Set Boundaries, Not the Family Table

Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi (she/her)
6 min readNov 25, 2020

Queer Wisdom for Pandemic Holidays

Photo by Fabio Sangregorioon Unsplash

In the beforetimes, we took the subway everywhere, and one day, weary from walking and playing on the HighLine, my child and I sat on a bench beneath the city, waiting for our train. Suddenly, he reached over to me, crying. “That person touched my hair,” he said, sounding scared and uncertain, pointing to a young woman sitting next to us.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Did you just touch my son’s hair?” The woman smiled and nodded, adding, “It’s gorgeous!”

Everything in my upbringing as a “polite” white Catholic girl told me to smile and brush this off. Yet, next to me, my child sat, confused and crying. This complete stranger had violated his physical boundaries. It didn’t really matter what this individual’s intentions might have been, and it certainly didn’t matter that her unsought-for opinion about my son’s hair was positive. What he felt in that moment was real, true, and unquestionable: nonconsensual touch by a stranger.

“In the future, you should not touch someone’s child, or touch a stranger like that at all,” I said, as gently as I could manage, since social conditioning is hard to overcome.

“I just liked his hair,” she said defensively.

“I hear you, but imagine how you would feel if a complete stranger on the subway started stroking your hair.”

I would have left it there: Boundary drawn. Mistake highlighted. Advice given.

Then a totally different woman, seated far from me on the edge of the bench, shouted, “This is what’s wrong with the world today! No one can be kind anymore!”

As an adult convert, I’m now a Jewish woman with hutzpah (some translate it “audacity”; others, “cheek”; me, “self-confidence that pisses off small-minded people”), so I didn’t leave it there. “I’m the parent. He’s a child. No one touches his body without his consent. This doesn’t require your opinion. I will always defend my child’s boundary.”

Those of us who deeply value consent and bodily autonomy — those of us who refuse to force our children to hug their relatives and who tell strangers in no uncertain terms that their touches and their catcalls are unwanted, unwarranted, and unethical — have long…

Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi (she/her)

queer belonging. sex positivity. creative ritual. inclusive judaism.