In the Jewish calendar, we read through the Torah over the course of each year. We then lather, rinse and repeat each time finding something new each time. This year as I was reading the first parsha (portion), Bresheit (Genesis 1:1-6:8) I had a different take on the story of Eve eating from the tree of knowledge in Genesis 3. We’re all familiar with this story. It is used by many to justify misogyny and the subjugation of women by men. This year I read it in a different way. I saw Eve’s eating from the tree of life as a metaphor for what many LGBT people go through in discovering who they are, particularly when living in communities that punish being LGBT in various ways. I, and many other LGBT people go through much of their life not acknowledging who we are. We suppress that we are not straight, not cisgender. We do not allow ourselves this knowledge of ourselves. When we have our experience of realization of who we are it is much like having our eyes opened. We allow ourselves to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
In the story of Eve it is presented that she is tempted by the serpent to eat and gain awareness. For many who see LGBT people as evil and a threat to society the serpent is a hydra of many heads. Those of us who are already ‘out’ are trying to corrupt youth and turn them gay, lesbian, trans, etc. We hear this rhetoric from those opposing human rights legislation. We hear this from those opposing improved physical health education curriculum that includes sexual health, gender identity, gender expression, and non-straight sexual orientations. We are the hydra that turns people trans because we dare to empty our bladders in public washrooms. Like Eve we are punished for seeking knowledge and being true to ourselves. The serpent, who supported Eve and suggested she eat the fruit is punished extremely harshly. Adam, who also eats from the fruit, is punished as well, but still in a superior position to Eve when they are expelled from the Garden. Going a little deeper into the metaphor I will explore each of the characters as representing different aspects of LGBT struggles and life.
The serpent reminds me of those who have come before in the struggle for LGBT rights and equality. They were the ones imprisoned for being gay, lesbian or trans. They were the ones beaten by police in the Compton and Stonewall riots, the Bathhouse raids, and in many other confrontations with authority. They are the ones who initially stood up and told their stories and dared to live their truth. In doing so they brought their stories forward and provide hope and support to those who have come afterwards. Saying, “yes, you can learn to be who you are. You may eat, and should eat from the fruit of knowledge.” Like the serpent many who have come before have been trampled, literally and figuratively, by those who see them as evil. Often they hide in order to protect themselves, to heal, and to recover the energy that day to day living takes out of them.
Eve represents those of us who have struggled with our identities and not been able to allow ourselves to realise who we really are. We who have struggled and suppressed our true selves for various reasons. Eve desires more, she knows that there is more to life than living in the idyllic world of the Garden. For Eve this results in wanting to know more, to find out what is missing. Eventually, with the help of the serpent, she finds out what that is. She eats, she is satisfied, and she learns. For those of us who are able to reach the point where we have sought out information, either online or from those who have come before us, and are ready to eat the fruit is irresistible. Our eyes are opened. We begin to move toward living as who we are. Yet, like Eve, we are often ashamed of who we are and try to hide from those who would put us down and punish us. When we do come out fully, we often are punished. For trans women like myself, this means that in all probability we will face violence, hostility, lack of employment, and in all too many cases expulsion. This expulsion means we are ostracized from communities that had, until we were open, been supportive of us. Family, friends, workplaces, faith communities, etc. Many of us survive, and many of us do not. Yet, we still move forward knowing after being expelled from what is, to those within various spaces, seen as a type of garden where life is good and rosy if one follows the set precepts of the group. We survive and often then move into the role of the serpent as well, helping those who come after us in their struggles of self-learning and self-discovery. We do not seek to convert people. We seek to help people understand themselves and where they fit in this messy world of gender and sexual identities.
Adam is often overlooked as a character in this narrative. He seems to be passive and accept Eve’s actions and eats when presented with the fruit. He does not reject it. As I heard in a sermon years ago, Eve’s sin was one of commission, whereas Adam’s was one of omission. He did not rebuke Eve, rather, he also eats of the fruit. Adam is like those who support LGBT people in their journeys and struggles. He does not know what he is getting into. He does, apparently, know that he needs more knowledge. In eating he learns and is cast out as a result. Those who are supportive of LGBT friends, family, community members, and the wider LGBT community are also often shunned and cast out. We see this regularly in conservative faith groups, particularly in conservative literalist Christianity. Those who express any support of LGBT people and their rights are cast out. They are fired from paid positions, removed from leadership positions, not allowed to be church school teachers, and more. They are seen to be colluding with those who would destroy the barriers that keep communities isolated from the world and the wonderful diversity of human experience. By eating of this fruit those who support LGBT people can act in solidarity if they also listen to the knowledge that comes from those who have eaten and lived the experience.
As we move forward in our struggles within our own selves, in our communities, and in the wider world it is important to remember that we are all human. Those who seek to deny us our rights and place in society are also human. That said, their attitudes are also quite harmful and often cause harm to us directly or indirectly. Those actively seeking to deny us our rights are also demonizing and denying our essential humanity. This is not acceptable and the veneer of respectability politics often allows for their harmful behaviour to continue unchallenged. While we may not live in their version of the Garden, we can create our own. We are creating our own. The Garden we are creating can and must be inclusive and welcoming of all our differences. Respecting that we each have had our own journey. Knowing that we have all been harmed to a greater or lesser degree through our journeys. Working to help each other heal and thrive. Our Garden can be better. We can work together to ensure that it is better.