As a Jew without a synagogue, Chicago Dyke March is my shul. Like many young Jews today, I have had difficulty finding a Jewish spiritual space that matches my Jewish values, commitment to social justice and complex list of identities. I am a genderqueer trans woman, a femme dyke, a vocal lesbian, a proud, practicing Reconstructionist-adjacent, working class Ashkenazi Jewish person and an ardent supporter of Palestinian human rights. Yet one of those identities or another always seems to create a barrier, and I haven’t yet found a Jewish religious space that can fully embrace all of them.
Pride Month in Chicago presents a similar problem. Most Pride events in Chicago feature white, cisgender gay men, corporate swag chucked haphazardly from floats and nonprofit organizations like the Anti-Defamation League desperately trying to cover up their racist and anti-gay past by marching in the Pride Parade. I do not see myself, my values, or my communities in these events. Pride began as a riot. It was the genesis of a defiant act of self-defense by black and brown trans women against police brutality. Pride’s current iteration couldn’t be further from that origin. Chicago Pride might be exactly what some folks need, but it’s not for me.
I finally found my community last year at the Chicago Dyke March. Dyke March is a different story altogether from Chicago Pride. The Chicago Dyke March, in the words of the organizing collective, is “an anti-racist, anti-violent, volunteer-led, grassroots effort with a goal to bridge together communities across race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, size, gender identity, gender expression, sexuality, culture, immigrant status, spirituality, and ability.” It is a joyful, liberatory, unapologetic celebration of radical queerness and transness with a longstanding policy of “come as you are,” that ensures Dyke March is welcoming to all, as long as we honor the reasons for the space existing.
For many people like myself, Dyke March is the only event during Chicago’s Pride month that truly provides us the opportunity to celebrate our resistance and existence in an affirming community. I can walk in the march, gather afterward for a rally and not be afraid that the trans symbol or the Magen David tattooed on my arm will get me harassed or assaulted. Never before have I felt so completely welcomed, seen and loved by a queer-focused event. There is no other space in the often difficult-to-navigate queer scene of Chicago that makes me feel more whole.
Dyke March is an indispensable part of queer and trans Chicago. It is explicitly a space for queer and trans people who have been driven out of other spaces by oppressive ideologies. It has historically belonged to those of us for whom there is nowhere else to go. That’s part of the beauty of Dyke March; it is an explicit rejection of all the things that Chicago Pride has become over the years, and it courageously carves out space in a city that becomes more hostile to the existence of marginalized folk every day. It is an explicit celebration of a particular vision of liberation and justice work. Dyke March has never been anything besides that.
The concept of a shul, or synagogue, in Judaism, means different things for different people. For many Jews, it is a literal physical, consecrated space for the study of Torah and the practice of Jewish ritual. For others, it is more ephemeral; it takes the form of wherever the spiritual community congregates, be it a living room or a church basement.
I believe that there is value in the original term used to describe Jewish religious spaces: kehillot kodesh, or holy assemblies. Dyke March represents an unfettered quest for justice, and the building of community in diaspora. It is upheld by a deeply cherished shared culture, and ritually gathers around food, music, art, and joy. In these ways, Chicago Dyke March is certainly a holy assembly which celebrates the best parts of Judaism. For myself and many other queer and trans Jews in Chicago, this is where we can worship all the intersections of our community and our Jewish values. Dyke March may not be spiritual in the traditional sense, but I don’t mind finding my shul in the streets. If you want to join me, services are held every pentultimate Saturday in June.