Thursday, June 17, 2010

straight shikse/queer shikse

When I left my husband, we both headed for the shikses. For him, no surprise. He'd had a shikse thing for longer than I'd known him—and I'd known him since I was still a teenager and he was barely 21. So, well, plenty has been written about the Jewish prince and the shikse. No need to go there. But why Jewish women head for the shikses is worth, well, research. I'm an anthropologist, right? Time for a little fieldwork.

It started one Friday night when I had an out-of-town friend over who was looking for action. What are the best bars, bla bla bla — this is after all, San Francisco, isn't it? There's gotta be alotta action in this town. She was from Argentina, and she was used to alotta action. But she was asking the wrong person. I only knew one place to go: and that was 'In Bed with Fairy Butch' — a great lesbian cabaret. My friend was not disappointed.

It was Hanukkah with Fairy Butch. Jewish leatherdyke cabaret. A davenning striptease with payess and pasties. Prayers over the labia menorah, with everyone singing along. And of course, Yenta the Matchmaker. A great night. But at one point, Fairy Butch calls out to the packed (and packing) crowd, "How many of you are Jewish?" And half the hands go up. "And how many of you with your hands up are with another Jewish woman?" And every single hand goes down. Every single one (who wasn't single) was with a shikse. Including me. What's with that?

A worthy piece of research indeed. I started interviewing. Starting with my therapist. She said, go for it! "You could get a major grant from some Jewish organization to fund you — you don't know how many patients I have who want to get their sons away from the shikses!" The shikse problem, she said, was a worthy cause for exploration, especially among the hetero-normative.

But what of the attraction of queer Jewish women to the shikse? Of the women I talked to, here's a small sample:

The Jewish women:

— When like meets like, there has to be some kind of Other—thus, the shikse.

— You can bump into your trick and your Rabbi on the very same block—no problem.

— What is it about shikses? It's those ice-cold blue eyes. And freckles.

— They're exotic! They eat things like mayonnaise, only they call it 'mayo.' And they slather it on, with things like 'fried bologna'! Revolting—but exotic.

— Things are simpler. We don't have to argue all sides of every question.

— Ha-shem is waiting for the answer to that one as well!

The Shikses answer:

— When I do a search on say, Planet Out, and use the word 'intellect' that's what draws them. I don't have to say I'm looking for a Jewish woman. They just pop up in the search.

— I'm drawn to their suffering.

— They are exclusive, chosen, and don't let anyone in — and I WANT IN!

— Shikses are not so demanding. You don't have to be faithful to a shikse. And that's okay.

— I'm German. We have strong bonds between us, the Germans and the Jews.

— I like secrets. What are they doing?

— Psychology tells us that Jewish men demand respect for Jewish women, like their mother. The Jewish woman rules the household. But with the shikse, the Jew can run the household. This goes for dykes as well.

I ended up collecting piles and piles of material on the shikse 'problem' and the more I looked at it, the more depressing it became. When I looked online, I found some of the scariest websites I've ever seen. Mostly about the hetero-shikse problem. Neo-Nazi sites accusing Jewish men of kidnapping, hypnotizing and ruining their women. The poster girl for this being Marilyn Monroe. And equally paranoid Orthodox Jewish sites accusing the shikses of polluting bloodlines and turning Jewish men's heads to mush.

But at Fairy Butch's cabaret, the 'problem' was more palpable. There was Fairy Butch discovering out loud and on stage, that many of the Jewish dykes in the crowd really did want a Jewish partner. Someone they could make shabbes with, light candles with, go to shul with. And Fairy Butch played yenta, and once a year—on Hanukkah—yenta matched Jewish/Jewish couples (for however long it might last), and then went home (or so I imagine) with her very own ... shikse goddess.

Is the shikse thing something as primal as heterosis, insuring hybrid vigor to the next generation, or some kind of reductionist 'Othering'? The appeal, the ambivalence, the aversion are all the stuff of stand-up comedy, not-so-romantic novels, and apparently lots and lots of protracted psychotherapy. More research needs to be done, of course. And what better method than anthropology's participant-observation?


  1. Such a powerful dedication to fieldwork.

  2. oops — big mistake, with my apologies. One of those comments was from not-woman-at-all ... not now, anyway...

  3. How many years did you wind up going to Fairy Butch and finding the same - ahem, results? I remember the year we went together at your behest and indeed, we were the only ones in that room with our hands up. Plus I only count halfway...

  4. Yes, I remember that! It's probably still worth (ahem) more research...

    And according to my mother, who is an expert on such matters — you count, and not just halfway!