Queer Judaism with Dana Aliya Levinson
Updated: Apr 6, 2022
What’s it like for queer people in other faiths? Actor, writer, transgender media consultant, and Jewish advocate Dana Aliya Levinson talks today about how the LGBTQIA+ community is received in the Jewish community.
Check out Footstepsorg referenced in this episode!
Yass, Jesus! is hosted by Danny Franzese and Azariah Southworth. Our producers are Ross Murray and Meredith Paulley. Sound, music, and post-production by Chris Heckman. Special thanks to Sophie Serrano and Sam Isfan.
Yass, Jesus! is brought to you by Audity. Audity execs are Ryann Lauckner, Steve Michaels, and Jessica Bustillos.
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Daniel: [00:00:00] Hello, Kings and Queens and in-betweens, sinner saints and I don't know if I is or I ain't. Welcome to another new-ish and Jewish episode of Yass jesus. I am Daniel Franzese and as always, I am here with my bestie...
Azariah: Shalom, it's Azariah Southworth.
Daniel: That's right. And sit down in the pew pew pews. We're going to be talking with Dana Aliya Levinson today here at Yass Jesus. Sit-down because we believe....
Azariah: Our queer god can't stay in our little churchy boxes, isn't that right, Dana?
Dana: Yes. Yes. I love that.
Daniel: And today we are blessed to be joined by the brilliant Dana Aliya Levinson. Dana is an actor, writer, transgender media consultant, and a Jewish advocate. She's been in American gods, the good fight and Adam, and she works with GLAAD on transgender media representation. Welcome Dana.
Dana: Thank you for having me. I'm very excited to be here.
Daniel: We are too, because we have so much to talk to you about, right? But we're going to get to that in one second. As soon as we get into [radio [00:01:00] beeping] Gay Christian News.
Azariah: We have more queer news from God's great, big, wonderful creation that is coming to us from the advocate. So, female dolphins... if you don't know, have a lot of lesbian sex and it has led biologists to examine them closer and learn that female dolphins have highly evolved, I don't know this word, clitorises? I don't know her.
Daniel: Clitori? Clitorati?
Dana: Yeah. It might, might be a little unfamiliar.
Daniel: Once in college. No, but, but even still, even still.
Azariah: But these dolphins get more pleasure from that area. And so they actively stimulate it.
Daniel: I am so intrigued. Now, Patricia Brennan is the lead author of the study, and she's also a biologist at Mount Holyoke college in Massachusetts, which is an all women's school, [00:02:00] just saying, just saying no, no, no relation.
Azariah: Dr. Brennan says the dolphins have a lot of sex and not just for reproduction. They do it for fun, which is inconceivable to me. Uh, they'll also use their snouts and flippers, never done that either, to rub against other clitorises.
Daniel: If you had a snout, or a flipper, you would have tried.
Azariah: I have a snout, uh, but it's not just the female dolphins that get into same sexual activities, either. The males do as well. And they have lots of homosexual sex. The males will have anal sex. They'll insert their penises into each other's blow holes, dr. Brennan explained. But bottlenose dolphins are really hyper-sexual animals, she says.
Daniel: Uh, I feel like there's so many blow hole jokes that we can make here. I'm not sure where we want to start. Do you think there's asexual dolphins that are just like [dolphin noise], do back to back flips and get away?[00:03:00]
Dana: That's the universal dolphin language for asexuality, actually.
Azariah: I like that. Dr. Brennan does think that learning about animal sexuality can help teach us about our own and maybe even make it a little bit healthier. People might feel uncomfortable with animal sexuality, but they are also uncomfortable with women's sexuality. So here's a two for, or that's, you know...
Daniel: seriously next Brennan plans to turn her research focus to alpacas, which can go at it for about, up to a half an hour. So I'll pack in a punch, huh? Well, you know...
Azariah: 30 minutes, that's it? Unfortunate creatures.
Daniel: Also, no blowholes. That's true. If they had it, they'd try it. That's what I always say. We're just going to just thank God that we don't have blowholes. Cause he knows what we would have done with them by now.
We're going to go right into our praise report and prayer requests part of the show. This is where if you have a little something extra that you want to ask out about, we will add it, to our prayer list and as [00:04:00] our listeners do the same, but if you have something that you'd like to hallelujah about, we'll hallelujah along with you.
So just give us a little praise report about something wonderful that's going on in your life. We're going to start out with a prayer request. Azzie, tell us about it.
Azariah: Yeah. We have a prayer request from Ash, but real quick, I want to give a personal praise for, uh, blow holes. Uh, but I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I couldn't resist. All right. Our prayer requests comes to us from Ash. Ash says 'I am in a very conservative part of Texas and COVID has been causing me much anxiety already, and the county that I live in just went into super high COVID watch. The only thing is my area's very conservative and right-winged, and they have not been taking this pandemic seriously. I'm fully vaccinated and wear my mask, but I still have great anxiety about getting COVID and dying from cOVID. Love you guys and your podcast has been a bright light for me.'
Daniel: Um, certainly tough. I mean, I'm in Florida right now where, you know, sometimes I'm like, [00:05:00] I, you know, even when I caught COVID, but some people I would get so mad cause some people just act like it doesn't exist. Um, one guy actually you think this would be something I love, but one guy actually in public just started screaming like right before the new year. And he was like, Hey everybody, I just want to say, God bless us all. We're all going to have a great year, and he was like filming himself for like tik tok or something. And I'm like wear a mask, bro. Like seriously/ if you really care about everybody, like, keep your hot breath to yourself. Amen. Thank you. Goodbye. And then I realized that I was like being kind of a Karen. It's a difficult situation. You don't know when's the right time to stand up, but you know, that's when it really comes to radical, self-reliance you have to rely on yourself to wear the proper protective things and to take care of yourself and make sure you're vaccinated. And you're staying you're six feet away. Like, you know, we can't account for every single person and it is really frustrating, certainly, but really you just have to watch out for yourself. And we will definitely add a prayer that you aren't as paranoid, you know, because we have to remember to live in these times. This is really hard. A lot of us have pandemic [00:06:00] fatigue, and I think we're in a place where we're all getting so frustrated and we just want to rip it off or let our nose out when we're shopping.
Um, Michael. Yeah, right. Well, you know, if I washed my hands right before this, then perhaps I could touch one cookie without someone else touching it. The rules don't work like that. You know? Um, this is, you know, if anything COVID killed, it was the five second rule. Like you drop something on the floor, we're just leaving it now. It's going to Jesus. Like we're just not touching it, but you know, we will be praying for you that you can find a little bit more of some peace in this, you know, but, and stay protected. We have a praise report. This comes to us from Pip 'hey gang, I'm Pip , I'm they/them, and I just want to say thank you for the work that y'all do here on Yass Jesus. It has been something of a deconstructive free fall since leaving a super conservative mega church at the start of the pandemic. Now I've been out as bisexual since 2013 and found the language for my identity and gender non-conforming and non-binary in 2018. A lot of my growth as a person [00:07:00] of faith and a queer person was done in tandem and seemingly at odds. Based on what I was taught in that mega church environment, I've always known that God loves me for exactly the person that they made me to be, even if the rhetoric in my old church didn't mirror that. Through shows like Yass Jesus and lavender mafia, I've gotten to tap into a community of queer theology that I never knew existed and it's rocked my shit in the best way possible. And I just wanted to raise an extra hallelujah for the QCF conference, which is happening as I write this.'
Uh, thank you, Pip. Um, wow. That was a blessing to hear. Uh, we love the folks over at lavender mafia and we're so happy to be paired with them and be doing that same kind of message. Just spreading the message of god is love and love is love. Well, thank you so much pepper, so grateful for you. And we'll be right back after this with the scripture of the day.[00:08:00]
now it's time for this scripture of the day. Um, because it's soul food. That's right. We're back in the scripture of the day, Azzie tell us about it.
Azariah: It is Genesis chapter 17, verse seven. 'I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout third generations for an everlasting covenant. To be God to you and to your offspring after you.'
Daniel: Our show is all about queer Christianity, but one of the things that makes our Christianity so queer is that we live in a world with people of different religions. Now, of course we have, we can learn a lot and have learned a lot from other faiths and people sometimes have an even better perspective on our faith and the way we live those out.
Azariah: And Dana, we are so happy to have you with us because you are a great Jewish advocate. So [00:09:00] let's open our minds and our hearts, friends.
Daniel: Where to start... you are doing so much, and I feel like it all ties together, I guess it does because being Jewish, transgender, a writer, activist, scholar, all of those aspects are part of what makes you, who you are. You are a full, complete and complex person.
Dana: I mean, it's, it's interesting. I mean, the one thing that I'm missing is a blow hole.
Daniel: Yes. That would, that would totally solidify everything.
Dana: But yeah, I think that a lot of times, you know, we sort of distill people down to these definitions, right? Like, oh, you're part of this community or that community. And it's like, for me, there's sort of this interplay. I think the way I, especially between my like Jewishness and my transness, where like, the way I experienced my Jewishness, you know, Thousands of years of diaspora and [00:10:00] exile and all of that. And I know that this is an experience that a lot of Jews relate to cause I've had a lot of conversations with other Jews about this feeling caught between like modern world and ancient world and being caught between like the middle east and whatever diaspora you're a part of, you know? And it's, it's sort of a very, um, gray experience. I think there's also this thing where it's like the Jewish experience of time is very circular, you know? It's like, we don't really think of time in a linear way. It's like the past is the present and the present is the future all the time. And we're constantly thinking of ourselves, like as a part of that circle. So it's like, you sort of feel yourself in, in lockstep with Jewish history. And then at the same time, it's like, I, you know, what's funny when it came to my transition, when I first came out, I definitely identified as a trans woman. And then [00:11:00] like later it was like, actually I identify more as like a non-binary trans femme. You know, it's like, I'm definitely like femme end of the spectrum, you know, I medically transitioned. I was assigned male at birth, um, and I'm comfortable wearing a like females skin, so to speak. But as far as how I synthesize my identity, it's like, I sort of don't think of myself as fitting into either male or female. And...
Daniel: I also think part of knowing oneself is like discovering more and more things as we go along about ourselves. And, and as the world is becoming more, uh, open to learning new types of people and learning new categories. I know that a lot of friends I have that now identify as nonbinary didn't know, didn't have a word for that 15 years ago and are saying well, that's, that's... I feel comfortable fitting in that space at this moment, you know, and I truly think that my a big confusion of my sexuality was as [00:12:00] homosexual as I've always been, I have been, I really truly believe that, especially in my youth, I was biromantic like, and I feel like I didn't understand that that could be a part of me, you know, because as I really was falling in love with a girl, I just couldn't complete the mission, so to speak.
Dana: Yeah, exactly, it's a problem. And it's like, I think that more and more people are getting comfortable with living inside of those gray areas in a world that constantly wants to like categorize us. So for me, it's like those two identities, especially like being Jewish and being trans, like the grayness of that for me, really sort of plays off of each other. And also there's just a long history of like Jewish queerness and Jewish queer figures and all of that. And that's a heritage that I feel a part of. Um, I mean, even Magnus Hershfield the like godfather of studies of queer sexuality in Germany, whose library was burned by the Nazis. [00:13:00] He was queer and Jewish. And then for me, it's like, all of that gets brought into my writing and my acting, right? It's like, I write about Jewish identity. I write about trans identity. Um, another thing is I'm also sober. So I write about, you know, addiction and sobriety and all of that sort of stuff and how that interplays with everything. So all of it always feels very connected for me. Um, and then also the scholarly part of it. You know, I, I studied international affairs with a focus on the middle east in undergrad at the new school. And, um, that was all very, um, formational for me in a lot of ways. Number one, I'm a big history nerd, but number two, it strengthened that sense of identity, right? Because of that, like cyclical nature of how we sort of imagine the Jewish past present and future, so...
Azariah: you said a word earlier diaspora. And I'm familiar with the word, but I don't know exactly what it means. And I want to fully understand what you're saying. So when you speak of [00:14:00] disparia what is that exactly?
Dana: I don't, I don't think that word.
Azariah: Well then, honey, I heard you wrong. I'm making it my own word.
Diaspora. Thank you.
Dana: Got it. So, um, yeah, so the word is the word is diaspora. Um, and so now a lot of different communities use that word, but the original etymology of the word was to refer to the dispersal of the Jewish people outside of Israel after the Roman exile slash genocide. Some people call it the Adrianic genocide. So it's basically now used to refer to any like indigenous people who are scattered outside of their land that they're from, basically. Um, and so [00:15:00] you hear terms like the Asian diaspora, you hear terms like Puerto Rican diaspora, Dominican diaspora, Cuban diaspora, like it's used in a lot of different contexts now. The original, original, etymology of it was to refer to Jews.
Azariah: Okay. Understood. Thank you for that.
Dana: So when you refer to a Jew in diaspora, you're referring to a Jew who does not live in Israel.
Azariah: Understood. Okay. Thank you for that. Well, I realized that we're a very queer Christian podcast and we were both raised Christian and we live in a very Christian culture here in America, and it certainly influences our worldview, but we wanted to start to examine different approaches. So what is your take on being a Jewish leader and scholar in such a Christian culture like we are here in America, or is that your experience even?
Dana: It is absolutely my experience. And one of the big things I think is that a lot of people don't even realize how Christian even [00:16:00] secular America is. And that people are so... that this country's foundations are so strongly based in Christianity. Here's an example. You know, I was getting into a joking conversation with a atheist, but raised Christian friend of mine about, you know, the whole happy holidays versus Merry Christmas thing. And I made a joke about how, you know, Jewish holidays go by the Hebrew calendar, not the Gregorian calendar and.... you know , Hanukkah was over by that point, like, like this year Hanukkah, we had what we jokingly call Thanksgiving-kah this year, um, where Hanukkah came early and we celebrated it at the end of November, beginning of December. So by the time Christmas rolled around, it's like our holidays were done, you know? And so then it becomes this thing of like, In an effort to be inclusive, you're actually being exclusionary because you're showing that you [00:17:00] don't actually have knowledge of Jewish culture or spirituality or holidays or anything. It's like, you just sort of assume that Hanukkah and Christmas are linked, if that makes sense. And then this friend responded like, well, you know, it's also new year's so, you know, that's another holiday that people say happy holidays over. And I'm like, right, gregorian new year, based on the Christian calendar. Our new year's was back in September. So like we're in year 57 82 right now, even though like, yeah, exactly. So it's like, even though obstensibly, like it's a secular holiday, which it is like, we don't celebrate it in a religious way, but it's history is based in a calendar that's based in Christianity, you know, or Catholicism. And so it's funny, I've, I've talked about this before, where [00:18:00] it's like, I think that because Jews are a character in both Christianity and Islam that it's like people sort of don't quite comprehend the fact that modern Jews are descendants of ancient Jews. Like I think a lot of people think that we just like randomly turned up in Poland one day in the 1800's. Like, you know, like a bunch of, you know, white European people decided, you know, we're gonna just start speaking in ancient Semitic language and practicing.
Daniel: I think that's how a lot of Christians became Christians. Like, you know, so they're just like, oh, you know, I mean, I grew up in a very Italian, Brooklyn, Catholic environment. And then we moved to south Florida. We were Christian though, not Catholic. So already I felt like a little, I was like the feast of the seven fishes what's that? Ash Wednesday, huh? Like I didn't get it. Like, you know, I wasn't, I didn't have like communion. And then, and then like, you know, the Jewish kids were having a bar and bat mitzvahs and then like, [00:19:00] The Catholic kids are all going to CCD and had their communions and all this sort of stuff. And I'm like, what are we get? Like, how come I don't get a, like a ring or a car? I didn't understand, you know, um, being separated from all that, but because it is very Christian. And then I also feel like being a queer person and being reminded of all of that stuff consistently, especially when you're starting, when sometimes queer people stray from their religion, then you really realize like how saturated media and even non-religious days are with just generic christianity. But the kind of Christian that I grew up, we wanted to connect to the Jewish roots of Christianity. Like my church had Seders and, you know, we did things that were trying to connect us to the, uh, old Testament as well, and always respected that faith. I mean, my grandmother wore a star of David with a cross on it, which to me, I was always like trying to understand what that even meant, you know?
Azariah: I had a bar mitzvah. I did on the corner of Santa Monica and La Brea. I would, I was not 13, but I was waiting on a bus on the corner of Santa [00:20:00] Monica, La Brea. I wasn't working. And these two Jewish kids came up to me and they asked they were going around asking people, are you Jewish? Are you Jewish? And my mom's side was Jewish, so technically by that lineage I'm Jewish. And so I said, yes. And they said, well, have you ever had a bar mitzvah? I said, no. And so. I had to take one sleeve off. I don't know the terms for all the, all the things, but they wrapped the leather strap. Yeah. Wrap the leather straps on my arm...
Azariah: And then, uh, placed a box with a strap that on my head and then the yamaka over that. And I repeated this Hebrew prayer twice, and that was my bar mitzvah.
Daniel: As a Jewish advocate, is that valid? Can someone give me a bar... like, can someone give you a bar mitzvah at a bus stop?
Dana: I mean not really. No offense, but no Rabbi would recognize that as proper. [00:21:00] And also like it's complicated in this country too, because like, there's a lot of fetishization and I don't mean this to like insults traditions and stuff like that, but there's a lot of fetishization of Jewishness among Protestant streams of Christianity in the US...
Azariah: Especially in televangilism..
Dana: Yes. And so Jews actually find it extremely offensive when Christians hold seders or like try to connect with Jewishness. Um, because we feel like it's appropriative, especially when...
Daniel: I can totally see that. And I apologize if I offended you at all, but I could, I could tell you that that's just what they did. I mean, and at the same point, they also sent me to conversion therapy so I can't give them too much credit.
Dana: I'm not saying that cause you offended me. I just think it's a, it's a, organic educational moment that came up, um, where it's like, you know, especially considering the history where, where Christians forcibly converted us and tried to keep us from our traditions and from our holidays for so many [00:22:00] centuries for then Protestants to turn around and in this very strange way, kind of then like try to appropriate our traditions just feels very uncomfortable for, for jews.
Daniel: It's like how they don't want me to watch drag race, but you know, in like 20 years, they're going to be having like, you know, some sort of like drag competition.
Daniel: They're going to be like the library's open. Now it's your turn to read Satan.
Dana: This also actually I think is an important point that a lot of people don't understand about Jewish identity is like, we're not a religion in the same way that Christianity and Islam are. Like Christianity and Islam are Universalist religions that cross ethnic identities, racial identities. Well, I'm going to provide a little asterisk to that in a second, but ethnic identities, racial identities, nationalities, all of that sort of stuff. Whereas Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people period. So it's like Jewish peoplehood comes before the religion and it's not the religion that makes somebody [00:23:00] a Jew. So the way I always explain it to people is like, if a Christian stops believing in Jesus, they're not a Christian anymore, you know, whereas if a Jew stops believing in Judaism, they're still a Jew, right?
Azariah: Because my mom's side was Jewish... It's kind of the same idea. Right? Cause my mom's side was Jewish, even though I don't confess Judaism as my religion, that doesn't matter. I'm still Jewish.
Dana: You would, you would be considered as an ethnic Jew by a lot of people. Yes.
Azariah: Okay. Um, Orthodox Judaism specifically, right?
Dana: Because I'm not Orthodox, I was not raised in an Orthodox tradition, I can't answer that question. Orthodox might still require... because you weren't raised with jewish spirituality they might still require like a formal conversion. The asterisk is that a lot of Jews, especially in the United States are mixed, you know? And so there are plenty of black Jews, Asian Jews, Latinos Jews, first nations Jews who live in the United States, [00:24:00] just like somebody who's, you know, let's say black and Asian is a hundred percent Asian and a hundred percent black. Someone who's black and Jewish is a hundred percent Jewish and a hundred percent black. So like in that same way, it's still sort of falling into that lines of ethno religion, but it crosses over racial lines in that, in that specific way. And then also when it comes to conversion, You know, we make it really hard because it's really a process of like a aculturating to the tribe. And there's some really beautiful rabbinic opinions about how, when Moses received the tablets at Mount Sinai, that every Jewish soul was present to witness it, of past, present, and future, and those future Jewish souls included the souls of future converts. Um, and so there's the rabbinical opinion, which is similar in some ways to transness, when you think about it, there's the rabbinical opinion that converts to Judaism are literally a Jewish soul born in [00:25:00] a Gentile body. And that the process of conversion is like the body literally becoming Jewish to match the soul.
Daniel: To me, it means... my blood line can be traced all the way to Sicily, so I could be a made man in the mafia. It's true. You can't be can be traced all the way.
Dana: But yeah, it's, it's like, that's why as Jews don't proselytize. That's why we don't, you know, we make it real hard for people to convert.
Azariah: I thought it was strange that they were going up to to me at a bus stop. Cause I... that's how I always thought of Judaism is that they don't proseltytize...words are hard for me, Dana. Okay. Um, and, and so I thought it was really strange that they would come up and do that. And I was like, anyway, anyway...
Dana: but this is the thing. You're seeing it through the lens of Christianity where that feels like being proselytized too. But if you had said I'm not Jewish, they would have said, okay, bye.
Azariah: Uh, yeah, that's a good point. That's a good point.
Dana: And, and what they're asking you to do is perform [00:26:00] a mitzvah as a Jewish person.
Dana: Like, that's it. So, yeah, so they're not, they're not proselytizing to non jews, you know, if you said you're not Jewish, then they would have done nothing.
Daniel: Maybe that's why I haven't had a bar mitzvah at a bus stop. it's like not having a blow hole.
Dana: So I have to tell you a funny story though, about this. So every Jewish person, especially in New York, knows the Orthodox Jews who stand on the corner and ask you if you're Jewish. And so before I transitioned, I looked way more Jewish. I mean, not to like give way too much information, but I was like, hairy as fuck. My hair is dark. You know, I, before I had any, you know, medical interventions, you know, I looked a little bit different and, um, I used to get stopped all the time. Now I still get stopped occasionally, but not as often, but my younger brother is like very stereotypically Jewish looking. And [00:27:00] he was like going to work one day and they stopped him and they were like, are you Jewish? And he said, no. And they deadass, looked at him and went are you sure? And he went, okay. Yeah, fine. I'm Jewish. I just don't have time right now.
Daniel: Couldn't escape it. Um, you know, here at Yass Jesus, we've been taking on queer Christianity, which has been a struggle, uh there's so much deconstruction of faith and political opposition and church hurt. And what is queer Jewish life like? Better, worse, just different?
Dana: That's a very good question. So I think that one of the big differences, because we're an ethno religion, and so there's a lot of secular Jews. Like I was raised in a pretty secular family. I'm actually more spiritual and attached to Judaism now as an adult than my parents were. [00:28:00] Um, you know, we, we went to synagogue, I went to Hebrew school, I had a bar mitzvah. But those things were more not because of like sincerely held religious belief in my family, it was more.... cultural ethnic identity, you sort of stuff. And because there are so many secular Jews in the US I think globally as a community, there's less sort of anti queer sentiment because so many of us are not particularly religious, so there's not like religious baggage per se. There's also the fact that... now where it does come in, of course, is there's plenty of queer phobia in Orthodox communities, modern, Orthodox communities. I mean, even in secular communities too, like, I'm not going to say that all secular communities have no queer phobia in them. But I do think that it's just like a difference of dynamic, I would say. And there's also the difference in that we don't really have a concept of hell or sin in the [00:29:00] way that Christianity does. So the idea of like, oh, you know, it's a sin and you're going to go to hell is not really a thing in Jewish community. First off, there's no like really clear idea of the afterlife in judaism. A lot of rabbis have different opinions, but there's this place called Gahanna, which a lot of people call the Jewish hell, but it's not really the Jewish hell, where every single soul, every single soul goes to Gahanna to be cleansed before ascending to the next realm. And the longest you can be in Gahanna is a year, like, that's it.
Azariah: A one year lease that's up and you're out.
Dana: So it's not really based in this like afterlife kind of thing. It's, judaism is much more concerned with the here and now and life on the earth at present than it is with the afterlife. And so, I think that a lot of queer phobia comes from things like us [00:30:00] being an ethno religion. And for example, like our numbers in terms of our population have not recovered from the Holocaust. There were about 16 million Jews before the Holocaust, and now there's about 14 million. And, there's a lot of like pressure, I think of like Jewish continuity, like continuing Jewish bloodline, continuing Jewish cultural practice, continuing Jewish spiritual practice, that comes into play where it's like, oh, if you're queer, then you can't have biological children. Like, that's the thing that comes into play. Um, there's also a lot of family shame things that can come into play, especially with like Orthodox communities where there's a lot of like specifically with Hasidic communities where there's like Hasidic dynasties and like there's a lot of sort of Royal court drama that goes on in these custody Hasidic communities. And it's like a queer child, like brings shame to the family. Not [00:31:00] all Orthodox Jews feel this way, but you know...
Azariah: When you say Royal court, what does that mean? How does that apply to this? Like in Jewish culture?
Dana: Like, you know, when, this is, I wouldn't say this is Jewish culture, this is specific to Hasidic culture. You know, when you watch a TV show, like The Great on Hulu. Or like, The Favorite, that, um, film with Olivia Coleman and Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz where it's like, all of the people are like jockeying for like power and prestige and position within the community. You know, it's like that kind of thing. You know, everybody has their, like lineages from specific rabbis that they claim and, you know, which are true, but like... so then there's a lot of, you know, sort of jockeying between families and lineages of like influence in the community and all of that sort of stuff that happens in Hasidic communities.
Azariah: Gotcha. So if in the Hasidic community, if there is a queer child, there is a shift in [00:32:00] who will like inherit things or who will take the lead in the family or the roles that they play?
Dana: Potentially. I mean, it depends. I think it's more an issue of like bringing shame to that family to have a queer child. And I also do want to add the asterisk with this, that, like, there are Orthodox families that are supportive of your children. Like I'm not going to say that this is a universal thing. You know, um, I have Orthodox friends who are trans. I have Orthodox friends who are SIS and queer, you know, who are accepted by their families. And so it's, it's certainly not a universal thing that if somebody is Orthodox, that their family is going to reject them.
Azariah: So Dana, earlier you were telling us about how in the Talmud, there is so much gender diversity and we're just now in, it seems like in our, in a lot of parts of our society, we're rejecting the binary. Can you tell us more about [00:33:00] that?
Dana: Yeah. So one of the big differences between Judaism and Christianity is that, you know, the Talmud and, and actually even the Tovala was, was sort of born out of our exile, right? So it was like originally our culture revolved around the temple in Jerusalem and it revolved around ceremonies and practice at our temples, um, and a complex system of priests and laws that govern the nation. And when we were separated from our land, that's when, what we call rabbinical Judaism was born, which is what we know today as Judaism, because it was like, how do we keep our culture, our language, our history alive while in exile from our land and from all of the things that defined our culture for the past, you know, 1500 years. And [00:34:00] one of those things is the Talmud, which is mostly just, you know, basically arguments and opinions from rabbis and stuff like that about interpreting jewish law. So the Talmud recognizes six different genders. And part of the reason for that is that Jewish law is highly gendered. Like men have certain things that they're supposed to do, especially when it comes to religious and spiritual practice, women have certain things that they're supposed to do. And so the context in which they talk about these genders, it's interesting is it seems to be a recognition that there are people who don't fall within this binary, male and female, and it's sort of the rabbis grappling with how did these people interact with this highly gendered Jewish law.
And so there's all sorts of solutions. Like for one it's that in the public world, they will do the mitzvot of one gender. And in the private world, they'll do the mitzvot of another gender. And [00:35:00] like there's all sorts of like workarounds for different things. And it's interesting because also today people will say, oh, that's not talking about trans people. It's talking about intersex people. Which I'm like, when you read the descriptions of them. I understand why that would be said, but when I read it, I read rabbis in the second and third century, trying to understand gender diversity and put it into terms that they can understand. And that includes trans people and intersex people. Additionally, there is lines about women's souls being born into men's bodies and vice versa and stuff like that. And like a lot of non-Western cultures that then got oppressed by Western cultures, a lot more binary was sort of injected into Judaism as the centuries went on. But also, I think it's important to sort of know, because I'm a big believer in like with [00:36:00] any religious identity or spiritual identity or ethnic identity, when it comes to theologically ingrained or community ingrained queer phobia, it never works to tell that person that their religion is wrong or their belief is wrong or their community is wrong, or that they're a a bigot, you know, et cetera, et cetera. for me, what always does it is speaking to them in their language. So if you're speaking to an Orthodox Jew about gender diversity, to be able to point to rabbinical opinions in the Talmud and say like, you know, it's right there in your text and, or, you know, it is more effective than being like well your text is wrong.
Daniel: Yeah, that closes the conversation.
Azariah: I feel like we tried doing that with the story of Joseph, you know, presenting the idea that Joseph could have been a gender queer person or a non non binary person, because the coat that Joseph wore was the [00:37:00] cutting up a seam, which translates into princess dress, you know? And so like we tried doing that on the show in regards to like the evangelical perspective of traditionally what Joseph was.
Daniel: I, I do think perspectives are important. I mean, a lot of this stuff was meant different individual to read, and I think there has to be an individual take on it to some extent. There is a lot, you know, and there is a lot of things that we do on here, like we don't say we do Bible study, we say we do Bible wondering. Because a lot of it is like us trying to figure it out, just like those, uh, whatever a second century, um, rabbis. Like we're, we're, we're trying to... you know, everyone's mind and everyone's soul is connected to divinity, and when you start looking for it and trying to figure out what that means to you, I think it is a personal, uh, perspective.
And speaking on that, you are a transgender media consultant for GLAAD working on trans gender media representation. But you recently wrote an article about the media representation of Jewish people. So what are the common themes between both of those? Uh, what makes them distinct from one [00:38:00] another?
Dana: So one of the big things is there's a tendency for people to vastly overestimate the amount of Jews there are in the world. So as I said earlier, there's only 14 million of us in the entire world. So I believe it's about 0.16% of the world's population. And which is why some of us Jews always joke, we're like, why are you so obsessed with us?
Daniel: That's definitely not the same statistics in musical theater. That's my world.
Dana: The thing is it's like, well, I mean, cause you're in New York and in New York, New York is about 10% Jewish. It's one of the biggest Jewish enclaves outside of Israel in the world. And fun fact, most of the Jewish enclaves in [00:39:00] the United States are Jewish enclaves because those were the only places we were allowed to live when we started coming here. But, okay, so there's a very small number of us in the world. In the United States, we make up about 2% of the United States population. There are about, I think it's 5 million or 6 million of us in the U S out of a population of like 327 million. And similarly to trans folks, this means that a lot of people don't know a Jew in real life. Like us in metropolitan areas in the arts, all of that, we just sort of take it for granted that everybody knows somebody who's Jewish, but that's not true. Like I remember going to college and meeting people where I was the first Jewish person that they ever met in their entire life. And like what that ends up meaning is that when you have anti-Semitism similarly to when you have trans phobia, and there's no real life person for somebody to [00:40:00] compare the antisemitic trope or the transphobic trope to and say, oh, well, that's clearly not true because I know this person who's trans or this person who's Jewish and they're not like that. Then that means that that the most important thing is media representation.
Daniel: Right visibility is so important.
Dana: Yeah. What Jewish characters are they seeing on their television? What Jewish characters are they seeing in a movie theater? And, you know, I'm very glad that this is starting to become a mainstream conversation about just how many non Jews played Jews. It's like I did, I actually went through, I wrote about this recently.... of all the major Jewish main characters, explicitly Jewish main characters in film and TV of the past two years. And there were, I think I counted 25 of them and only four of them were played by Jewish actors.
Daniel: I mean, it's all [00:41:00] too familiar tropes in the queer community to, you know, we're dealing with, um, I mean, there are more representation for queer people on TV. Absolutely. Yes. But there's still a vast majority of queer unionized actors who are unemployed and then, you know, tons of, uh, straight folks who are playing those characters. And I mean, I don't know if this rings true in the other way, but, uh, for queer people I found cause right before the pandemic, I was trying to make a movie that was going to have all queer characters, but it was easier to sell the movie with straight actors abroad than it was to sell. There is, there's almost virtually no available, usually queer actors who can Greenlight a movie abroad, like in order for it to be, you know, they would say, oh, we'll play a gay movie in let's say someplace like a, uh, an Asian country or someplace where maybe it's like a more, you know, more stricter cultural things around queer people if they know that it's a definite straight person. It's kind of like how, you know, movies like Brokeback mountain got made.
Dana: There was recently a variety article because right now [00:42:00] there's a big kerfuffle over, um, Helen Mirren playing golden Mayer, um, which she shouldn't be playing golden mayor in my opinion. Um, and I recognize the exact same arguments when it comes to trans actors where there was a producer quoted in the article who was like, well there are no like really well-known A list Jewish actresses who could carry the movie and like get the funding basically.
Daniel: So you make a star. That's where you make a star.
Dana: And then, uh, David Padilla, who's a Jewish British comedian who wrote this phenomenal book, Jews Don't Count, which I highly recommend everybody listening. Pick it up, pick up, Jews don't count and pick up people love dead Jews. Both of those books are incredible, but David Padilla who wrote jews don't count, responded to that in the article. And he was like, of course, there are no A list Jewish actresses who can get the financing for this role because [00:43:00] Hollywood hasn't invested in the bench of talent. So it's like, how do you, it's like a catch 22.
Daniel: They can't even cut their teeth. It's a catch 22 because they can't, you know, I specifically feel that way. I'm glad you mentioned it when it comes to, uh, biographical pictures. When you are displaying our heroes, I feel like our people should play our heroes. I mean, no offense to anyone, but I mean, I lose my mind when I see Freddie mercury or Elton John, like these characters being played by straight identifying actors, when, you know, like this is a great opportunity for a queer person or a Jewish person or someone, or any minority to rise up, to be able to have a shot at the prestige role.
Dana: Yep. Exactly. And Sarah Silverman, actually also, when she was talking about this, she was like, it's especially a problem for Jewish women for like a prime example is the marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Like Rachel Brosnahan is not Jewish. In fact, none of the actors in her immediate family [00:44:00] are played by Jewish actors. And the only one that I like mildly forgive is Tony Shalhoub, because I'm like, okay, he's arab piece in the right, you know, general region. There's a lot of cultural overlap with Arabs and Jews, you know, but like she talks about how with Jewish women, especially it's like, you're like the funny sidekick character. Or for lack of a better way to put it, you are someone who has one Jewish parent and one white European parent who like fits more Eurocentric beauty standards and is therefore able to like step into those romantic roles in a way that is more amenable to the eyes of Eurocentric beauty.
Daniel: I hate that theory part, that version of it. I wouldn't mind if a Jewish person played an Italian person. I feel like it, especially from Brooklyn, I feel like we're very similar over there. It's like, , it's just like one little, one little [00:45:00] vowel changes it all. But I do feel what you're saying, like for the idea of that, like, it's the same thing for queer people. I think all the time it's like, oh, queer person can, maybe a straight person might have to play this but then a queer person might be able to, but then a fat queer person will never get to it. And it just like, you know, the more strikes of minority you have against you, like the harder it is to be visible. That's why I think that anything that a person, a lot of times when I do a Q and A's after college performances, I always try to squeeze in a little Oprah on them, you know what I mean? Like a little bit of like drop a little knowledge on them. And I'm always like, you know, it's important that if you are an artist and you are a creator, and if you're an artist and creator and you're listening to this, like it's important that you infuse who you are in your material. Like there is a version of you that needs to see that and whatever it is that somebody made fun of you for, or told you you couldn't do something for it, is that exact thing that you need to bottle and market and celebrate and sell, and it is your calling card. Um, you know, I cash a check for every single thing I got made fun of for, so it's like, it's, it's [00:46:00] entirely important. And if you are not a creator and you are a consumer, that's fine too, but then you need to tweet and thank the casting directors and the producers for going the casting the right way or telling your story correctly or objecting when you see someone not getting the opportunities. Be vocal, because being vocal is also being visible.
Dana: Totally. Also, you'll appreciate once I saw a tik tok recently, that was like, what's something that feels Jewish, but isn't Jewish. And then it went to somebody who went Italians.
Daniel: That's very good. I would just flip it and say the same thing. Definitely, if you told me where there's something that feels Italian, but isn't Italian, I'd say brisket and bobka. And even challah. Honestly, if you put seeds on it, it would be a very Italian. I could feel that. Can we also talk about your role? I'm talking about visibility in American gods. I mean, you are such a spiritually and religiously grounded [00:47:00] person. What is it like to play a God?
Dana: That was to this day, my favorite professional acting experience that I ever had talking about CIS people who did their homework. It's like first off I was floored by the director Tim Southam... um, he. And he actually just one a Canada director's Guild, TGC director's Guild of Canada, um, award for that episode, which was really exciting. Straight CIS guy. And he came into that episode, just wanting so clearly to create something for a queer gaze rather than a cis straight gaze. And he was never objectifying in the ways that he asked for help. He was always so inquisitive and open. It was just incredible. And for me, I think that there's something inherently radical about a storyline in which a trans femme person is granted eternal [00:48:00] life when the world tries to make sure that we don't live one at all. My, my favorite line in the entire episode is she asks, uh, Saleem. Saleem's like the main character who's, he's Muslim and he's struggling with his sexuality and she's holding this like queer, like Bacchanal type party. And he's standing outside the door all nervous and all of that. And he's afraid to go in and I don't remember the exact line, but she's like, you can tell me if I'm overstepping, but like, is it possible that what you're feeling is not fear, but what you're feeling is shame? Because shame is a whole lot of made up bullshit. And that line hit me like a ton of bricks when I read the script. It was just such, it was such a special experience. Also like being completely naked in like this queer bacchanal scene, like I did full frontal nudity on television and like [00:49:00] I'm transfem, Jewish, I'm like not a size two, you know? And like to be like totally naked and like being embraced by this crowd and like feeling uplifted and empowered and also feeling like there was not an ounce of voyeurism in the directors gaze on the scene. It was like, it was literally healing. Like it was, it was literally healing and helping me like unpack and process some of my own shame.
Daniel: I mean, so much of my shame is like, you know, inside some film somewhere, do you know what I'm saying? Like really, like, that is one of the things that I honestly didn't anticipate being an actor. I mean, it was always something I wanted to do and I love, but you know, uh, a lot of things that I felt were painful for me growing up once I had to perform them or [00:50:00] experience them, or be there even taking my shirt off and being uncomfortable in my body initially, you know, to doing again full frontal that, you know, that kind of thing, like it's like, um, it was so healing, you know? I think that's why like art can heal so many things and it's so beautiful what you've done cause it's going to heal so many other people as well um, because, because people who don't have the ability to see themselves that way can see themselves through you so it's wonderful.
Dana: Yeah, I completely agree.
Azariah: Dana, I want to ask before we let you go, if you have a message for queer and ally Christians listening, what's the one thing you want them to know or to do that can be in solidarity with queer Jewish people?
Dana: You know, that's actually an interesting question. Cause, cause the first things that come to my mind are like speak up about anti-Semitism. There is unfortunately a lot of antisemitism in queer spaces. Um, and then there can be a lot of queer phobia in Jewish spaces. So a lot of queer Jews feel [00:51:00] like they don't belong in either space. I think it's really important to even understand what anti-Semitism is, you know, in the first place. Um, 'cause one of the things that really drives left wing antisemitism in particular is the antisemitic trope that we're powerful and privileged. So this idea that in a queer left-wing space, that you're going to stand up for marginalized people... of course, I'm not going to stand up for Jews. Jews are all rich and powerful and bankers and CEOs and all of that. They're the people we're fighting against. When in reality, it's like there is one Jewish bank CEO. You know, it's like, it's like, You know, 50% of Orthodox Jews live below the poverty line.
Azariah: There's never been a Jewish US president, right?
Dana: Exactly. We're not, we're not even the wealthiest minority group in the United [00:52:00] States. So there's sort of this feeling that like we represent sort of like the systems that they're fighting against without them realizing that that feeling that they have is based in age old antisemitic tropes about Jewish control and power that are completely untrue.
Daniel: Well, it's based on, on straight Christian people playing gay Jewish CEOs.
Probably, this is probably more straight Christian CEO's played on television than there are in real life, I would probably...
Dana: yeah, it's funny. Actually, I did this poll cause I was just curious, I did this poll on my Instagram the other day, where I posted like a bunch of well-known like, you know, capitalist vultures for lack of a better term. And I asked all of the non Jews who follow me to guess if they were Jewish or not Jewish. The [00:53:00] trick was none of them were Jewish. And the thing was that I found interesting, and look, this is just anecdotal, it's not like some scientific study and there could have been all sorts of reasons that they voted for these people, you know, that they felt like they were Jewish. But the ones who got the most votes for Jewish were the ones who like were most in the news for being like awful, rich people who take advantage of poor people. Like the ones who got the most votes for Jewish, were Jeff Bezos, not Jewish Martin Shreli, who is the pharma bro, not Jewish. And the Koch brothers. Also not Jewish.
Daniel: I want to follow your social media. How could people follow your work and follow your social media?
Dana: Um, so I am basically only on Instagram, except for when I go down what I call a tok hole. Not to be confused, [00:54:00] but my Instagram handle is @danaaliyalevinson. Easy.
Daniel: Well, thank you so much for joining us. Honestly, this has been so great. Like I feel, I felt the love, I was informed, and I honestly am just enamored with your work on American gods. Thank you so much for joining us today on Yass Jesus. Azzie, tell everyone about the tithe love offering charity active good moment this week.
Azariah: Well, we are actually going to have Dana tell us about it because today's tithe love offering charity act of good was suggested by our guests, dana Aliya Levinson and it is footsteps. Dana, tell us a little bit more about it.
Dana: So footsteps is an organization that basically helps Jews who want to leave ultra Orthodox communities, helps them find jobs, build life skills, to sort of integrate into mainstream society. A lot of, you know, ultra Orthodox groups are very isolated. And that can make it hard for people who want to leave those [00:55:00] communities, and oftentimes there's a lot of queer people who are trying to leave these communities. And I, again want to reiterate what I, what I said earlier, which is that, you know, Orthodox Judaism is in many ways, very beautiful. And I have plenty of Orthodox friends. The idea that Orthodox Jews are like blanket queer phobic is not true. However, There is definitely more prevalent queer phobia as there isn't any more religious community. And so this organization basically helps people who want to leave. Get out.
Daniel: If you're listening, go visit footstepsorg.org. Yes. That's footsteps, org.org. Uh, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you, Dana. Everyone, please. We're going to close now with our closing prayer. God, we'd like to give thanks to you. Uh, for our guest, uh, Dana Aliya Levinson. We can see how strong her faith is, and she's a [00:56:00] patient guide and a teacher for so many of us. .Thank you for the gift that she is in our world. We pray for Ash and their vigilance around COVID, especially being in an area where people are taking risks. Please give them comfort, strength and endurance, calm their anxiety. We also pray for PIP. PIP in their joy self-discovery and faith that continues to grow everyday.
Azariah: Yes. And we give thanks for the beauty of your creation, which includes lesbian dolphins. Thank you for keeping us reminded that queerness isn't just confined to humankind, but it is reflected in our animals also.
Daniel: Amen. Thank you all for listening to another episode of Yass Jesus. You can find us on social media @yassjesuspod or on our website yassjesuspod.com. Now, if you liked the show, please consider becoming a monthly sponsor. If you'd like to do that, you can find the link to do so in the show notes. And if you haven't yet, please leave us a review or share us with a friend. Doing so really helps us [00:57:00] reach new people and keep the show running.
Azariah: It sure does sweetie. You can now leave an audio prayer requests or praise report on our website, yassjesuspod.com. We would love to share your voice and your prayers on the show. So drop us a line or send us a recording on yassjesuspod.com.
Daniel: Yeah. Send us your praise reports, your prayer request, episode ideas, guest ideas, or even just show us your tophole or blowhole. We'd love to hear from you. Yass Jesus is hosted by me, Danny Franzese and...
Azariah: Azariah blowhole Southworth. Music, sound, editing, and all things audio are done by Chris Heckman. Our show is produced by the freaking deacon Ross Murray and Meredith Paulley. Special thanks to Sophie Serrano and Sam Isfan.
Daniel: Maybe you do have flippers. Yass jesus is brought to you by Audity. Audity execs are Ryan Lauckner, Jessica Bustillos and Steve Michaels. We are streaming and screaming in blowholing on apple podcast, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcast.
Azariah: And whether you're a dolphin or human, God loves you just as you are.
Daniel: So [00:58:00] keep praising the Lord, y'all.