Community / Identity / Life

When One Identity Just Won’t Do

Meet C.J. Prince, the second of our new regular contributors under the VillageQ banner.  She’ll be filing weekly posts, which is a darn thing, because once you read her, you’re going to want to come back for more. And soon. ~VQ Eds

My identity was well mapped out by the time I was born. As the fourth child and only daughter born to Orthodox Jewish parents in a small Amish-ish, shtetl-esque town, it was very clear who I would be, and who I wouldn’t be.

1950s-housewifeI would be a nice, Jewish girl who kept her skirts long and her voice down and helped her mother in the kitchen every Friday. I would attend a Jewish women’s college not necessarily to achieve academic distinction or to launch a career, but to bide time until I found the boyfriend who would, in short order, catapult to the role of fiancé. I would ideally marry before I could legally drink the wine under the chuppah and then quickly set about bearing fruit. I would be a doting wife, nurturing mother, satisfactory cook and efficient housekeeper and I would have no greater aspiration than to be a “woman of valor, whose worth is far beyond that of rubies.”

 

Over the course of my childhood, as my prescribed destiny came ever more sharply into focus, I let go of who I would not be: an actress (“They film on the Sabbath,” my mother explained), dancer (“Have you seen the costumes they wear? Practically naked.”), pro athlete (“You’re a girl.”), astronaut (“The ship moves too fast. You’d have to light the Shabbos candles every five minutes. Also, you’re a girl.”).

I cleaved to my given identity for a good 18 years, until it finally became clear that, while I could probably manage the cooking, cleaning and child-rearing, I just could not get on board with the whole husband thing. I liked girls.

So there I stood with two incompatible identities: I was Orthodox Jewish and I was gay. Resigned to the fact that I would have to choose between them, I left behind the only one I could and embraced my new self. I traded in my skirts and headbands for combat boots and baseball caps and went to Henrietta’s on Friday nights instead of Shabbat services. As I shuffled down Fifth Avenue in the New York City Dyke March, I loudly disavowed domesticity, breeding, the patriarchy and anything conventional. I also accepted, albeit with considerable sadness that I would never have admitted, that I would never get married and I would never have children.

f-marriage

By the time I reached my late 20s, I was again having doubts. Not about my sexual orientation—that piece of the puzzle was firmly in place. But I found myself plagued by increasingly persistent fantasies about weddings and babies and domestic bliss. I didn’t tell anybody, but secretly I yearned for somebody to keep house for, a pregnant belly, a garden in which to grow fresh herbs for soups.

Then I met my soon-to-be-wife and it turned out that, although we’d both assumed a childless future, we were both starting to question whether that was necessarily a fait accompli. Two years later, she proposed to me with a beautiful ring and we were married by a rabbi under a chuppah. We began attending synagogue together. I found myself again enjoying the holidays and the ritual I’d been raised with, although with a very different presentation. Two years into our married life, I was barefoot and pregnant and happy as hell in my new identity: Lesbian Housewife of New Jersey.

My 24-year-old self, with her rigid worldview, would likely have gaped in horror at my 42-year-old lunch-making, minivan-driving, carpool-organizing, mother-of-two persona. But the latter is just old enough to know that there isn’t one size that fits forever. The core of who we are may be solid, but identity is fluid. That’s something we seem to know in childhood, when we don and shed different cloaks ten times in an hour, changing our favorite colors, best friends, career aspirations with ease. Then, somehow, when we reach adulthood, we think we’re done changing.

I know now that I’m not done. That’s why I keep my combat boots tucked safely away in my closet. I don’t feel like wearing them right now, but I know there’s a good chance I will again. Most likely at my daughter’s wedding.

 

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3 Comments

  1. Welcome to the village!

    I am loving this week of intros, commentary on identity, and outpouring of support for the change!

  2. this made me tear up. So good to be part of this space with you.

  3. Thank you for the welcome, Clare! I am thrilled to be a part of it and very excited about the new VillageQ direction.

    Thanks, Susan—and right backatcha.

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