Jacob had a favorite son. Of his many sons. Twelve in all. You know one of them had to be genderqueer. And it turned out to be his most beloved son Joseph, the child of his old age and the child of his deceased and most precious of wives, Rachel.
Joseph, unlike his brothers, wore a special coat. A dress really. Colorful and vibrant as Joseph himself.
Now garments are rarely mentioned in our sacred text. Especially in the Torah. We learn of Adam and Chava covering their nakedness and of Jacob dressing up to feel and smell like Esau. We learn of the Priestly garments too but there is not much more. Dress and fashion are far from a dominant theme in the Torah. Except in this story. Here a boy, one of many sons, is given something very special. A garment that reflected the beauty on the outside that his father saw emanating from his insides. He knew Joseph was different and that was just fine.
The role of a parent in the world is not just to care for a child but to nurture their uniqueness. The spark of Divinity within. Maybe nine out of every ten kids like to dress like their peers. But there is going to be the one out of ten who wants to, needs to live their life differently. We have norms for dress and social engagement in societies because many people function along the same lines. But not everyone. Not everyone fits the norm. This is true now and it was true way back then. The story of Jacob and Joseph and the “coat” of many colors is a story of parental love, acceptance, and nurturing of a child who was not like the others.
How do we know this? Because the coat was never a coat. It was always a dress. And not just any dress or tunic. This was an elaborately embroidered dress for a princess. The only other place in our sacred text where the term ketonet passim, the Hebrew term used to describe the garment, is in 2 Samuel 13:18 where we learn of Tamar, King David’s daughter, being raped by her half-brother. An aside in the text describes what she was wearing when she was raped: a ketonent passim which is understood to be a dress worn by princesses. A garment of beauty. A garment for royalty. A garment that denotes difference.
Was Joseph bullied and assaulted and sold into his slavery by his brothers because he was gender non-conforming? Perhaps it was not Joseph's intuitive nature that set him apart from his brothers so much as his difference in his gender expression. To this day humans who express differences in their gender or sexuality are bothered and harassed. Oppressed. I am thinking about Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. Tied to a post. Killed. There is and was a special male rage targeted at those who do not conform to societal structures of masculinity. I am thinking of trans women who are murdered near daily. And I am thinking of bills in state senates to outlaw gender diversity support for children thus taking the power out of the hands of loving parents and putting it into the hands of a punishing state.
What happens when a boy wears a dress? When he goes out wearing a princess dress? To this day he is at risk. To this day there is a murderous rage that comes forth from those who are profoundly threatened by the truth of the gender continuum. But Jacob, at least in his old age, was able to see things in a unique way. And he is a role model to us all. Not a role model in terms of showing favor for one child over another but in being able to honor each child as unique.
At the end of his life, Jacob gives each son a blessing. Each son is noted and reflected upon. In his old age, Jacob shows us wisdom that it has taken us thousands of years to be able to see clearly. He loved his queer son. He embraced and then deeply mourned his genderqueer son. The dress. The princess dress covered in blood is presented to him. Evidence of the death. It all comes back to the dress.
For every little boy who has worn a dress in public and for every parent who encouraged their child to embrace their own nature, we are grateful. Trans people, non-binary people, and genderqueer people have always existed. And will always exist. Thank goodness! And like our forefather Jacob, who created space for this in his life and his little tribal society, so can we. We can too.