Feminists In Focus 1 of 2

June 25, 2012 by

Feminists in Focus: Faigele Film Festival Kvels Over ‘DevOUT’

Thank God the Jews don’t have a pope.

While the Vatican is denouncing Sister Margaret Farley’s “Just Love: a Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics” with its defense of same-sex marriage, the JCC in Manhattan is celebrating all things LGBTQ-Jew with its month-long Gay Paree. The June festivities started with the Seventh Annual Faigele Film Festival (a one-night stand of two films). Not just a JCC thing, Conservative Judaism promulgated wording for same-sex marriage ceremonies – and divorces – in time for June weddings and Gay Pride Day.

But in Orthodox communities don’t expect any openly passionate same-sex hand holding on either side of the mechitzah.

Quick cut to the Faigele Film Festival’s screening of “DevOUT,” the 37-minute video where lesbian Orthodox Jews explain why they want to be true to both their faith and their sexuality. Proof that sisterhood is powerful, the video was made by two straight women, neither of them Jewish. One Christian, one Muslim, Diana Neille from South Africa and Sana Gulzar from Pakistan won the trust of the women involved to produce the video as their 2011 Columbia Journalism School master’s project. They were quick studies. The soundtrack includes sinuously sensual klezmer music from New York’s Isle of Klezbos sextet.

“DevOUT” looks at three lesbian couples (including one interviewee transitioning from male to female) and one woman in a straight marriage who remains anonymous. The out couples want to bring up their children Orthodox, live religious lives, and be accepted by their New York and New Jersey communities.

This is a very feminine film. Many articulate, thoughtful interviews. Very little conflict. For most of the women, any suggestion of pain or frustration appears as a small part of the conversation. 

If “DevOUT” has a major character, it’s Chani Getter. With an aura of butch-femme sexuality, she’s very out – except to her family. She grew up ultra-Orthodox. At an early age her mother told her, “Don’t be who you are” (you can’t fool mom). Married off at 17, she finally broke away, taking her three children with her. Now she’s leading lesbian retreats.

When it comes to her children, Chani is a mother bear fiercely defending her cubs. When a neighbor in Monsey, N.Y., tried to poison the neighborhood against her, Chani told her rabbi that if she and her children were forced out of the neighborhood, her children would no longer go to Orthodox schools or lead Orthodox lives. She doesn’t know what the rabbi said but the witch-hunt stopped immediately and the neighborhood became a don’t-ask, don’t-tell safe zone.

Halachic (Jewish law) questions aren’t raised other than in one charming vignette on when Elissa met Pam. Explaining her sexuality under Jewish law, Pam says, “I accept that what I do is a sin. The Torah also says the way I curse is wrong.” Ah, Judaism. How to parse “sin”?

Most intriguing are couple Hayley and Lina. Hayley’s in the process of transitioning from male to female. Wrap your mind around this: Hayley and Lina were a straight Orthodox couple. Then Hayley made the decision to become a woman.

What a gender-bender challenge. An Orthodox woman marries an Orthodox man, and now they’re on their way to a lesbian relationship. If only we could hear more from Lina. She doesn’t say much – just smilingly stands by her man who’s becoming a woman. Inquiring minds want to know more, halachically and personally.

In “DevOUT”’s one expression of hurt by rabbinic authority, Hayley describes how her rabbi wanted nothing to do with her once she revealed the need to transition. “No understanding, no kindness from a rabbi who knows me my whole life.”

While “DevOUT” includes footage from Orthodox men opposing New York State’s legalization of same-sex marriage, what’s missing is interviews from the male powers in these women’s communities. They may not have papal authority, but we want to hear from Hayley’s and Chani’s rabbis. Is this the impossible dream?

What’s also missing is the perspective of single Orthodox lesbians. The Internet is finally providing an avenue for Orthodox lesbians to discover they’re not the only one of their kind on the planet. But what’s it like for an Orthodox lesbian who’s single in a community as straight-couple-normative as Noah’s Ark? Certainly one is the loneliest number even for straights in the Orthodox world.

“DevOUT” will be out for sale once music rights are cleared. Meanwhile, “DevOUT” will get home screenings in Monsey for the women who didn’t feel comfortable viewing the video at the JCC.

To find out when “DevOUT” will be available on iTunes, click on http://devoutthefilm.blogspot.com.