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Days of Awwww

A lesson for Yom Kippur from the loving reception a random transvestite got on the Internet

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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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Turning an internet peep show into a morality lesson for Yom Kipur is a stretch I can’t do, sorry ’bout that. These people are nothing more than voyeurs watching an exhibitionist, if it was a burlesque watching act on stage you could make the same point but it would be ridiculous. There is a lot a lot a lot of trash on the internet, and to use it for the greater good we need to eschew the trash and aspire to a higher standard.

Moshe Gelberman says:

HAHAHAHA stevekardynal is not a transvestite! he was doing it as a joke. watch his other vids.

Often I wonder if people understand the flip side of their rights is the responsibly that comes with that right. An internet show of physical desires, infatuations, and voyeurism plays to lower side of the human soul. The internet was built as a medium to spread knowledge, wisdom, information for people to review, analyze, contribute and critique. Yet, our days are filled with examples of various forms of extremism, I image this must be one of them..

Kadin - Transgender Jew. says:

This article isn’t a lesson in acceptance. It’s a lesson in mockery. First, it ignores the historical use of the word “transvestite” which is steeped in a racist history of talking about transgendered women of color. Second, by comparing this moron’s “performance” with Dame Edna the author is confusing transvestism, more appropriately called cross-dressing, with Drag. I assure you, they’re very different gender expressions and done for very different reasons. But most problematic, is the continued perpetuation of the idea that transgender women (who are often mislabeled as transvestites) are in fact boys in bikinis and a joke. This article itself negates the author’s claim that “we’re moving toward a brighter, more tolerant, more accepting world” by perpetuating and celebrating a damaging stereotype of transwomen. Rachel Shukert, have you no shame?

Stephenie says:

Rachel, I think you might want to completely double check your facts on this one. I’m pretty sure you have it completely wrong. Points for effort, though.

Hello, everyone–I feel like I need to address a couple of these things.

To Kadin–I’m very sorry to have offended you. I am a staunch ally of the transgendered community–and indeed, all non-gender normative communities, and I understand that the word transvestite can be a loaded term–however, here it was certainly not meant to allude to anything beyond its textbook definition as someone dressed in clothing of the opposite sex. As others have noted below, the performer in question does not identify has anything other than cisgendered, and is clearly playing to the cameras.

I would argue, however, that doesn’t make his performance any less formally “queer” (in the best sense of the word), and I persist in finding something hopeful about what I read as tolerant, positive reactions to non-gender normative performance. Maybe it wasn’t intended to spark a lesson in tolerance, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take one from it–or even in spite of it.

I personally look forward to the day when people of all gender identification are tolerated and even celebrated for who they are, to the point where semantics will become irrelevant, because we’re all just that cool with each other. I realize that we’re not there yet, but as I mentioned, this Yom Kippur, that hope will be ever-present in my mind.

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Days of Awwww

A lesson for Yom Kippur from the loving reception a random transvestite got on the Internet

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