able bodyism

“Very often this year, when people asked me what I was working on, and I answered, ‘A book about Jewish lesbians,’ my answer was met with startled laughter and unmasked surprise bordering on disbelief, 'Are there many?’ — as if the juxtaposition Jewish/lesbian were just too much. To me, these responses had the force of warnings. I got the message. Or rather, it got to me. While I fought against silencing myself completely, I did begin to hesitate before answering, to assess the safety of the terrain. I began to understand the limits that the dominant culture places on 'otherness.’ You could be a Jew and people would recognize that as a religious or ethnic affiliation or you could be a lesbian and some people would recognize that as an 'alternative lifestyle’ or 'sexual preference,’ but if you tried to claim both identities — publicly and politically — you were exceeding the limits of what was permitted to the marginal. You were in danger of being perceived as ridiculous — and threatening …

"Combatting invisibility. At first it seemed an easy task. I would talk to Jewish groups about homophobia. I would talk to lesbian groups about anti-Semitism. I would talk to both groups about the need to affirm and accept difference. I would remind each group that invisibility has a trivializing, disempowering and ultimately debilitating effect on its members. And both groups would remember and understand. But it hasn’t been that simple, for each group has absorbed some of the myths and distortions about the other without any apparent consciousness of irony …

"I was pained but not surprised to feel invisible as a lesbian among Jews. I was terribly disappointed and confused to feel invisible as a Jew among lesbians. While lesbian-feminists have increasingly begun to acknowledge diversity, anti-Semitism is still not taken seriously in the lesbian-feminist movement. Anti-Semitism has not been included by name in the important litany of 'isms’ against which the movement has pledged itself to struggle: sexism, heterosexism, racism, classism, ageism, able-bodyism …

"I have been distressed to find that many gentile lesbian-feminists with otherwise highly sensitive political awareness, are reluctant to give attention to anti-Semitism, to understand how it operates, and to consider seriously their participation in it. For it seems unlikely that any individual can altogether avoid internalizing the prejudices of the dominant culture …

"It seems incredibly ironic that the strong presence of Jewish lesbians (many with radical activist backgrounds) in the lesbian-feminist movement goes essentially unrecorded and unnoticed in any positive way by Jews and gentiles alike. Few lesbians have recorded the Jewish lesbian presence to any extent, and they are all Jewish writers: Nancy Toder, Elana Dykewomon (Nachman), Melanie Kaye, Irena Klepfisz, Alice Bloch, Ruth Geller, Harriet Malinowitz, Martha Shelley. The near invisibility of Jewish energy in the lesbian-feminist movement may itself be a result of anti-Semitism, real or feared: a response to the fear that if Jews were more visible as Jews, they would be accused of controlling the movement …

Again the nagging question. Should I make a fuss? … Then I remember. Whenever I 'made a fuss’ (i.e., raised the issue of lesbian invisibility) at a feminist session where the speakers failed to include lesbians in their presentations, I had the support of the lesbian community. It was understood that the discomfort was to be theirs, not ours. Speaking out now, as a Jew, would there be the same lesbian support?”

Evelyn Torton Beck, from the introduction to Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology (1982).