Episode 6: Binya Kóatz
This week I interviewed Binya Kóatz, whose wisdom on wearing tzitzit as a transfemme was truly inspired and inspiring! Unlike the other interviews I've released so far, this one was recorded quite recently, and so references current events (like coronavirus and also the High Holidays). This conversation has really stuck with me in the weeks since we had it and I'm so excited to be able to share! Please know that this episode contains sexual content. Also, for a peek of what Binya looks like in her tzitzit, see the below photo.
Some definitions from our conversation:
Shtetl: Yiddish word for small village
Neo-Hasidic: a contemporary revival of Kabbalist and Hasidic teaching
Kippah: Jewish head covering
Yiddishkayt: Yiddish word for Yiddish culture, and for taking an interest in said Yiddish culture
Tzedakah: Hebrew word meaning "righteousness" that often gets translated in English to "charity," although it also contains a sense of ethical obligation that the English does not quite capture.
Niggun: A song sung, often in religious contexts, without words. Uses repetitive syllables (yai-dai-dai, etc.) to follow a tune.
Satmar Hasidim: A group of Hasidic Jews who live in Brooklyn, NY.
Chatsi chatsi: half and half
Yontif: Yiddish for holiday
Shacharit: the morning daily prayers
Mincha: the afternoon daily prayers
Maariv: the evening daily prayers
Daven: to pray
Shekhina: a rabbinic word denoting the presence of G-d
Shem Emet: true name
Aretz: the land, here meaning Israel
Diasporism: a movement of Jews believing that the Jewish "homeland" is, in and of itself, the state of diaspora
Tzimtzum: a drawing in
Ha'Ari: The Ari, a famous Kabbalist also known as Rabbi Isaac Luria, from the 16th century.
Kabbalah: a school of thought based in Jewish mysticism. A kabbalist is one who studies Kabbalah.
Haredi: a term used to describe many sects and groups of Orthodox Jews
Shomer Shabbos: following the halakha/traditions of Shabbat (ie. not working, not spending money, not using electricity, etc.)
Mikveh: a ritual bath used historically by women during moments of transition and around menstruation, has grown and expanded in its usage.
B'tselem Elohim: the Image of G-d
Tikkun Olam: literally "repairing the world," a Jewish framework for social justice
Chabad: an Orthodox, Hasidic movement known for their ubiquity around the world.
Kollel: an institute for full-time study of Talmud
Elul: the Jewish month before Rosh Hashana, a time of reflection on the year before it.
With any questions or comments, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fringes Podcast Transcript
Transcript by Tim Hipp at www.transcribeyourpod.com
Emma June: Hello, and welcome to Fringes, a no frills kind of podcast where I talk to trans and gender non-conforming Jews about our experiences with tallitot and tzitzit. Tallitot are Jewish prayer shawls and tzitzit are the knotted fringe on the bottom of them. For further definitions check out the first episode. In today’s episode, I interview Binya Kóatz. Before she introduces herself, I just want to warn everyone that this conversation is PG-13 in terms of sexual content. And without further ado, Binya.
Binya Kóatz: My name is Binya. Binya Kóatz. My pronouns are I use either she or they pronouns. I live on Ohlone land in the Bay Area. I am originally from the old country of Queens, New York. Born and raised there. And yeah, I guess some things relevant for this podcast are that I’m first generation. My mother is French Moroccan Sephardi and my father is Argentinian Ashkenazi, and they met at an Indian restaurant on Sixth Street in Manhattan, so little diaspora baby. I really love Torah and Hashem and I wear tzitzit every day, so that might be the reason why we connected around this podcast.
Emma June: I would say so. What are your first memories with tzitzit?
Binya Kóatz: Yeah. My first memories with tzitzit are… I remember, my first memories seeing tzitzit, I mean I’ve seen them all my life, growing up in Queens and growing up Conservative Jewish. Nobody in my shul wore a tallis katan that I know of, but just around on the subway and around the city, you’re gonna see tzitzit flapping in the wind. And it wasn’t really till I came to the Bay that I saw my first people who weren’t cis dudes wearing tzitzits. I remember a couple of people. I remember Sasha, who’s in the shtetl here in the Bay, in Oakland, and Mimi Farb, who is just like a really close and dear friend and sister of mine, and I remember going on a Friday night to Chochmat HaLev, which is the rad, queer, trans-led, the rabbi’s trans, synagogue in Berkeley, because that’s what we’ve got out here in the Bay, and going there on a Friday night and it’s like an ecstatic, neo-Chasidic, like klezmer-y kind of service. So good. And just seeing Mimi with her tzitzit hanging out of her short shorts, dancing around to L’cha Dodi is like one of my first memories, that was about four years ago, of seeing tzitzit on a non-cis person, non-cis dude’s body. Yeah.
Emma June: And how soon after did you start wearing them?
Binya Kóatz: I started wearing them… It was maybe… It was probably only a few months. I was like primed and ready to go. I was like I had just gone to svara the summer before that, the queer yeshiva, and I went to the queer Talmud camp in the Bay, and just was like, “Okay, I guess this is my whole life now.” Because just this combination of really coming out, and really finding Jewish community, and being a nerd, and having… I took the bait hook, line, sinker, and was like, “Okay, my whole life is gay Torah,” and I came to the Bay and found all these queers so in love with it and building such stunning community out here, and then just seeing queers with tzitzit coming out, I was like, “This is fem. This is amazing. This is beautiful. It looks good. It is rad. It’s not a kippah and it’s something to be visibly Jewish”
Because I didn’t want to wear my trans girlhood. I know many a trans girl who rock a kippah, but that’s not for me. And so, I was just primed and ready, so it’s probably only a couple of months and I was in my then partner’s house in San Francisco and giddily opened a… I was like, “Ah! I got the package! I got the package!” And we opened it in their room, and I just put it on and twirled around. It felt so beautiful.
Emma June: Wow. Have you been wearing them every day since?
Binya Kóatz: Basically, every day. There was one time when my luggage got lost or delayed on this terrible Air Canada flight, where I… and I think my other tzitzits were like… I keep two pairs, so both of them are from netitzot, and I just switch off a week each and then wash them by hand every week, and I think one… It was like the one I had was way too dirty to wear, and the other one was lost in Air Canada somewhere, so I think I may have gone a couple of days without it.
And there have been a couple of times where I couldn’t wear it because I was in some sort of closet for some reason, but almost every day for the past three and a half years or so, four years, I’ve had a tallis katan on my body.
Emma June: And what does it mean to you to wear one?
Binya Kóatz: Yeah. It’s a great question. Yeah, I started talking about it a little before. It’s like it’s very important to me to wear my Judaism openly, proudly, and queerly. I want to be seen and held in all that I am. And these tzitzit are a very beautiful visual and tactile way for me to connect to my yiddishkayt and my- and to Hashem. They look so stunning under, like coming out of a skirt or a dress, and that’s how I’ve worn them almost these whole four years of wearing them, three and a half years of wearing them. And so, just fashionably they look great, and it feels great to be doing such a fashionable mitzvah, and to be feeling so hot in something I’m obliged to do, and having that connection with my style, and sexiness, and Hashem, and love of G-d.
And you know, just from the actual mitzvah of it, like to remember myself as a child of G-d and with what’s obliged to me, I just know the ways that I can kind of… I’m a person who can dissociate a lot and just the tactile feeling of wrapping a tzitzits around my finger and bringing myself back into my body and back into my attention and feeling back into my obligation in whatever moment that is, and whatever thing is being called for me to do. Whether it’s like be present in my body, because Hashem is giving me a beautiful moment, and it’s like a shame to, a shonda to let that pass and to not be present with the world G-d has given me or an obligation to be doing a different act of tzedakah or of protest, or action, or praying with my feet or something like that, that my tzitzits can deeply bring me back into my body.
And then I think the last really beautiful thing that I love about them is just the way that they in themselves, not only do they look good on a gay body, but I think that they are a very queer and queer celebratory garment in themselves, because it is like the whole thing about them is that the holiest part of them is the fringe, and so you have this whole garment that its main point of existence is it’s fringey, and so I think that that’s saying the fringe is holy, the queer is holy, and so it feels really beautiful to have that on my body.
Emma June: I love that. Wow. Oh, I got tingles. What you were just saying… Okay, I had a lot of trains of thought, but one of them is that I was talking to a rabbi about tzitzit once and he described them as flirtatious.
Binya Kóatz: Ooh!
Emma June: Which I had never thought of before, and hadn’t really thought of much since, and fully came to mind when you were talking about feeling sexy in your tzitzits.
Binya Kóatz: Yeah.
Emma June: And it feels like an exciting way to imagine being Jewish.
Binya Kóatz: Yeah. It’s pretty cute, you know, if you’re with someone. There’s like a couple of moves that people can do, like push your hair behind your ear or something like that, or like softly put their hands on yours. Another one is like start twirling with your tzitzits, right? Like that’s definitely a cute way, and better yet if y’all are both wearing them, and you have… They get all tangled up with each other. But yeah. No, I’m definitely… I don’t know exactly how much permission I have to tell about, but they’ve definitely been flirtatious and or sexy throughout my life. I mean, I wear them when I rise and when I wake, right? Or when I go to sleep and when I wake. And so, they’ve definitely been in flirtatious scenes with me and in beds with me with other people in them and stuff like that, and they… It’s very nice to have four little extra strings with you to play with with a cutie.
Emma June: Well, and that really kind of gets at to me how both intimate and public wearing tzitzit is, and I was wondering if you could talk about times that you feel really proud to be wearing them, but also times that you maybe want to hide that you’re wearing your tzitzit.
Binya Kóatz: Yeah. That’s a good question. Yeah. Proud that I’m wearing them. Well, in the Bay, nobody really knows them, so it’s like only the people who… There’s no large Hasidic community, like nobody else is really wearing tzitzits. It’s very few people. I’m sure the percentage of… It’s probably the highest percentage queer tzitzits per capita or whatever that stat is in the world. I would guess, yeah.
So, like I don’t… Most people don’t recognize it. They just… The comments I rarely get are like, “Oh, that’s cute, those little fringes on your dress,” or whatever. They think it’s part of the garment. There’s been one guy who came up to me to… who had grown up around Orthodox Jewish community and came up to me to hit on me on the street, and it’s like, “Oh my G-d. I did not know you could be Orthodox and trans.” Or, “I did not know that those two went together,” or something. And he was very… And that was an interesting interaction. It didn’t end up going anywhere. He wasn’t my type.
But very rarely get seen and then just in queer Jewish community, it’s like appreciated, and loved, and whatever, which feels really beautiful. So, like walking into a… We have our niggun collective here, which is our monthly niggun circle, or “walking in,” back in the time when the world did that, when you would walk into a place, that was definitely like you check out who’s got the cute new undercut, the cute new piercing, and the fly ass pair of tzitzit coming out of their whatever gendered garment they have.
In New York, it’s a little different, both because… Part of the reason I’m in Cali is to be able to come out a lot more than I was in my home community back home. So, there’s like a general… My tzitzit are a really big part of my queerness, and the whole essence of me, of taking me in as trans girl, in a dress, with tzitzit coming out, that is a lot of points of information to be seen at once in a community that would know what all of those means and has connections with what types of body and people they see those little fringes coming out on. And so, there have been times where I’ve tucked them in, and luckily I’m half Ashki, half Sephardi, and there’s Sephardi custom to wear them in your body, close to… not showing, in order to have them closer to your body and because it’s more of a relationship and a reminder between you and Hashem, rather than the physical outward reminder of being able to look down and see your tzitzits, you know? You have in some Sephardi tradition and most Ashki.
And so, I have both, so like when I need to do one or the other, I do one or the other, but yeah, walking through Brooklyn I don’t always, or like in the subway, I don’t… Seeing a trans girl with some fringey stuff in a dress, if you don’t know what that means, is one way of getting publicly noticed. But like being noticed that you are, especially in moments when I felt less able to pass, like to be noticed as trans and to be noticed as wearing tzitzits, that’s just like a huge thing and a lot of attention that not always you want. But I was very happy one time, I was wearing them on the subway and on the subway, I think on the A train, and then this very hot dyke was checking me out and then turned out and then came to sit with… asked me, “Are those tzitzit?” And then came to sit with me and turned out that she had left the Satmar Chisidim and grew up Hasidic, and then left it to come out, and then we had a whole talk about that, which was pretty dreamy.
But yeah, so that’s… I definitely feel a difference in the Bay versus New York, where… with how I want to be seen, how I think I’m gonna be seen, and who’s gonna know enough to see me anyway, you know?
Emma June: It’s interesting, because I hear you say that, because I think if I were imagining before hearing you talk about it, I would have guessed like, “Oh, in New York, there are tons of queer people, tons of Jews, and tzitzit are really legible.” And I would have assumed that it was like something that felt freer there, and that’s really not what I’m hearing from you.
Binya Kóatz: Yeah. Legible. Freer versus legible is definitely a big question, right? You get this a lot in the… I have Southern trans friends, too, and in places where they’re… Outside of big cities, where there’s a lot less visible transness, if you just do enough to… There’s basically, there’s like… Where there are fewer women wearing pants and fewer men looking this, or blah, blah, blah, and there’s less of that gendered variance visible just walking around. If you go enough to pass over to one side, just by one step, they’re like, “Oh, you’re a woman or you’re a man.” And I know a lot of trans friends who are like… end up more easily passing in smaller communities, because people’s minds aren’t attuned to being like, “Is that a man in a dress? Or a feminine man?” Or something like that, because it’s really just like a more binarized system. So, if you take a step over to one side, and I’ve experienced that too in my times in small towns.
And so, that’s like people aren’t looking. You’re not as legible as trans, but you might feel a little freer, because you’re not being read all the time. And then that, to me, is a similar feeling in New York, where there’s so much more conscious Judaism, like at a time a quarter of that city was Jewish. It’s still the biggest Jewish city in the world, depending on where you mark the metro area, with it and Tel Aviv. And so, like when I want… The fewer people that I am seen by, I’m more met with love with by them in the Bay, versus I get a lot more weird stares the times and more fraught or frictionful interactions in New York, where it’s actually they know what’s going on, so there’s a little less of that freedom of invisibility that can come with people not knowing what the fringes are all the time.
Emma June: You mentioned a bit ago how you get to choose being Ashkenazi and Sephardic between those identities and how you wear your tzitzit, and you also talked some about going to neo-Chasidic services and really valuing yiddishkayt, and I’m curious how you interpret wearing your tzitzit at the intersection of your Jewish backgrounds. I don’t know if that question fully made sense.
Binya Kóatz: No, that makes a lot of sense. I really, I don’t actively think about it most of the time. Most of the time… There are things in my head marked Sephardi, things in my head marked Ashki, and things in my head just marked Jewish. And sometimes when I say the word yiddishkayt, I’m also talking about Judaism. I’m just saying it in an Ashki way. But like, yeah, tzitzit in my mind are more just in my like… Me and Hashem. Me and my Judaism space. They are it. But, okay, this is reminding… Yeah. It is definitely like learning the different ways of tying tzitzit, and tying them for my friends, or my lovers, depending on whether they are Ashkenazi or Sephardi, so I can connect them to their ancestral tradition, or if they’re a little chatsi chatsi like me.
You know, and I have a few. I have… One of my tallit katans have the tzitzit tied in the Sephardi way, or in the Moroccan way that I learned it, because that’s where my family’s from, and then half in the Ashkenazi way. So, I guess the different ways of tying tzitzit and how I learned them adds a different tongue, a different taste, depending on… at the intersection of the backgrounds I am. But most of the time, I’m like this isn’t really colored in that cultural way for me, and it’s more just like just me and Hashem and my queerness.
Emma June: Yeah. Well, we’ve been talking a lot about tzitzit, but I’m curious if you wear a tallis also.
Binya Kóatz: Yeah. I do, I put on tallis and tefillin every day except tefillin not on Yontif and Shabbos, and I daven Shacharit. I try to daven three times a day. I sometimes don’t always do that, but there are long stretches where I wear them every day.
Emma June: Do you feel as… I feel like when you’re talking about tzitzit and there’s a lot of excitement, and I’m curious how you relate to your tallis.
Binya Kóatz: Yeah. My tallis. Great Q. Yeah, so… It’s a big tallis gadol, and I love the feelings of the kind of wings of Shekhina being wrapped up in them when I’m davening. And then I love comparing that, or just having my Mincha and Maariv where I’m just davening, twirling my tallis katan tefillin, my tallis katan tzitzit, and just having kind of just what’s on my body for those two services, and then for Shacharit, donning this big thing and wrapping it around my whole body and feeling really held when I first wake up in the morning. And having these intention prayers and stuff like that in the hineini, and all these things.
And that’s like… That feels really beautiful. It’s my bat mitzvah tallis. It also, it was given to me by my Israeli family when I had my bat mitzvah at the Kotel. And at the Western Wall, and it’s really funny. So, my shem emet, my true name, and my government name that was on my birth certificate both have the same first initial, and in my… I still have my last name, Kóatz, and it’s really funny. On the tallis bag that my family gave me is like BC, instead of BK, and it’s because my Israeli family messed up and accidentally miswrote my last name on my bat mitzvah bag, and they… But they were all too embarrassed to say it, so the family story is that it means Binya Cohen, because I’m a Cohen also, and so…But that’s just totally not true. That’s just a spelling mistake on my bag, which I feel is really, really cute, and gay. Yeah.
Yeah, so I love my big tallis and the ways it holds me in the morning.
Emma June: Yeah. So, and with your family in Israel, how do you relate to wearing tzitzit or wearing your tallis around them? It seems like they’re involved, or they have been really involved in your Jewish practice.
Binya Kóatz: Yeah. Yeah, I have… That’s where all my… I have some Sephardi fam in Montreal, but the vast majority of them are in the Aretz now. Yeah. So, yeah, we have San Francisco, or the Bay Area, New York, and Israel as big loki [locations, locuses] of what it means to be visibly trans and Jewish. Yeah. With varying levels of Jewish legibility and queer illegibility, and so for me in Israel right now, it’s I’m actually still closeted to all my family there on multiple fronts. My transness. They know some of my religiosity, but not the extent, and almost all of them are very militantly secular, so it’s very funny to have my fam that’s in the Jewish state be very put off by Judaism, and the “Jewish state,” excuse me. And maybe it’s a tell, the fact that I said that, but they also don’t know about my anti-Zionism and diasporism, and so it’s like a lot of different closets that I’m in, all of which will be very hard neuro bridges to cross over when I do.
I was gonna be crossing over a few of them this Pesach, but then corona got in the way.
Emma June: Sure.
Binya Kóatz: And so, with them, yeah, it’s funny, because I’ve only… I’ve had one trip where I was actively wearing a tallis katan at the time and went to Israel, and never once showed my tzitzits the whole time I was there, and only a few days wore it underneath my clothes. Definitely called on my Sephardi custom there. And then had to be careful going to the beach. And that was like… It’s kind of like because to me, family is one of the most important things in life and in the world. I know that my family is gonna have a hard time with a lot of things that I am, and just at that time, which was like I think… I forget how many years ago. It was not the time to be coming out on all those fronts with them, and so I went into my little tzimtzum, my little drawing in for a week and a half or two weeks, so I could enjoy my cousin’s wedding and be with all my family and joy.
But definitely, and it was very beautiful the days. I’m now thinking about it, I probably did it still most days. Wore it underneath my clothes. And it was very beautiful in that moment to feel it on my body, and that was one of the moments I felt so… Felt that aspect of them that’s like, “This is just me and Hashem.” And I think it was Ha’Ari, like the kabbalist, who wore it all the time concealed and against his body. Because I wear mine against my body too. I don’t wear an undershirt underneath them, even though that’s a custom that a lot of people have. I wear this just against my body, and so yeah, just like the feeling of being in so many closets at that time, but knowing that Hashem saw me, and feeling her physically also in concealment with me, with the tzitzits, and knowing that she’s in… It was like I know, Shekhina is in every closet with every queer person. She is like so deeply there, just like she cries in every wound and is with every broken heart, she’s in every closet.
And I think that feeling the tzitzits on my body was like a real physical reminder of that, that my family sees me in one aspect of my beauty in this moment and I’m glad they do. There’s a whole lot that they don’t, and I’m glad, and it felt… It was so necessary and deep, like deeply, like a well of water in the desert to feel Hashem against my body in that way. In that hiding.
Emma June: Are you the only person in your family who wears them?
Binya Kóatz: I have one cousin, like cousin in the extended big family way, who is like… who my grandpa supports in his studies in Jerusalem, so he’s… And he’s in Kollel and just like living that Haredi Sephardi life and so he’s I think the only other one.
Emma June: It’s just… I just feel struck over and over how… I don’t know the right… Simply powerful this kind of piece of cloth with some string is.
Binya Kóatz: Right?
Emma June: Yeah.
Binya Kóatz: Yeah. It’s some old magic. And it’s like one of the core things we’re supposed to do, like that we have this whole five books with the whole Tanakh and all the commentary, and they’re like, “Okay, there’s one paragraph you have to read each day.” And like, you know, that whole thing is like one of the core things you gotta remember is tie this string to your shirt. I’m like, “Listen, Israel, G-d is one, G-d is yours.” Make sure to tie these strings to your shirt. That’s some old ass witchy deep ancient G-d shit. Yeah.
Emma June: Do you feel like there are any ways that you’ve made the practice of wearing tzitzit, or the tzitzit you have, or the tallis you have, particularly your own or particularly trans?
Binya Kóatz: Yeah. Okay. A couple of things. This is… Okay, and this is a PG-13 to R-rated podcast, right?
Emma June: That’s okay. It is now.
Binya Kóatz: Okay. Okay, so I’m gonna start with the PG-13, which is yeah, so I get my tallisim katani. I’ve never said it in plural in Ashkenazi, but my… I get them from Netzitzot, which I highly recommend to all.
Emma June: Can you say what that is?
Binya Kóatz: Yeah. It’s a women’s-owned tallis katan venue out of as far as I know, an apartment on the Upper West Side, that you, for 25 bucks, they give you either a black or a white tallis katan tied by a woman and it’s these converted H&M tank tops, so they cut them to have these slits, and then attach the tzitzits to the four corners, and so they’re very cute and very good. And that’s where I’ve gotten mine the whole time I’ve worn them, and I’ve gone through a few pairs.
Yeah, and they’re hot, so the thing is that with this slit, right? I think it’s the Halakha is that at least two thirds, it has to be at least two thirds up the seam. This is like, I’m just looking at it now, like about 80% of the seam, 90% of the seam, and then there’s a little piece of cloth, and then it’s a tank top, and so when that’s tucked into a skirt, it has these… It basically leaves these two flirty side tummy peeks, you know, that… Because there are like these big holes in the side, and when it’s tucked in, it just leaves these hot little pieces of your tummy showing, and then it’s a tank top, and then you have tzitzit coming out of your skirt, and so like I’ve done many a queer party. We have this thing called Mango here, which back in the pre-apocalypse days was a monthly outdoor lesbian, queer and trans dance party in San Francisco. During the day on Shabbos, which I would like… That was definitely the way that I most bend my shomer shabbos is when biking to the train to go to Mango.
And it’s like just during the day, and it’s amazing, it’s outdoors. It’s gorgeous. Just like full… Everybody’s like… Almost everybody is queer and or trans woman, and there’s just one or two gay men, and that’s it. And it’s such a good scene, and it’s outdoor parties, and there’s like a free… There’s this old, old, old dyke who cooks free hamburgers for everybody. It’s fucking incredible and I’ve gone to many of those just with a cute bra, and my tallis katan, and then a skirt, and then cute shoes, and that’s my whole outfit. And because it’s like a tank top with fringes at the end, it’s just like wearing a tank top, and it has these hot little slits in the side.
And so, that’s definitely been a way that… Yeah, that combination of transness, queerness, sexiness, and mitzvah is like all comes to one, because really mitzvot, very sexy. And G-d is very sexy, and like you know, serving her, serving this giant gay queen in the sky feels like a very sexy endeavor, and so definitely have felt that, and that’s one way I have felt it. And worn it in many Pride parades, and dyke marches, and trans marches and stuff like that. And sometimes I have to take off the top of the… This isn’t Kosher, I think, but I think I have to take off the top of the… I don’t have it around my shoulders. I kind of like have it just kind of tucked into whatever waistband I have, so that the tzitzit are still hanging out, but I don’t have it around my shoulder, because I want like a crop top and I just want to just be wearing that or something like that. So, I’ve definitely fucked around with them.
And then the more R-rated good stuff is that… Yeah, like I said, strings in a bed are very good, and you know, people do a lot with BDSM and bondage stuff that involve different ropes being used in different ways to restrain or cut off, or hold back, or anything, or like feel all these different things, and… Wow, I feel so naughty saying this out loud. I am so heavily blushing. Yeah, or to smack or whatever. One quick comedic aside is that there are stories in the Talmud of rabbis who were about to sin or were doing a sin and then their tzitzit come up and smack them in the face, take on the little poltergeist and smack him in the face, so using tzitzit to smack things definitely has a long rabbinic tradition. Yeah, and so like feeling that on my body, and now I’m just thinking about this now too, like trans… Being trans and naked is a very vulnerable thing oftentimes, because often we use our clothing to express our gender a lot. And so, when we’re just in our skin, or I’ll just also speak from the I, when I’m just in my skin, I need to be with people I really trust to see me and to hold me in my girlhood. And having a tallit katan on my body at that moment, or maybe it’s like the only thing on my body at that moment, and having it have all these strings, and ropes, and useful things, and to just not only have that as a marker of my Judaism and my gender on my body when I’m… have taken off all my other clothes is such a beautiful thing and makes me really feel like when I’m having sex or in some sort of naked play kind of space that I have Hashem there with me and that she’s in the joy with me and whoever else I’m with, as well.
And so, yeah. That’s a lot of the ways that tzitzit has played into my life.
Emma June: Great answers.
Binya Kóatz: Thank you.
Emma June: We come so many strings attached.
Binya Kóatz: Yeah. I’ve got at least four.
Emma June: I’m curious if there are any things that are kind of like lingering in your mind, or like stories left unshared, or something I didn’t quite get at that you feel like is still connected, and that you’d want to talk a little bit about?
Binya Kóatz: Let me think on it one second. Yeah. It’s amazing the feeling of… I don’t know if you, like I have this ring that I really haven’t taken off in like five years or so, and a lot of people, you have these pieces of clothing or jewelry oftentimes people can have that doesn’t come off, or like everybody knows like a wedding ring, right? Where when it’s off you, you’re like, “Oh my G-d, I feel naked.” Or like I haven’t felt it off me in so long. And that’s how I feel now, like getting with my tallit katan, and it’s so beautiful the ways that it’s become an intrinsic part of my dress and my body in a lot of ways, and like my torso has forgotten what it feels like to not have this on it.
Yeah, and for a lot of time it was just on it, and then in a really beautiful moment on transition, like when I started to wear bras, like then I had both of these things on my torso that were making me feel so holy, like a holy good Jewish girl that I am. And like everything, it goes, like you end up something is ecstatic, and then it becomes routine, and so… But I love that, and I think that’s the same in so much of Judaism, with daily prayer, with the calendar, with Jewish time, with Jewish this, and that, and blah, blah, blah, like we slowly build up these stunning routines until we have all these ways that all these ancestral lived practices… Because you know, there’s a purely conceptual and theoretical way to approach divinity and to approach G-d, like G-d, you can just meditate on the oneness, and just remember that all is one, and it really doesn’t matter what’s on your body, this thing or that thing, because all is one. Even a random thing, like a random shirt or whatever, that’s all part of G-d, because G-d is all oneness.
And you can be in that purely esoteric or mental space with connecting with the divinity and with your creator. But what Jewish practice does is it builds all these routines, and rituals, and habits that are there to hold you, knowing that you can’t always be actively thinking about G-d, because you’re human, so though that’s the goal, or that could be the goal, you also have to eat, and work, and do your shit, and then you drop a thing and you’re like, “Ah,” you move on. You can go days, weeks, whatever, without checking in with Hashem if that was… if your only way to check in was through taking the time to sit and think.
But like these rituals and ways of making the divine oneness tactile, and taking her from infinite to finite, but in a way that hints at the infinity again is like all these genius ways that Judaism has passed on that tradition. Like every single place on Earth is holy, but like every time we move in and out of a door, we kiss a thing to remember, and that doesn’t remind us that door posts are specifically holy. It’s just like in those moments of transition, we reconnect with the holiness of everything, and like every moment in every day is holy, but morning, afternoon, night, we reconnect with the holiness of everything. And before and after a meal we reconnect with the holiness of everything, and these specific points of ancestral gratitude practice, and connective practice, and holiness practice, and like having this, and having it be tactile, and clothing, and on my body, and part of my outfit, and just on my day, and casually my fingers, like being twirled around them or in the best moments, somebody else flirtatiously twirling theirs around them, that is such a genius and tzitzit are just such a genius part of that whole enterprise of taking the infinite divine, giving us finite connections to her, so that we don’t lose it in a sea of undifferentiatedness.
But making sure those finite connections connect us back to the infinity, and so tzitzit and all the magic around them, and the tactile magic around them is definitely a big part of that.
Emma June: Damn. I love that. That really made me… Okay, when I… I’ve only been a mikveh once. I went to this gender inclusive mikveh in the Boston area called Mayyim Hayyim.
Binya Kóatz: Oh! That was my first mikveh. [crosstalk] Hashem! Yeah, I went to Brown-
Emma June: Oh my gosh.
Binya Kóatz: And the queer Jews of Brown all went for a queer mikveh there one year that I was there.
Emma June: I went after I graduated college and-
Binya Kóatz: … Hashem.
Emma June: I have a bunch of piercings, and I got really scared because I was like, “I might have to take everything out. I’ve never taken these out before. I’m gonna have to go back to a piercer to get them put back in.”
Binya Kóatz: I feel that.
Emma June: Properly. I was like really stressed about it and ended up talking with somebody who works there about it and she was like, “Actually, if you’ve had the jewelry in for…” I think it was like three months, that is halachically considered part of your body.
Binya Kóatz: Ahhh!
Emma June: If you have had that on or in you for like three months, it is part of you.
Binya Kóatz: Wow.
Emma June: Halachically, and therefore take out any earrings that you don’t… that are interchangeable, but don’t feel worried about your nose ring, or your cartilage piercing, or something. That’s fine.
Binya Kóatz: Holy shit.
Emma June: And so, I just was really thinking about that when you were saying all of the pieces of jewelry and clothing that come to feel like part of you, that like there’s almost… There is like a part of our tradition, and I really wish I knew where it is, but I don’t, but that really honors that. That’s really like, “Yeah, it is part of you.”
Binya Kóatz: Wow. That’s so good. Holy shit. Can we riff on that for a second? Okay, that… Wow. Okay. I’m just thinking holy shit. Okay. Yeah. So, I think about, what that’s making me think about is like the ways that trans people, a lot of trans Jews understand our experience has a really explicit way of being a partner in the creation of ourselves with Hashem, and part of our power as btselem Elohim is that we have a part of her creative power, and she didn’t leave… She didn’t finish the work of the world on the sixth day, and she didn’t finish the work of our bodies and our souls when we exited the womb, you know?
And so, like we become partners of her in her creation in that large scale global sense as we work for tikkun olam, and within ourselves, and trans people know that really intimately as the ways that we grow in our bodies with Hashem. And to include our jewelry, our tallit katans, the ways, and especially because so much of that is so gay. It’s so much of our early gay experiences or way of showing our gayness. It’s like through piercings until enough straight people start doing them and then we have to find different ways to pierce ourselves, and it’s a constant thing and how we undercut our hairs or whatever. We just have to a step gayer than the straights.
Yeah, so that’s so beautiful to include that as a part of it, and yeah, I’m just like that’s such a holy recognition. I know the couple of times that I’ve been arrested at different actions, like the cops have made me take out all those things, so it seems like a really beautiful… I wish I had that on my tongue when I was like, “Actually, halachically this is part of my body. You can’t take out this nose ring…” And for me, I actually have done a couple queer… been blessed. I did, or I’ve done a couple mikvaot, and I, at my last one, I did take out my nose ring that’s there forever, and I didn’t know about this halacha beforehand, and it felt very strange, but I love the wisdom for both the taking out and the not taking out. And definitely feel your worry in like, “Oh shit, am I gonna be able to get this back in?”
But thank you for bringing that in. That was so cool.
Emma June: Yeah. I hadn’t thought of it in a long time, actually, so it’s always exciting to make connections. I feel like Judaism is a place that that happens for me a lot.
Binya Kóatz: Amen, amen, amen. Yeah.
Emma June: Well, would you want to wrap up and blow the shofar?
Binya Kóatz: Hey. Okay. You’re only allowed to include the ones that I do well on, okay?
Emma June: Okay.
Binya Kóatz: Okay, so do you want to call out some things?
Emma June: What do you call out? T’kiah?
Binya Kóatz: Yeah, the standard is t’kiah and then for I think… I actually don’t have it fully clear, but the things I’ve seen is that Chabad does it t’kiah, truah, shevarim, and then the Sephardi thing I’ve seen is t’kiah, shevarim, truah. so the shevarim of three and the truah the nine.
Emma June: Okay, wait. The order is tekiah-shevarim?
Binya Kóatz: Truah. And then you can do t’kiah gadola. But yeah.
Emma June: Okay.
Binya Kóatz: Oh, my G-d. And wait, before you go, you have to say a shechechiyanu, because this is your first time, no?
Emma June: That is true.
Binya Kóatz: Oh, Baruch Hashem. Thank you for giving me this fucking opportunity to do your shechechiyanu with time hearing the shofar this Elul.
Emma June: Right back at you. Seriously. Okay, Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh.
Binya Kóatz: Amen. Okay.
Emma June: Okay. Tekiah. Shevarim. Truah. T’kiah Gadola. That’s amazing.
Binya Kóatz: I’m sure. I’m sure my iPhone headphones captured that in all its perfect glory.
Emma June: You’ll listen back and go, “Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like.”
Binya Kóatz: That’s exactly, I got this special Elul edition of the headphones, so it’s specifically tuned to capture all your t’kiah gadola.
Emma June: Made for shofar blasts.
Binya Kóatz: Amen Amen. Baruch Hashem Baruch Hashem. May we all crack open in front of the one who heals.
Emma June: Well, with that adrenaline rush, any final thoughts?
Binya Kóatz: Yeah. I just love the idea of every podcast ending with a t’kiah gadola. That’s a good way. Yeah. Yeah, no, I want to… If I can have permission to just soap box for like five seconds, I am a big sheliach emissary, advocate, stan, fan of every queer wearing their tzitzits, and I think it’s such a stunning embodied way, and especially with the combination of being able to wear it inside and outside, like tucked in or not tucked in as needed, I think it’s a really beautiful way to hold Hashem in your closeted spaces, hold Hashem in your really statically seen places, and like have her with you as you’re edging from one of those into the other, or like moving in a place that’s not the easiest place to be seen in your fullness, but you have Hashem with you and that’s like… and you always do, but this is like her reminder to you.
And so, deeply want to dream and imagine and crave a queer shtetl that we all build diasporically that tzitzits become a sign of our queerness, and known, and reclaimed in their holy fringeness, and you, and if you are somebody, and I know if you’re listening to this podcast you are, on that holy fringe, this was really specifically meant for you, and it’s like gay, and awesome, and transgressive, and whatever in this patriarchal world and blah, blah, blah, but like really more deeply beyond transgressive and fun parts of that is a return to where these tzitzit belong, which is like on your gay body, which is what they symbolize and what they are meant to make holy. So, hit me up if you need any fem fashion tips on wearing tzitzit with crop tops, wearing tzitzit with short skirts, anything like that. More than happy to help anybody out with that.
But yeah, so big advocate, love it, and want to see it more and more in the world.
Emma June: Well, thank you so much for talking to me.
Binya Kóatz: Thank you so much. This was such a glorious little thing. I just love that I’m like I was just around here doing this thing, and then somewhere all the way across the country somebody was like, “I’m doing a podcast about that thing.” I was like, “Cool.” So amazing.
Emma June: Yeah.
Binya Kóatz: Well, thank you, and thank you so much for putting the time and effort to taking all this and making it art, and such deep blessings to you and gratitude to you.
Emma June: Thank you. It’s really been so fulfilling, so yeah, and I get to meet and talk to people like you, so that’s a true joy.
Binya Kóatz: Aw, shucks. Thanks. I’m shyly coyly twirling my tzitzit. Beautiful.
Emma June: Incredible. I’m gonna press stop recording.
Binya Kóatz: Okay.
Emma June: But we’ll still be… Unless…
Binya Kóatz: May you be written in the Book of Life. Amen.
Emma June: Amen.
Emma June: Thanks for listening to Fringes, my passion project supported by ADVAH Designs. For more definitions, as well as a transcription of this episode, please check out the show notes on our website, ADVAHDesigns.com/FringesEpisode6. That’s A-D-V-A-H-D-E-S-I-G-N-S dot C-O-M/F-R-I-N-G-E-S-E-P-I-S-O-D-E-6.
As always, the interviews I do and the stories I get to share through this podcast cannot possibly capture the breadth of experiences in the world. I’m inevitably leaving people out. That said, this project is growing. If your story feels left out and you want to share it, please reach out to me at email@example.com. That’s E-M-M-A at A-D-V-A-H-D-E-S-I-G-N-S.com. This podcast is coming out on a biweekly basis. A big shkoyach, Sarah Resnick, and to Home Despot, talented creator of our music. And thank you for listening. See you in two weeks wherever podcasts can be found.