בינה בפייסבוק בינה באינסטגרם צרו קשר עם בינה במייל

The Shifting Labels of an Ever-Growing Self/ Anna Weiss

Gender, sexuality, personality, religion, political views, nationality. What do all of these things have in common? Among them, we find labels that fit us and help to form our identities. Labels give us a better understanding of ourselves, as well as provide a vessel of communication for others to understand us. The difficulty is figuring out who you are so you can find the right labels and there is so much stress that comes with searching for the right ones. The question is whether finding a label brings a sense of comfort and belonging or stress and constraint.

There are so many Jewish labels

Just from researching different denominations of Judaism, I got overwhelmed and confused. I learned of several sects of Judaism I never knew existed and struggled with finding sects that I’ve been hearing about for years. With slight differences here and there between the denominations, choosing the right one to identify with can be incredibly difficult. Furthermore, identifying with a specific sect of Judaism can feel limiting to all of the nuances that come with connecting to religion and being religious. Furthermore, what if none of the Jewish labels fit? It can make you feel lost and unsure of where you fit into Judaism.

sexuality and labels

Sexuality and gender are also large topics of conversation when it comes to labels. As a middle-schooler questioning their sexuality, learning all of the different terms and labels helped me find and understand myself. Finding my label made me feel happy, relieved and like I finally knew who I was. The label of bisexuality was exactly what I needed, especially when growing up in a community that wasn’t always tolerant of queerness. It gave me a deep passion to advocate for others like myself, even years before I came out.

For me, the label was important and gave me comfort. However, for many others questioning their sexuality, the labels suck. Yes, that’s harsh, but all they do is cause people to think and think and think and stress about their sexual identity. There are so many voices yelling in your head, telling you a decision needs to be made or else there’s no way for you to know how to continue to live your life. In this case, labels aren’t good. They’re unnecessary and cause a lot of mental and emotional torment.

Intersectionality and labels

As far as the relationship between discussing Jewish identity and sexual identity, a common time for the struggle with labels to arise is when intersectionality within one’s identity exists. In my case, it was navigating what it meant to be queer and a modern-Orthodox Jew. The intersectionality between feminism and Judaism is a common pairing when it comes to dealing with potentially contrasting identities. Another example is when people strongly identify with being Jewish and atheist. While these “contradicting” identities can lead to a shift in one’s labels, it can also be an opportunity to learn how to be yourself in every way and how to understand yourself as an individual. At the end of the day, your labels exist for you. They exist to help you know yourself and find a sense of identity and belonging. If your complex self and identity require changing some labels, do it! If your complex self and identity can allow for several different types of labels to fit into one person, that’s great, too! The willingness to question and possibly leave a label that you’ve always had shows maturity, thoughtfulness, and an understanding of your individuality.

Accepting and embracing a changing identity

Speaking from my own experience, struggling with Jewish and denominational identity can be heart-wrenching. That might sound extreme, but growing up in a specific community, synagogue, school, or camp and realizing you no longer connect to your entire past is hard. I no longer feel comfortable in the synagogue I went to every Shabbat morning as a kid or the Jewish sleep-away camp that I’ve considered a second home for most of my life. I no longer connect with a lot of my family on a religious level. Though questioning my religious identity caused a lot of emotional pain and mental strain, I’m so thankful I did it. I’m so thankful that I took the time to figure out what Judaism is to me and leave my Jewish label of modern-Orthodoxy behind. It’s not me anymore, and that’s ok.

At the moment, I don’t know where I would place myself on the religious spectrum of Judaism. I practice differently than I used to; my observance levels go back and forth, and I somehow find a way to be somewhat uncomfortable in every Jewish institution. But it’s ok. I’m learning and growing. I still consider myself to be staunchly Jewish, just in a different way than I used to be. I think about getting married and having kids and choosing a community to live in and my initial thought is that some kind of Jewish label is needed to do all of those things. However, not only is this untrue, but I have so much time and life to live before that point. I have so many years to work on my Jewish identity and to find a Jewish community that feels right to me. There’s no rush – there’s never a rush. It’s never too late to question your Jewish identity. One of the major values of Judaism is asking questions and learning. This value applies to figuring out your identity. It’s never too late to question yourself and try to figure out who you really are. It’s never too late to find yourself and the labels that suit you properly. There is no exact solution or answer as to whether or not labels are good. But as human beings, we are ever-growing and ever-changing. Even when it comes to sexuality, my label is always subject to change. It’s important that we embrace the change and learn to continue to accept ourselves, whoever we are. 

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