[Originally posted on October 29, 2014]
“In the mikveh, all of me is pure, acceptable, even perfect,” she said, clasping a plush white towel around her chest, drenched and smiling, having immersed just moments before.
As her guide, I nod, feeling the powerful sense of camaraderie that comes from shared experience. I know what she means. I’ve been there.
Every month for the past year and a half, I’ve gone to the mikveh as a part of my personal niddah practice. I’d undressed, washed and scrubbed, and immersed, welcoming the sense that the waters of the mikveh confirm the truth of my wholeness and beauty before God.
But unlike the woman I was guiding, stepping out of the mikveh is not a moment of smiling for me. I may have just been washed over with the sense that I was made in the image of God, emerging from the water of the mikveh like a newborn, and yet, looking up at my own guide, face hidden by my own white towel, that truth starts to ebb away with each step out of the pool.
For me, though the mikveh might affirm my goodness and purity, my ability to enter it is based on acting in ways that deny that belief.
I’ve been keeping niddah for a year and a half. I’ve been keeping niddah as a queer woman in a relationship with someone who is genderqueer and doesn’t have a mikveh to affirm their wholeness/holiness. When my mikveh lady, who I’ve gotten to know quite a bit over these months, asks me about my husband and innocently and excitedly want to know details about a Jewish wedding I never had, I stammer. I’m afraid. I feel guilty. To be honest, I hate myself in that moment. For being who I am. For wanting a place. For believing my tradition could speak to me and to my relationship. For stumbling through my efforts to do God’s will with little guidance I can trust.
But, if there is one thing I have learned as a mikveh guide, it is that it is actually the mikveh that is our guide. That might sound the worst kind of corny you’ve ever heard, but it’s helped me a lot. The mikveh tells the truth that we need. It tells me that I deserve its healing waters, and that nothing about me could change that.
“Exactly,” I say, smiling back to the woman I just led through her own practice. And, for her and for me, I believe it with my whole heart.