Eleanor Margolis: sapphic cynic at large

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Hypochondria, baked goods and matchmaking: the uncanny similarities between lesbians and Jews

Semites and Sapphics have more in common than you might think, says Eleanor Margolis.

The lesbian scene is a lot like this scene from the 1971 film of "Fiddler on the Roof".

 

“I’ve checked out her LinkedIn profile, it’s really impressive.”

“She went to Oxford!”

“Stop rolling your eyes, Ellie, this is your future wife we’re talking about.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the above came from the mouths of my Jewish parents. On the contrary, my mum and dad aren’t too bothered about whether or not I choose to date Oxbridge alumni with glowing professional networking credentials. They’re just happy when I’m not making up for my lack of girlfriend by watching endless cat videos on YouTube.

This zealous proposal for a romantic fix-up actually came from a couple of lesbian friends of mine. They’re determined apparently, to see me wed to a nice gay girl with a top-notch education.

My mates kvetch about my singleness like the most domineering of Jewish mothers. When another dateless week goes by, they get all “oy vey” on my tuchus . But the uncanny similarities between Semites and Sapphics only start with this shared Fiddler On The Roof -esque, enthusiasm for matchmaking. I’ve recently noticed a number of parallels between the two groups so striking that I’m beginning to wonder if lesbians are the thirteenth tribe of Israel.

You don’t have to be a devoted Woody Allen fan to be aware of the “Jew as hypochondriac” stereotype. Not only is it one of the core themes of Jewish humour, it’s true. I grew up in a household with a medicine cabinet that looked like a branch of Boots. Lesbians are identically health-obsessed. I’ve learned the hard way never to ask a fellow-gay girl about her physical wellbeing. Aside from shagging other women and feasting on organic legumes, we love absolutely nothing more than discussing our ailments. In great, often gory, detail. If a lesbian has a yeast infection or diarrhoea, she will tell you. In fact, the frankest discussions I’ve ever had about my bowel movements have been with my lesbian friends (and my mother. Natch).

While rectums, vaginas and so forth may be key features of typical lesbian conversation, the weight-watching side of health-freakery rarely crops up in Sapphic circles. If it does, it’s usually met with a collective, contemptuous groan. In lesbian vernacular, dieting falls somewhere close to birth control and testicles in the “what the fuck?” section. Just like Jews, gay girls love their nosh. I have yet to meet a lesbian who couldn’t hold her own at a medieval banquet (as long as there were a couple of vegan options).

But we also (Jewishly) love to feed each other. At lesbian gatherings, a homemade cake is de rigueur. It may have something to do with our love of Sue Perkins’s pastry puns in The Great British Bake Off , but the DIY attitude towards baked goods has become a noticeable feature of the lesbian scene. The Dalston Superstore is one example of a major London dyke hub that beautifully combines two lesbian passions: drunken dancing (another Jewish favourite) and brunch. By day, the Superstore is a mild-mannered provider of very decent coffee and cake; by night it’s a rowdy, lezzy dance pit.

So, aside from our shared hypochondria and foodiness, what else suggests that the Book of Lesbians might be missing from the Old Testament? Well, a hobby practiced by many a Jew is discussing, often to the point of argument, “who’s Jewish”. Similarly, we lesbians are keen to identify others like us. “Is she/isn’t she gay” discussions are a regular fixture at lesbian dinner tables and they often get heated. What Jews and lesbians have in common here is a desire to claim people as our own. If there’s someone we want on our team and there’s even the slightest hint that they might be Jewish/lesbian, we will fervently, and often speciously, argue that they are so. For example, there’s a longstanding lesbian obsession with the sexuality of boyish Canadian actress Ellen Page. And when rumours about her having dated Drew Barrymore surfaced a few years ago, we said a collective and triumphant, “Told you so”.  

Another thing. In the same way that the more religious of Jewish parents don’t want their children to marry outside the religion, lesbians are often suspicious, dating-wise, of bisexuals. There’s a fair bit of prejudice towards women who aren’t fully-fledged lesbians. Rest assured, bi buddies, I don’t remotely condone this. But to some lesbians, it seems, bi girls are a no-go. What’s more, I’ve seen a certain amount of stigma attached to gay women who, like me, slept with men pre-coming out. A gay girl who has never had sex with a man is known on the scene as a “gold star lesbian”. Read: “kosher lesbian”.

As that lost book of the Old Testament, so lost in fact that it doesn’t even appear in the official Apocrypha, has it, (Lesbians IX: XVI): “And the Lady said, know only that she that lie with woman hath the most uncanny – actually kinda weird – similarities to they that are the sons and daughters of Abraham.”