Student Spotlight: Claire Katz - Mariani
Hello, and welcome to me at the most exhausting part of the year. It’s midterm season, which is kind of whatever for me because I’m majoring in Theatre Studies and Community Health, so I have a few tests but I’ll be fine. I’m just a very slow detail-oriented worker, and procrastination hits… hard. I try to focus and pace myself, but never feel like I can quite keep up. I watch my friends taking part in three or more clubs, getting straight As, always working, and taking tests in crowded classrooms, while I take my exams at the disability center, in a secluded room, with extended time for my weird brain. I know I’m smart. I also know that I think in a different way from a lot of people. I’ve always known that, and known that other people could feel it, too.
Hold on, you impatient rapscallions! I’m getting to my point. Basically it just took me a long, long time to find the people I actually felt comfortable with. I came to college thinking I knew who I was. Or rather, I pretended I knew who I was, because it was easier than admitting I only knew what I wanted to do. I felt like I was too odd to NOT know who I was. I was a misfit, and that was that. But gosh darn it if I didn’t still try to fit in. I joined a sorority and went to parties where I didn’t look like anyone else. It wasn’t until I began exploring what actually felt right to me that I finally started to let go of the standards I’d clung to for so long.
But even when I began that process, I still felt lost. I still needed to find my community. To realize there’s more than just one way to be a misfit.
The problem was that there weren’t any neon signs pointing me to the right group (or groups) of people. I just kind of floated around Hillel for a while, I guess because I had a gut feeling something would go right eventually and I would know what it was when it happened. And I did.
“But Claire, this is starting to sound really meta and dramatic! Are you going somewhere?”
Woah! Slow down there, you unwieldy whippersnappers! Also, to answer your question, maybe. This is probably gonna be one of those rough drafts I never get around to editing.
Yeah, so anyway at some point during sophomore year Rabbi Ari invited me to a meeting about LGBTQ+ rights and issues at Hillel. I was like, okay sure, because I was bored and also I care about stuff, sometimes, maybe. So I went and then suddenly I was the president of an ENTIRE RSO called LGBTJew. Oops. Second semester was the second annual Purim Drag Show, which was Rabbi Ari’s brainchild from the year before. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I said yes to LGBTJew lending a helping hand. It was one of the most overwhelming experiences I’ve ever had- in a good way. We raised over $1,000 for Uniting Pride of Champaign County, and I got to work closely with amazing students and local drag performers who brought hundreds of people together for one dazzling night. If it sounds over-the-top, that’s because it was. It was so amazing, and so fulfilling, and so stressful, but in that work way where you know you’re in the right field because you get that hit of dopamine after you finish a project and see the results and you’re like, “wow, I really must be an adult now if I’m getting excited about stuff like this,” but you’re like, not upset about it. It’s a cool feeling.
On March 4th, 2020, the third annual drag show had its marvelous debut. It was months in the making, and yet again I felt more simultaneous dread and excitement than I ever had before. (In some circles, this experience is referred to as “anxiety.” Take it as you will.)
Putting this together for the second time and seeing people come together in a frenzy of excitement was incredibly rewarding. I finally felt like I had a home- like I had a community- because I helped to create it.
People at Hillel create communities in other ways, large and small. The Matzah Ball earlier this month brought Jewish people from all parts of campus into one room. So did the ISG- Student Government fiasco. And so did the drag show. None of them in even close to the same way, but that’s the point, I guess.
Before I finish writing this and go back to writing essays I care about… less, I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who helped put this event together. I am floored by the amount of support that poured in, not only from university groups but also from the Champaign-Urbana community at large. I really want to emphasize this point. As John Mulaney once said, “It is so much easier not to do things than to do them… that you would do anything is totally remarkable.” So thank you. Whenever I get tired or feel lost (which is more often than I tend to admit) I just remember how hard people went in on this project and I’m like, I can totally do this if I really put my back into it.
“But Claire, now that I’ve read all of this beautifully executed literature chock-full of important information, what do I do with it?”
Oho, you eager simpletons, do I have an answer for you!
Please support the work of LGBTJew, particularly our fundraising efforts for Uniting Pride. Keep an eye out for info on Purim Drag Show 4.0 (and other upcoming events) at facebook.com/lgbtjewillini, because it’ll be here before you know it. And again, thank you to every single person who helped me grow a local community that lets queer people and Jewish people (and those lucky enough to be both, wink wink) be themselves.