For those unfamiliar with the idea, many Jews place an orange on their seder plate during the Pesach meal.
In the early 1980s, while speaking at Oberlin College Hillel, Susannah Heschel was introduced to an early feminist Haggadah that suggested adding a crust of bread on the seder plate, as a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians (there's as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate). Heschel felt that to put bread on the seder plate would be to accept that Jewish lesbians and gay men violate Judaism like chametz violates Passover. So, at her next seder, she chose an orange as a symbol of inclusion of gays and lesbians and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community. She offered the orange as a symbol of the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life. In addition, each orange segment had a few seeds that had to be spit out--a gesture of spitting out, repudiating the homophobia of Judaism.It's actually an interesting story--this was the original idea behind the orange on the seder plate, though the retelling of the lecture changed over time like an enormous game of telephone and by now, if you ask a Jew why they place an orange on the seder table, they will most likely answer in solidarity of women. Heschel herself is upset by this fact and says that the retelling and changing erases the point and underlines the problem--that we are so uncomfortable discussing homosexuality (and I'm going to add here for the sake of this discussion, transgenderism) that we just circumvent symbols and change them into something more accessible. Everyone can talk comfortably about female empowerment. Not everyone can talk comfortably about homophobia.
Talking about Thomas Beatie means making a lot of assumptions. Who can say what type of parent a person will be without knowing them? Who can say how children will turn out until they've turned out? We can only comment on what we see and right now, I'm seeing a couple who want a child and used assisted conception to achieve that. Not so different from my own path.
On my own seder plate this year, I'm placing an apple--the original fruit that gave birth to all questions--representing reproductive rights for all people because truthfully, just as the changed story of Heschel's speech has a man shouting about women belonging on the bimah as much as an orange belongs on the seder plate, empty symbolic gestures do not have a space at my table. It is apples and oranges; I am taking back the fruit. If I believe in reproductive rights for myself--and believe me, I want my reproductive rights well-covered--I need to believe in reproductive rights for all who act out of love or my shouting for myself becomes merely symbolic, self-serving, meaningless.
Mother Jones, in August 2006, ran a survey of fertility clinic directors. Only 59% believed everyone has a right to a child. 48% said they would likely turn away a gay couple seeking a surrogate. 20% would turn away a single woman. 17% would turn away a lesbian couple. If you want reproductive rights for yourself--and I'm fairly certain that no fertility clinic director would wish to be told that they cannot or must have a child--we should be concerned about others. Because I'm not just talking about those experiencing infertility who need to utilize assisted conception when I speak about reproductive rights--every single person on this earth should be in control of whether or not they reproduce or parent. Put an apple on the seder plate for that.
I've been reading the blogger's response to Thomas Beatie's story both in the infertility world and the greater blogosphere. Julia from I Won't Fear Love wrote to the producers at Verdict with Dan Abrams.
I was extremely disappointed with yesterday's segment on the pregnant man. The host declared that he didn't know where to begin with this story. How about "a man and a woman marry and want to start a family. Unfortunately, due to prior medical condition, the woman had a hysterectomy some years ago. Luckily, the man happened to have the necessary biological machinery to conceive and carry their child."?Or Kymberli at I'm a Smart One's post who cheers on anyone who wishes to mindfully add to their family: "More power to you and your wife. Who am I to criticize how someone chooses to live their lives and build their families? I love it, and I'm glad they had the balls to step up and go public with it. Thomas said, 'Love builds a family.' You're damned right."
Mombian said it best at the end of her coverage of this story: "As I see it? Loving parents are normal. Everything else is variable."
Perhaps, if that was what 59% of the fertility directors were looking for, I wouldn't be so disturbed by the figure. If we were actually looking at love, there would be no discussion concerning Thomas Beatie and his wife. If we wanted everyone else to have what we want for ourselves, we wouldn't need to place so many damn apples on the table this spring.
No one else may understand it this year, but on April 19th, set an apple on your table.