel like it affected what you looked for when you were trying to find a tallis?
Pidge: A little bit. I didn’t want anything… I mean, obviously I didn’t want anything that’s like overly specific gender connotations, like there was one I looked at that was vivid pink and the text along it read something along the lines of, “Our beautiful child.” And I was like, “Hmm, maybe not for me.” But apart from that, I don’t really think it affected too much of it. I just… Yeah.
Emma June: Yeah. How does it feel when you wear it now?
Pidge: It feels comfortable and it feels kind of safe, like I can just… Like, you know when you pull a really soft blanket around your shoulders and you can just kind of hug yourself with it? I’m aware it’s not a great analogy, and that I’m struggling for words, but it’s kind of a safety object at this point, I guess.
Emma June: Yeah. This is a big question, but I guess what does it make you feel safe from?
Pidge: Just the world in general. I use it as almost a barrier, like how you’re supposed to associate certain things with certain situations. I kind of associate my tallis with, “Okay. We’re out of everything now. We’re in a quiet temple at this point. Everybody’s going to be quiet and respectful, and I’m not going to have to deal with the stress of daily life.” You know? So, it’s kind of like… It represents a barrier for me from the stress of the real world, I guess.
Emma June: Yeah. And it brings you kind of into a different real world, I guess.
Pidge: Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. Real world might have not been the best word, like the non-secular world??? The non-goyim world.
Emma June: Sure. I mean, it is a separation, and it’s interesting to me that Judaism uses a piece of clothing. I guess I’m fascinated by how people use clothing in general, and yeah, that we’ve got this shawl blanket covering thing to remind us of things that are holy is really… It’s just very fascinating to me.
Pidge: No, you’re absolutely right. I mean, we tend to… Okay, I was going to go into a thing about how society uses different objects to demarcate different places, but that’s completely irrelevant here. But it’s kind of nice, almost, that instead of using something that’s really difficult to get, it’s just… Well, I say just. It’s an item of clothing that we use to represent ourselves that can be so easily customized.
Emma June: Yeah. It definitely can. I guess that kind of leads me toward I think there’s a lot of creativity that’s possible with a tallis as an object, like the rules, the Halakha around it is really like, “Well, it’s supposed to have four corners and you’re supposed to tie these fringes onto it,” and other than that there’s not that much that you need to fulfill the mitzvah. And we have these very gorgeous, fancy tallitot, or really traditional ones, or really… All these different ways. But you know, somebody could sit at home and make their own super easily, and they would be just as valid halakhically.
Pidge: Yeah, exactly.
Emma June: Yeah. Do you ever think about making your own or what you would make for your ideal tallis?
Pidge: I’ve considered it before. I considered it when I was looking at the process, but it was… Well, A, it wasn’t an option that my parents gave me, which is honestly fair, because I at no time have ever had the free time to do something like that. But also, I don’t… At this point, I’ve found that I’ve grown pretty attached to my current one and I don’t know that I want another one. That being said, an ideal tallis would… I don’t know what material my current one is made out of, but it would be made out of something that’s not so… My current one is very slick to the touch, which is not the ideal texture for me, which is a stupid thing to want to change, but it’s… I think that’s the only thing I’d change about it is making it slightly nicer to the touch.
Emma June: Yeah. That makes sense to me. Yeah. Have you ever, in your Jewish community, are there people whose tallitot you admire or who have taught you things about how to wear one, or to feel safe in one?
Pidge: Oh yeah. My dad introduced my to the concept of a more triangle-shaped tallis, which I really enjoyed but didn’t end up being able to find one, which is a little disappointing, but ultimately okay. I also have a friend who made a gorgeous rainbow-themed one that… Well, I say rainbow themed like it’s like they’re draping a massive pride flag over their shoulders, which is not true, but it’s got these really pretty intricate rainbow designs they hand weaved into it, which I admire very much the dedication an the talent that that requires.
Honestly, my class, my grade of Hebrew school students seems to have… We seem to have kind of learned that we can have… Oh, did I just cut out? Okay. Good, great. Because my computer turned off. We seem to have learned that we can kind of have what we want if we make it ourselves, so a bunch of us did end up customizing ours. And I didn’t, but I like mine anyways, so…
Emma June: Yeah. That’s awesome. I think I’m so curious about… Well, I guess I know that I got a tallis that I don’t relate to at all now, because when I got it, I didn’t really understand very much about my gender or what I would maybe have wanted in the future. So, future EJ was not super happy with 13-year-old EJ’s choices. And I’ve wondered, I guess, like would I make… what kind of decision I would have made if I had maybe known more about myself at that period of time.
I think part of my pursuit with this podcast is trying to understand how it is that people, especially trans people, feel connected to their Jewish ritual objects and connected to their tallis, and like what makes them feel those things.
Pidge: Yeah, and for me it was largely that… Well, I knew what my favorite colors were, and I knew what I was trying to spread, which was I wanted people to see me and think I looked happy, and looked approachable, which is… I mean, my fashion sense right now is a lot of black clothing, which means a lot of people think I don’t look approachable at all. But the fact that I’m not remotely photogenic doesn’t help with that, obviously, but I feel like I kind of saw the yellow tallis, and it’s a very bright, very saturated but pale yellow, and a very sunny color, and I felt like I could kind of use it to broadcast a message to others, as well as myself, because I can look at it and it makes me feel happy, you know?
Emma June: Yeah. Yellow is such a good color.
Pidge: It is.
Emma June: Yeah. I’ve almost never seen anyone in a yellow tallis. That’s very bold and special. Yeah. Do you feel like there are any questions that I’m not asking? Like there’s anything you know about yourself that I don’t know about you?
Pidge: Well, I mean I did almost make the very brash thing, the very brash decision of coming out during my b’nei mitzvah.
Emma June: What?
Pidge: Yeah. I was actually going to. There’s a part of our service that we do in our synagogue where we have this whole speech planned as to how we have interpreted our Torah portion. And I had a whole thing planned out that I would end it with a very dramatic coming out statement, which I now realize was a very bad idea at the time, as it would have made the day about my sexuality and my gender instead of about my accomplishments as a Jewish person. And my cantor and my rabbi ended up talking me out of it, which was probably the right decision on their parts, and it was a very impulsive decision on mine, but that was… It was an interesting decision on 13-year-old me’s part.
Emma June: Sure. What a public venue.
Emma June: Dang. I get the impression from you that your Jewish community is very… that you share a lot with them and that they’re pretty supportive. Am I hearing you correctly?
Pidge: Yeah. Well, my cantor is lesbian, or possibly bisexual. I’m not 100% sure, but she has a wife. And our rabbi is a woman who has… which is always very… You can kind of tell the environment that a synagogue is in by their staff, by their clergy. If they’ve got several old men who are crotchety and talk exclusively about Torah, and about Talmud. I mean, obviously it’s fine. It’s kind of what a temple should… It fits the purpose of a temple well. But it’s always nice when you know that you can come to your rabbi and your cantor, and to your clergy and teachers for help and for counsel. But yeah, they’ve always been some of the most open-minded people I’ve ever known. And some of the kindest, too.
Emma June: That’s really, really lucky and amazing.
Emma June: I think that’s… I mean, in my head, that’s really what a rabbi should be there for, and what a cantor and clergy should be there for.
Pidge: Exactly. It’s been really nice having a place to go. Our Hebrew school traditionally meets on Wednesday. I wasn’t able to go today because of an audition, but it was… It’s always really, really nice to have that little island of peace in the middle of my week, you know?
Emma June: Yeah. That’s very… I feel like I’m… Well, what were you gonna say?
Pidge: That many of the other classmates that I have are transgender and they’ve managed to make a way for b’nei mitzvot to be b’nei mitzvot and not exclusively bar/bot mitzvahs.
Emma June: In your synagogue writ large?
Emma June: That’s amazing!
Pidge: It’s fantastic and I’m very lucky. I feel very blessed to have an accepting synagogue.
Emma June: Yeah. Wow. How did your synagogue come to that?
Pidge: I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. I mean, I joined when I was nine, and before that, we still had our fantastic lesbian cantor. We had a different rabbi, who was also fantastic. He was very good with kids, which I feel very thankful that I had that kind of influence on my life. But I don’t know too much about the history of our synagogue. I know we got it off of a family, and that it used to be a proper house.
Emma June: Wow. Wow. Yeah. It’s really exciting to hear that. It makes me want to talk to… I grew up in the reform movement, as well, and it makes me want to talk to my old rabbi and see what they’re doing or if they’re talking about, if they’ve had b’nei mitzvot called that, or what they’re experiencing now. Because it definitely… I’m only 24, but it wasn’t that way when I was there, for sure.
Yeah. That’s amazing.
Pidge: Yeah. Honestly, I feel really thankful and really blessed to have a synagogue that’s that accepting and that makes tallit and b’nei mitzvot and all that kind of just another thing that trans teens can experience without feeling so left out.
Emma June: Yeah. And so, am I hearing from you also like just not really experiencing a feeling of feeling left out?
Pidge: I mean, not at synagogue, no. It’s always school putting… They were like, “Oh yes, we’re being inclusive and putting gender neutral bathrooms. We’re putting them as far away from the classes as we can physically put them.” So, I mean it’s nice to be accepted at synagogue, even if I can’t… even if I still have to deal with the whole whoopsies, school isn’t going to be super inclusive of you, or even that inclusive at all, you know?
Emma June: Yeah. Definitely. Definitely. It makes me feel pretty proud of your synagogue for making a space that feels that way to you.
Emma June: Yeah. That’s amazing. Yeah. I guess I feel like we’ve answered a lot of questions. One thing we haven’t talked about I’m curious if you’ve engaged with at all is like have you heard of a tallit katan?
Pidge: I don’t think so. No.
Emma June: If you’ve ever seen Orthodox men, they’re the vests that go under, like the undershirts that have tzitzit tied on the ends.
Pidge: Oh yeah. Yeah, I’ve seen those.
Emma June: Yeah. I know of many trans people who choose to wear those, like not because they’re Orthodox, or maybe they are, but also just as kind of a tool of gender expression. And like being able to wear tzitzit in a style that’s a little bit… that feels more gender affirming to some people, or to be able to wear tzitzit every day. And I guess I was just curious if that was on your radar, if you’d ever thought of that before, if you’ve done it before?
Pidge: I hadn’t heard of it, actually, before just now. I don’t think I’d ever consider it. I think it’s a fantastic idea for those who find themselves on that side of the spectrum. I think I’m content to leave the tallis and the tzitzit as something that I reserve for special occasions and for temple and stuff like that, and I’m content to not go around with that under my clothes, because I don’t know that I feel safe in my school environment to do that. Not because I’d get bullied or harassed or anything, but because I’d end up… Which I know I’m very lucky that I wouldn’t have to deal with any of that, but I feel like I’d be fielding a lot of questions, and a lot of people going, “Well, why are you doing it, anyway?” And a lot of criticism, I guess. And I know I’m lucky I wouldn’t have to deal with anything physical, I hope, but I don’t know. I don’t think I’d ever consider it, but I absolutely find that a valid form of self-expression. I think that’s fantastic that people are doing that.
Emma June: Yeah. Absolutely. I was just curious, because it’s another… just like a different avenue of approaching the tzitzit. Yeah. Do you have any lingering thoughts, or feelings, or insights?
Pidge: Not really. As a species, we don’t… I don’t know. As a species, we don’t spin around in circles enough. That’s my lingering thought.
Emma June: Like physically spin around in circles?
Emma June: I give you that. I don’t think we do it enough.
Pidge: All right. That’s my lingering thought/insight.
Emma June: Thanks for listening to fringes, my passion project supported by ADVAH Designs. For more definitions, as well as a transcription of this episode, please check out the show notes on our website, ADVAHDesigns.com/FringesEpisode2. That’s A-D-V-A-H-D-E-S-I-G-N-S.com/F-R-I-N-G-E-S-E-P-I-S-O-D-E-2. As always, the interviews I do and the stories I get to share through this podcast cannot possibly capture the breadth of experiences in the world. I’m inevitably leaving people out. That said, this project is growing. If your story feels left out and you want to share it, please reach out to me at email@example.com. E-M-M-A at A-D-V-A-H-D-E-S-I-G-N-S.com. This podcast is coming out on a biweekly basis. A big think you to my producer, Sarah Resnick, and to Home Despot, genius of the guitar and voice who made the music. Thank you for listening. See you in two weeks wherever podcasts can be found.