Academic journal article MELUS

Coming out and Staying Home: 'Nice Jewish Girls' and 'Home Girls.'(Ethnicities/Sexualities)

Academic journal article MELUS

Coming out and Staying Home: 'Nice Jewish Girls' and 'Home Girls.'(Ethnicities/Sexualities)

Article excerpt

As multi-genre anthologies by groups of women have rapidly proliferated in the 1980s and 1990s, they have become a primary site both to theorize and to put into practice communities founded upon a politics of identity. Two such anthologies, Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology (1982) and Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (1983), form themselves around the seemingly homogeneous identities of their contributors: Home Girls is comprised of African American working class lesbian feminists; Nice Jewish Girls, of Jewish lesbian feminists. Such specificity constitutes contributors' challenge to unified definitions of "woman" and also to Monique Wittig's concept of a "Lesbian Nation"--an international community and culture shared by all lesbians--promoted by white middle class lesbians in the 1970s. The women in Nice Jewish Girls and Home Girls use identity politics to challenge their exclusions not only from lesbian communities, but also, in the case of Home Girls contributors, from their African American communities and from Black nationalist movements, and, in the case of Nice Jewish Girls, from Jewish communities. At the same time, contributors work in these anthologies to establish homes of their own.

Both anthologies have served as powerful models for women from other marginalized groups and have been greatly influential in various lesbian and feminist communities. As such, they provide a way to explore the emergence and development of a politics of identity, a politics which, as bell hooks points out, "emerges out of the struggles of oppressed or exploited groups to have a standpoint on which to critique dominant structures, a position that gives purpose and meaning to struggle" (180). Nice Jewish Girls and Home Girls provide a way to explore the possibilities anthologies based upon identity politics have to establish communities, as well as the ways in which any practice of identity politics necessarily ends up excluding, marginalizing, or strategically stabilizing some aspect of identity that it purports to represent.

My study of these anthologies engages me in a process of "crossreading" (reading works written from and about a subject position different from one's own). In a talk entitled "Home" delivered at UC Berkeley, Barbara Johnson addressed the comforts of cross-reading and the ways in which it offers a reader experiences of "transport without cost," "identification without responsibility." As Jewish, but neither black, lesbian, nor working class, I was afforded the possibility of such experiences by both Nice Jewish Girls and, to an even greater extent, Home Girls. However, I believe that critics engaged in cross-readings must resist an abdication of responsibility--must resist either assimilating the differences between our own set of identifications and the ones a text puts forth or placing the text and its author(s) in the position of idealized Other. Instead, I believe that, as we engage in such cross-readings, we must question the comforts of staying as well as leaving home and that we must complicate the distinctions between that which is home and that which is not. This entails moving beyond, without forgoing, a politics of identity. Both Nice Jewish Girls and Home Girls-in ways I shall demonstrate--advocate precisely such a position.

In the introduction to Nice Jewish Girls, the editor, Evelyn Torton Beck, suggests "that it is a radical act to be willing to identify publicly as a Jew and a lesbian" (xxxii). To claim both identities, according to Beck, is to "[exceed] the limits of what was permitted to the marginal. You were in danger of being perceived as ridiculous--and threatening" (xv). In positioning Jewish lesbianism on the borderline between the ridiculous and the threatening, Beck accounts for the threat Jewish lesbians pose to marginalized Jewish and lesbian) groups, because they expose the ways in which these groups may themselves act oppressively, and the threat that Jewish lesbians pose to mainstream society, because their double marginalization places them so far outside of it. …

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