pronouns: they, them, their

“(Don’t) Be Who You Are”


Rev. Chani Getter

June 11, 2022

A Pride Reflection

I grew up in a family where we prayed all the time. In addition to my father going to synagogue three times a day he recites both bedtime and morning prayers at home. My mother on the other hand, prays all the time she prays in Yiddish, sometimes in Hungarian her mother tongue and rarely in English. For 15 minutes each morning and on Shabbat and holidays when she goes to synagogue she will pray in the traditional Hebrew. However, primarily my mother prays in Yiddish, a poet at heart, she sings and makes them up as she braids the challah, cooks, cleans, does laundry in the wee hours of the morning before a full day of work. She prays, she asks God for things, she thanks the Divine for her life, she talks to the Universe as if it were her friend, her foe, her savior, her lover… I grew up in a home where speaking to God in any language, at any time was part of the landscape of my existence. 

There was one prayer however, that was directed to me… Interestingly it was directed TO me. My parents and older sibling who prayed numerous times a day to God, a God that I have redefined since then, but God nonetheless, would look at me beseeching sometimes in frustration, sometimes in anger mostly in overwhelm, they would pray to ME and say… “zay nisht vus di bist”  זא נישט וואס די ביסט (don’t be who you are).   

My parents didn’t know what to do with this human that came into their life this person that loved so deeply cared so much, was both male and female, and too big to be contained in the Hasidic community. So, they prayed… they prayed to me… because even to them in the unthought known, they knew that the God of their understanding created me to be exactly as I am.  They couldn’t pray to God to change me, but they could pray to me… “zay nisht vus di bist”  זא נישט וואס די ביסט (don’t be who you are).

I’m not exactly sure when it started, by the time I was 10 it was so ingrained that it, “zay nisht vus di bist” had become my nickname. It would take me many years, in therapy, to figure out that this prayer, this statement was said to me when they realized that the essence of myself and who I was didn’t belong in the binary world that I was being raised in. Many years after these events, when my family was not talking to me, I would sit in therapy stringing together the stories… noticing the connection they all had.   When I fell off my tricycle onto an iron pole and my mother rushed home from work to pick me up and take me to the hospital, her first words as I entered the car were “How many times do I have to tell you not to be who you are” when I taught the boys on the block tricks on their bicycle and raced them down the hill… don’t be who you are… when I came home muddy from climbing trees… Don’t be who you are. When I sat, spoke and walked in a way that was more masculine than their version of female – Don’t be who you are…  

I am both masculine and feminine. Some days I am beautiful and others I am handsome. My body feels different depending on the energy of gender that I embody that day. My children call me mom, and have rarely put a pronoun to my name, way before pronouns were something that people talked about. You see pronouns are complicated for me; I am ALL.  There are days that I stand in the power that is feminine other times in the gentleness that is masculine and more often than not, in the space in-between were boundaries and openness live.  

For over 20 years I called myself androgynous. Now as the conversation of pronouns has evolved, I have been asked what pronouns I use. In the past, I have said, “all or any…use what you wish.” I kept giving my power to others to define me. In my formative years I was told so many times, “don’t be who you are”, it is hard to claim who I am.

Yet, here I am during Pride Month, declaring who I am, who I have always been.  Now, as I step more into ALL of me, I am requesting that people call me simply by my name, Chani. If you need to use a pronoun please use, they / them. I totally understand misgendering, I have she’d myself more than enough times. 
The month of June is Pride. Pride in being who we are, fully and completely. Many of us have been told not to be who we are. Whether as overtly as my family of origin has or in more subtle ways. 
What would it take for you;
To be who you are? 
To step into the fullness of yourself?
To ask for what you desire? 
To honor ALL of you?

Happy Pride.

PS: I am being honored by JQY with the Nachas Award for my work in LGBTQ+ Jewish spaces. Feel free to attend onJune 23rd or donate to this amazing non-profit in my honor. Click here to learn more about JQY.

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