to my friends, guides, and colleagues of the Mayyim Ḥayyim Community Mikveh of Newton, Massachusetts
uncertain feet descend stone steps downward
into the water, down into the water they tell me is
warm and healing. let every part of my body touch
the water; let there be no barrier between me and it.
what constitutes a barrier? a ḥatzitzah
preventing the purity from washing over me,
from healing me? is it the places where
I picked at scars so deep, so angry red,
that they will never heal on my skin?
is it the places where I had to cryingly scrub away
the color on my nails that I worked up the courage
to ask strangers to paint, to show the world
that I was not afraid to—finally—present my Self as
a woman, nervousexcited, explicitly marked feminine?
is it the growly voice scarred by years of testosterone
fumbling its way through blessings of thanksgiving?
can I even divest myself of all these barriers?
uncertain feet slipping on the cool surface
of the stone, stepping downwards, downwards,
trying not to shiver from the cold air all around.
what brought me here today? what irrational impulse
made me think this would be a good idea?
I am made of warmcold scarbarriered flesh
and a profanesacred spirit that doesn’t belong in
my naked body, my vulnerable body,
my body scarred from years of abuse,
from years of neglect and mistrust and hatred,
which they dare to tell me is a holy vessel, a beautiful
reflection of the Divine, the tzelem elohim,
but it doesn’t feel anything like that to me.
all I can do is look down on it with disgust,
at my skin where hair grew since my teenage years,
wondering what the hell I did to deserve this,
wondering why my prayers were never answered,
wondering what scars I never realized were there,
wondering what barriers I have yet to discover.
uncertain feet land on the hard stone floor
submerged beneath a wall of warm water, a barrier
against the cold air, the frightening external
world, comforting, maybe even healing,
and I duck my head under the water,
thinking of the scars I suffered because of my habit
of bashing my head against the wall when I was
frustrated with everything, angry at my life,
yet another barrier keeping me away from this place,
and as my hair is submerged I wonder what
it will take for me not to hate the right angles
on my forehead, places my hair doesn’t cover.
I lift up my feet from the floor and curl up,
eyes closed, fearful of striking myself against
the hard stone wall, another barrier, and just for
one second I feel myself float, completely
suspended, as if in mid-air, or in mid-water,
and suddenly I am naked and alone, without barriers,
washing myself, my scarred body, my scarred soul
in these coldwarm barrierhealing sacredprofane waters.
do I deserve to be well? honestly, I’m not sure.
I still don’t really know what the hell I’m doing here.
but for one tiny moment between fright and self-hatred
I let it go and just float.
Rabbi Emily Aviva Kapor is a radical transfeminist rabbi and activist. Her rabbinic work focuses on creating innovative yet traditional Jewish law, liturgy, and ritual, in order to affirm trans* identities and experiences. As a deaf and autistic person, she also works for acceptance and accessibility for people with visible and invisible disabilities. Her other projects include writing, playing chamber music, advocating for alternative education, and smashing systems of institutional oppression.
Her first book, Ein Self: Early Meditations, is about speaking her world into being over the first year and a half of her gender transition, through essays and poetry exploring Judaism, spirituality, family, mental health, ritual, and joyfulness. You can find more information and order copies through her website, http://emilyaviva.com/einself