This piece was first debuted as part of The TMI Project: RUPCO. Visit The TMI Project’s website to learn more .
Que Será, Será, is Zelda’s (aka Judith Z. Miller’s) humorous, sobering, hopeful multimedia one-person revelatory performance that chronicles her personal story of the joys and challenges of navigating non-binary Queerness from childhood during the 1950’s to adulthood. Zelda is the recipient of an Arts Mid-Hudson Individual Artist Commission to develop the show to premiere in Kingston, New York in the fall. It will include an adapted version of “Sheitlestock.” You can learn more about Que Será, Será and support its development here
It’s 1999 in NYC. I’m on my way to an annual celebration I look forward to all year long: a party especially for Orthodox Jewish women who are attracted to other women, sponsored by the Ortho-Dykes, and playfully named “SheitleStock,” after the “sheitle,” the wig that married Orthodox Jewish women wear to cover up their real hair.
Although I was raised fairly secular, every year I anticipate being with a whole roomful of “Ortho-Dykes” sneaking secretly away from their cloistered homes, downtown, to a great big rented room, where the lights are low and the music blasting. This is supposed to be my first time “packing” in public. Packing a dildo, that is. Tonight I’m feeling good in my male body. And convincing too, in my genuine faded-green Air force flight-suit with a neck-to-crotch zipper pulled down to show off my naked hairy chest. Plus I have my scruffy moustache, both created by gluing on my just-trimmed pubic hairs — totally realistic.
Ever since I can remember I’ve felt strange, not at “home” in my female body. At 7 or 8 years old, I stand naked in front of the mirror wondering why the image reflected back at me isn’t the “me” I feel inside.
Maybe it’s because I am what they call a “tomboy” and excel at sports – and have been told I’m not supposed to beat all the boys. Or because I have an overwhelming desire to touch other girls. There is absolutely no public education about sexual orientation or gender identity at the time. Am I just what my peers call a “lezzy,” or have I been born in the wrong body?
At age 11 I get my period. I come out of the bathroom and pull down my pants to show my mom the blood. In keeping with a strange Jewish tradition, she gives me a good smackon the butt, exclaiming, “Now you are a woman!” … “I don’t want to be a woman,” I reply.
Years later, as I’m approaching college in the late 60s, I consider studying under John Money, the pioneer of sex change operations, so I can seriously consider a sex change for myself – but that never happens. Instead, I get drummed out of George Washington University for being Queer.
Growing up I felt confused, but as an adult it’s clearer to me: I feel both male and female, not androgynous, but both sexes. Depending on my mood, I have sex as a male or a female, and I need my partners to understand and appreciate whichever “me” is “me” at any given moment. Usually it’s a big turn on and adds lots of very spicy fun. Believe it or not, I can actually feel my male part and, well, I’m very good at using it.
I’m feeling good when I get on the subway. Then the train door closes. I sit, glance down at my body … and … oh shit– I forgot my DILDO — damn! I can’t believe I don’t have it. I decide it’s better to enjoy the party and dance without it, than get off at the next stop, climb up and down the filthy subway stairs, wait for a train in the other direction, and then walk back home, take off my clothes, put on my harness and dildo, get dressed again — walk back to the station and wait for the next train – which, if you know anything at all about the NYC subway system, may never come. I’ll have to make do without it. … It won’t be the same.
Still, I am feeling very sexy in that ultra-masculine kind of way.
I enter the space, decorated with crepe-paper streamers like a cheesy senior prom, and I spot a cute younger woman dressed like all of the others in a dark, mid-calf skirt, and a blouse, modestly covering her elbows.
I ask her to dance. She nods shyly and follows me to the very edge of the dance floor, barely moving to the music. “I’ve never danced with anyone in public before,” she whispers softly. I reassure her that this isn’t exactly “public,” but that doesn’t seem to make her feel any more at ease — her movements remain careful and tentative. Wow, I think, this is some serious-ass religious programming. I mean, not being able to partner dance? My favorite thing to do? I can’t even imagine.
Every time I approach, each woman says, “Yes,” so I know they want to dance, and with me… but their bodies are so controlled, so stiff — not at all like how I dance (which, I admit is like a wild-woman, um, or man). I try to tone down my usual abandon so as not to intimidate, but even my limited gyrations seem hugein comparison.
I walk over to the drink table to quench my thirst. That’s where I hear the whisper. “Is that really a guy?” … “I don’t know – I think so!” … “I thought there were no men allowed.” I find out later, from my two friends who organize SheitelStock, that this question is going around the room like the old “telephone” game.
Wow – I think cockily, I AM convincing!
But I feel somehow incomplete, literally “emasculated” without my strap-on, and regret not going home to get it. I want to slow dance. I want to rub my hard cock up against some cute Orthodox woman’s thigh. Well, I think … not tonight Josephin-awitz.
Then I spot her: large, dark, intelligent brown eyes, vibrant smile, open and joyful, laughing — and way younger, just like I like. We dance. She’s fun!
Afterwards we talk about her three young kids, who she is raising all by herself, and their after school lessons, and her work, and serious Jewish study — maybe she could be a Rabbi one day, she tells me … which of course is strictly prohibited in Orthodoxy.
“Rebecca” tells me that she bravely sometimes wears pants when she goes out, but changes into a dress or skirt every time she goes back into the house, so her kids will never see her in this prohibited clothing. She rolls her eyes and laughs as she tells me that since she is constantly forgetting things from the house to the car, it’s a comical juggling act – an absurd charade.
I like her. She gives me her number.
After ScheitleStock we see a lot of each other – with the kids. We go on boat rides, to the Children’s museum, picnics (strictly Kosher of course). I love her kids and they bring out the best in me.
Rebecca’s family is excited to be Jewish, something I’d never considered. Her son “Shlomo” teaches me about holidays I’ve never even heard of, and I’m amazed to learn that to them, each and every day has a special meaning. Each month has a certain significance, and each day is either a holiday or day of preparation for the next holiday. They wake up and say a prayer – they even pray when they go to the bathroom.
Her kids love being with me too. I make them laugh, telling them silly made up stories, like I was born with my nose where my ears were and my arms where my legs were, and that I had a long series of operations to put them all in the right places — and they never know if I’m serious or not. They look at me through squinted, suspicious, eyes asking, “Did that really happen” – giggling like crazy at the increasingly bizarre images I paint about how my body has been transformed.
One day Rebecca asks me if I’m spending time with her just because I love her kids so much. That tickles me. Can you imagine a straight woman asking that of a man she’s dating?
But it turns out that although Rebecca really likes me and enjoys the time we all spend together, she just wants to be “friends” — and she thinks I’m too old for her anyway — so what can I do?
I guess I’ll just have to wait for the next year’s edition of SheitleStock.
And oh, next year, I’ll put a big sign on the inside of my door so I won’t forget:
“WEAR THE DILDO!”
Zelda is a multifaceted artist who lives in an erotic, musical, spiritual universe. As a feminist Jew who studies shamanism, she is inspired by the beauty of nature and the guiding force of her intuition as she explores the themes of connection to the Earth, spirituality, sexuality and gender. Zelda has recently developed, under an Individual Artist Commission awarded by Arts Mid-Hudson, Que Será, Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) as is currently producing ZELDA’S Happenings, a series of black-light, body-painting, percussion dance parties that will produce original wearable art for a new UpState Artists Clothing Collection representing artists of the region. Zelda co-founded The Fine Line Actors Theatre in Washington DC and performed at such venues as Source, GALA Hispanic Theatre and the Kennedy Center in DC, in NYC at WOW Café Theatre and Dixon Place, at the Lace Mill and with the TMI Project in Kingston. She published in Inside Arts magazine, The Washington Post, and American Theatre magazine. Keep up to date on Zelda’s Happenings, the development process of Que Será, Será, or visit her healing website: Zelda’s Body Breathing.