Saturday, August 06, 2016

Meet The Queer Ex-Hasidic Woman Embracing Life Outside Her Faith 

Melissa “Malky” Weisz is a former Hasidic Jew who grew up in Brooklyn, New York. As a teen, Weisz had trouble accepting the strict rules about gender that permeated her religious tradition. It wasn’t until she left her childhood religion that she embraced the idea that being queer was a beautiful part of her identity.

Borough Park, which is where Weisz grew up, is home to a thriving Hasidic community. In this conservative Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, the gender you are assigned at birth has immense consequences for how you live your life. Hasidic customs discourage men and women from mixing in public spaces. Men and women have distinct modes of dressing, different work and educational opportunities, and different expectations when it comes to following ritual practices.

While many find joy and meaning in this way of living, it doesn’t work for everyone. In an interview with NBC Out, Weisz recalled telling her classmates as a child that she could fall in love with a man or a woman because she didn’t want to “rule out half the population.”

However, when Weisz was 19, she entered into an arranged marriage to a man in her community. Married women are expected to shave their heads, but as a sign of her refusal to fit into her community’s gender expectations, Weisz refused to cut her hair.

“I had to struggle to keep my hair,” she said in the video. “It became something I treasured because I had to fight for it.”

After four years of married life, Weisz made the difficult decision to leave her community and start a new life in the secular world. With the help of Footsteps, an organization that helps Orthodox Jews with that transition, Weisz eventually got through college and graduated with a degree in psychology. She is now pursuing a career as an actress and has even reconnected with her family.

Her experiences outside the community have also helped her form a more fluid view of gender and sexual orientation. In the video, NBC Out’s producers followed along as Weisz went to a hair salon to cut her hair on her own terms.

“I’m not cutting it because I want to look gay,” she explained. “I’m cutting it because I’m done with boxes and I don’t want to have a title.”

“I am feminine, but I’m not just feminine,” she continued. “I’m still having trouble with those terms of feminine and masculine. I think cutting it, I think that maybe it’ll embody the contrast that is me.”


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