Nice Wings

A119 wings

Written by Andrew Shaw. Andrew, a first-time Jewrotica writer, is a writer, musician, educator, liturgist, and Jewish spiritual seeker.

Adar 5773 / February 2013 Israel, HaMerkaz

Rated PG The bus was already at the stop, but I had to wait a few minutes before getting on. I was getting on at the first stop of a route that would soon wind its way through the quiet neighborhoods of this modestly-sized Israeli municipality. But the bus was motionless now. It was securely parked while the driver stood a few feet away, smoking a cigarette. But today felt special, and I was already feeling good. I didn’t even mind the wait.

The driver finished his break, and we both boarded the bus. I swiped my fare card and started walking toward my usual seat, two rows in front of the back door. But because of what I was wearing, I decided that it would be better to stand. And so I stood, holding onto the yellow railing, trying to keep my balance as the bus began to drive.

Riding this particular bus line had become part of my daily schedule, and I knew the route well. The line primarily served older Israeli women, nearly all of whom had small carts resting next to their seats. They seemed to wheel these carts around with them wherever they went. Grandma carts, we’d call them.

In the afternoons, the bus would collect a rowdy group of teenagers who were heading home from one of the local high schools. Typically, that’s when the driver would begin checking his mirror, looking back at the teenagers with suspicion. Some days he would yell in their direction, Kids! Stop making noise! or Kids! Don’t leave trash here! But today as the bus approached the high school, the usual gathering of adolescents wasn’t waiting at the stop. In fact, an entirely different group appeared to be assembled there.

Waiting to board the bus were doctors, police officers, and religious men with tzitzit draped over their shirts, standing alongside clowns, superheroes, and various storybook characters. It was the Friday before Purim, and a majority of the passengers, including myself, were dressed up today.

As the bus began to fill up, I realized my costume hadn’t been optimized for crowded spaces. I had to position myself carefully to prevent my wings from hitting the faces and shoulders of the nearby passengers. The wings were blue, lined with silver glitter. I was wearing matching blue-tinted glasses, had a purple boa around my neck, and topped it all off with a purple crown, complete with feathers and sequins. I even switched out my kippah for the occasion – a rainbow swirl patterned kippah replacing the white knitted one I typically wear here. Among the religious men who live in the neighborhood where I work, the white knitted kind is decidedly the preferred style. But today I wasn’t trying to blend in with my surroundings. Today, I was a fairy princess. I was a fairy princess dressed in style.

Before I left my apartment in the morning, I wasn’t sure how I would feel wearing the outfit in public. My doubt stemmed from a simple reality—my fairy costume was a direct confrontation of an intimate fear that once controlled my life. For years, I had been afraid that someone would look at me closely, as if with expert vision. I had been scared of what might happen if people were to see through the exterior layers I had fashioned for myself, if they looked beyond the beard and the kippah, beyond the good grades and the high test scores, beyond the leadership positions and the meticulously formatted résumé. I had been terrified that if someone were to look at me deeper, they would see me as nothing more than a misfit…a faggot…a fairy. For so long, I was afraid of being a fairy in the eyes of the world. And now I was facing my fear.

Starting at the end of middle school, all of my steps were monitored and every word was moderated. Nothing too feminine, nothing too gay, I would tell myself. Blend in, blend in, blend in was the mantra that got me through seven years in the closet. Until it didn’t get me through. Until I could feel my life of lies and half-truths falling apart. Until I couldn’t feel anything at all. Eventually, I hit what felt like rock bottom—and I wanted nothing more than to be lifted out of suffering that is bred from constant deception. And from my place of narrowness, God heard my prayers…every last tearstained one. I relearned how to tell the truth, and began coming out of the closet. The deep wounds started to heal.

But coming out is an ongoing process, and the healing—the inner tikkun—takes time. Which brings me back to today, the Friday before Purim, when I walked through the streets of Israel dressed as a fairy princess. In the spirit of Purim, I was revealing what was concealed. Celebrating my inner fairy was an embodied practice of externalizing the internal, or at least a part of the internal. To everyone else, I was just another guy wearing a silly costume in a country full of people wearing silly costumes. But for me, I could feel a deep tikkun taking place. There was no more shame. I was no longer afraid.

Eventually, I could see my stop approaching, and I pushed the button so the bus driver would let me off. As I walked toward the door, one of the women smiled at me and complimented my costume. Nice wings, she said. I smiled back at her, walked past her grandma cart, and thanked her. Thank you very much. Happy Purim.

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  • Andrew, dear. Thank you for sharing this piece with us. As you know, we found it so compelling (and time relevant) that we bumped it to the top of our 5-week queue.

    I’m sorry that you had to keep your feelings so closed off and monitor your words so carefully in middle school, but I am grateful and relieved that you are now in a space of acceptance, personal expression and – as Passover draws near – freedom.

    Shabbat Shalom. 🙂

  • Bella

    I live in a fairly liberal area in the states and I don’t know that I’d have the balls to do that.