Days of Awwww
A lesson for Yom Kippur from the loving reception a random transvestite got on the Internet
Baruch dayan ha’emet. Blessed is God, the true judge. This is the prayer we say upon learning of the recently dead, and something we remind ourselves on Yom Kippur, when we pray fervently not to be among them.
But the phrase takes on a new meaning when you consider the fact that we may be living in one of the most harshly judgmental environments of the modern era, or at least, you know, since you moved out of your parents’ house. Vast hordes of anonymous and seemingly tireless Internet commenters take to the boards to vehemently defame anyone with whom they might have the slightest disagreement—as a monster, a Nazi, a whore, or worse. Televised panels of professional yentas, as purposeful and solemn as any beit din, gather to hand down judgments on everything from what clothes people wear to their aptitude as parents (and look, I’m not saying Dina Lohan is going to win any Mother of the Year awards, but it’s pretty rich coming from Sharon Osborne). For every article defending the Duchess of Cambridge through her recent photo scandal, there seem to be a slew of others condemning her for having the temerity to have breasts in the first place. (As per a clever Gawker commenter: “Don’t want to get raped? Don’t wear your vagina.”) And last, but certainly not least, a major party’s nominee for president dismisses nearly half the population of the country he hopes to lead as shiftless freeloaders leading a life of luxury as government dependents—so much so, in this vision, that L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon must soon be accepting food stamps along with American Express.
And yet, in the words of Sam Cooke, while it may be a long time coming, I know a change is gonna come. For me, the idea of repentance is directly linked with tolerance. The whole business of he without sin casting the first stone may technically be a New Testament one, but never let it be said that the Christians didn’t have a few good ideas (along with, quite frankly, a killer marketing plan). If we imagine ourselves to be deserving of forgiveness, surely we must be at least as forgiving of others, to allow them the same understanding, the same empathy we pray for ourselves.
This extends, quite naturally, to the idea of acceptance. We have to accept others as we would be accepted, and there’s no better time than Yom Kippur to think about doing exactly that—after all, if the concept of repentance is to have any meaning, it must be at least as much about the future as about the past. Which is how I’ve come to believe that a recent YouTube video of a man in a bikini proved that we’re moving toward a brighter, more tolerant, more accepting world. And a good thing too, because when it comes down to it, who are we to judge?
The concept of the video is simple enough: A young man with a long dark wig and snappy Pirates of the Caribbean facial hair gyrates in an assortment of brightly colored swimsuits and Charo-esque fringed minidresses to “Call Me Maybe,” the Carly Rae Jepsen hit currently burning up the airwaves and dividing the country more neatly than a Gallup poll. There’s nothing about this not to love, but just wait—in perhaps the purest instance I can think of of that oft-overused phrase—it gets better.
As it turns out, the young bikini-ed man is performing his dance via Chatroulette, the video Skype social networking site, in which you log on, turn on your webcam, and are brought randomly face-to-face with countless fellow users, all of whom are eager to connect on a sliding scale of intimacy, many of whom may be nude. (Ah, the Internet. Blessed be He who allows such wonders to exist.) We are thus able to watch people’s reactions to this lip-syncher’s spectacle, and they are, thrillingly, almost universally positive. Sure, there’s a bit of a double take here and there on the face of a man when he realizes the pert little butt waggling in front of him is not attached to exactly what he had in mind, but the grimace soon transforms into a grin. College girls shriek with delight; shirtless boys in bed giggle shyly; macho fraternity brothers egg him on, singing along, even offering their own dance moves.
It’s the most loving response to transvestitism this side of a Dame Edna Everage show, and one that I found unexpectedly moving. I am old enough to remember the days when even the barest hint of gender nonconformity was a means for alarm; when the only hits aimed at a boy who dared to look at a bikini bra top were around the head and neck, not on YouTube.
The frightening tyranny of “normality” didn’t extend only to the outward misfits; one of my most vivid—and still upsetting—childhood memories involves the time I went to an afternoon gathering at one of the “cool” girls’ houses, my flowered denim backpack hopefully filled with VHS tapes of the classic MGM movie musicals I so loved and was sure they would love to, only to find myself later locked out of the house without a coat, watching through the window as my new friends gleefully defaced the cases of the videos I had saved up my allowance for weeks to buy. Liking movie musicals was “weird,” and weirdness could not be tolerated. After all, it could have been catching.
This Yom Kippur, however, I will forgive those girls and concentrate on hope. In the kids who watch a boy dancing around in a bikini and laugh with him, not at him; in a future that will accept everyone for who they are, no matter who they want to marry or how much income tax they can’t afford to pay; in a world where the only thing we can’t tolerate is intolerance. That’s the hope and change we need.
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A century ago this High Holiday, Franz Kafka composed two masterworks, both informed by his Jewish heritage