The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer (2016)
OFFICIALLY A WOMAN
Everyone says you become a woman when you start your period or lose your virginity. In Judaism, you’re deemed a woman when you have your bat mitzvah. I of course saw this ceremony as an opportunity not only to chant my Torah portion but also to make my big stage debut in the temple. I’d been doing musicals since I was five, and I was ready to steal the show. I’m gonna show these Jews what I’m made of, I thought in an unracist way. All eyes were on me—just the way I liked it—as I looked out into the crowd from the bimah. My mom was crying tears of joy next to my dad, who was absolutely bursting with pride. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they gave me a standing O before I finished. I was nailing it.
I sang those Hebrew words like the little half-Jew angel that I was—without the slightest idea what I was saying. I could have been chanting a call to action to continue apartheid. In Hebrew school they taught us two things: how to read Hebrew and how to read Hebrew. A year before my bat mitzvah I was in class with my teacher, Mr. Fischer, a frightening, expressionless man, the kind who would look the same sleeping or in an earthquake. I was sitting in the first row, and Mr. Fischer called on me to read aloud from the Torah. After about three minutes, I stopped and asked, “What does this mean?” For the first time ever, he showed emotion. He slammed his catcher’s-mitt-like hand onto his desk right next to my head and shouted, “Go to the principal’s office!” I never asked again.
I’m sure this wasn’t the first time I got in trouble for asking a question, and it certainly wasn’t the last. In school we were encouraged to ask questions, but sometimes when we did, we were accused of being provocative or rude. Now that I’m out of school and there’s no threat of a principal’s office looming down the hall, I ask whatever the fuck questions I want. It feels pretty good. Pretty womanly, too.
But none of that mattered on my big day. I didn’t care what I was singing; I just wanted to blow everyone’s socks off. I belted out the last couple lines of my portion—move over, cast of Fiddler on the Roof, your jobs are all in jeopardy—and on my final note, I let loose with all my might. That was when my dream turned into my nightmare. My voice cracked. I William Hunged my last note. My heart started to pound too quickly, and I could feel my face turning into a beet the way it loved to do. Silence filled the room, and I thought I might cry.
Then came the first laugh. Then another. And the rest. I looked out at the people in the seats, and they were all laughing—and looking at me with adoration. I saw Kim nervously giggling, waiting to see how I’d react. I realized that even though it was an accident, I’d made everyone happy, and I wanted to let Kim know that it was okay to laugh, so I joined in. I laughed hard. I was laughing at myself. We were all laughing together—a real laugh that went on for a while.
I’m pretty sure that’s why I officially became a woman that day. Not because of the dumb ancient ceremony where children are gifted bonds they can’t cash until they’re twenty-five (by which time they have lost them). No, I became a woman because I turned a solemn, quiet room into a place filled with unexpected laughter. I became a woman because I did, for the first time, what I was supposed to be doing for the rest of my life. I may not have had that exact thought in the moment, but in retrospect it is so clear to me.
There are lots of “firsts” like this in life, little flashpoints here and there when you’re unknowingly becoming a woman. And it’s not the clichéd shit, like when you have your first kiss or drive your first car. You become a woman the first time you stand up for yourself when they get your order wrong at a diner, or when you first realize your parents are full of shit. You become a woman the first time you get fitted for a bra and realize you’ve been wearing a very wrong size your whole fucking life. You become a woman the first time you fart in front of a boyfriend. The first time your heart breaks. The first time you break someone else’s heart. The first time someone you love dies. The first time you lie and make yourself look bad so a friend you love can look better. And less dramatic things are meaningful too, like the first time a guy tries to put a finger in your ass. The first time you express the reality that you don’t want that finger in your ass. That you really don’t want anything in your ass at all. Or to have any creative, adventurous sex for that matter. That you just want to be fucked missionary sometimes and without any nonsense. You will remember all these moments later as the moments that made you the woman you are. Everyone tells you it happens when you get your first period, but really it happens when you insert your first tampon and teach your best friend to do the same.
Speaking of menstrual blood, let’s get back to becoming a woman in the temple. After I brought the house down by dropping the ball on my Torah portion, it was time for the rabbi to walk over and speak to me in front of everyone—not unlike a sermon, but tailored to me. I’d been told that most people hated this kind of attention, but I thought, Bring it on. Let the compliments begin.
Rabbi Shlomo was a tall man, and he had to reach down to put his hands on both of my shoulders. I gazed up at him and prepared to look humble. He began, “Amy . . . ,” and that’s the last thing I heard. His breath was so bad, I literally couldn’t listen to a word. It took all my strength not to pass out from the stench he was sending my way. I figured out quickly that I needed to gasp for breath while he was inhaling. He was giving me heartfelt words of wisdom and I was doing Lamaze. What did he eat for breakfast? I thought. An adult diaper? A cadaver?
The speech went on for hours. It was probably only five minutes, but when you’re in the panic room of someone’s dragon mouth the clock really stops. Just as I was getting dizzy from lack of oxygen, I could tell from his body language that he was wrapping it up. Everyone applauded. I turned away, filled my lungs with fresh air, and smiled out into oblivion. It was official: I was a woman.
Now I could have a short luncheon with smoked fish and bagels and take my closest friends to Medieval Times in New Jersey. Just as God and Golda Meir intended.