Creative Nonfiction by Queer Writers
Edited by Jim Tushinski and Jim Van Buskirk
Now available from Harrington Park Press



by Perry Brass

     From the time I was about seven to the time I was eleven, I had two secret wishes that were very much based on the facts of my growing up Jewish in the Deep South in the 1950s. Being a child who was fairly sissified and from a working class family left me without any handle I could find to hold a place for myself in the world. My only space then was an inner one of longings and fantasies, and the splendor of whatever I could create to try to make some kind of place for myself. I needed to invent this place, and even re-invent myself to be in it. Like a lot of other queer boys, I was dreamy and withdrawn. And I had these two adults around me called parents, who themselves not being a complete part of the Southern landscape around them, could be alternately understanding or violently disapproving.
     First, it would be good to give you some kind of background: at the time that I was growing up, Southern Jews still lived in fairly closed communities that seemed like ghettos within a white, basically Anglo-Saxon, culture. The ghettos were based on generations of real anti-Semitism and genuine fears of it, mutual feelings of distrust between Jews and the Christian world, and also a need to preserve the community, even though as "Southerners," most Jews frowned on "flaunting" their Jewishness. It was considered a private, personal thing that for the most part you did in your own home and with your family, friends, or "tribe."

     Savannah, Georgia, had had Jewish residents since colonial times, but within the community there was a pronounced hierarchy reflecting Southern society itself. Jews who'd been down South longer and were more "Southern" in their speech and manners, who could "pass" easier through the social and professional gates of society, occupied the top rungs of social standing, money, and status. Jews who had come down South between the World Wars, who were seen as being pushy, immigrant, and too "obviously" Jewish, occupied lower ones. My mother's immediate family were recent immigrants from Poland and very "Jewish," despite some success among her cousins in the dry goods business. My father's family were shopkeepers from Lithuania, considered the "aristocracy" of Eastern Jewry; therefore they felt themselves to be above my mother's Polish roots. But in truth, although well read and with the Southern courtly manners he had picked up as a child, Daddy, who had served well in the infantry in World War II, was still only trained as a meat cutter and always remained stiffly outside the polished status of Southern Jewish professional men.