Remembering Trans Jewish Voiceover Artist Maddie Blaustein

Fifteen years after her death, the "Pokémon" voice actor still makes me feel nurtured in my trans Jewish identity.

A common experience among trans people is recontextualizing memories. The times I crossdressed at summer camp, my obsession with watching “Mamma Mia” alongside my mom — these are early moments of feminine or queer joy that I didn’t understand until transitioning as a young adult.

I’ve found I have similar memories as a Jewish person given my more assimilated Jewish upbringing. Growing up, no one told me I was Jewish. I slowly discovered it later in life as I recontextualized parts of my life that felt different or particular. This could be anything from my love of Marc Chagall to my strong beliefs which I eventually learned were identical to tikkun olam to my fervently questioning attitude.

And a few years ago, I experienced a recontextualizing moment that was decidedly trans and Jewish: I learned about Maddie Blaustein.

Maddie was a woman whose voice I’d heard so many times but never identified: She voiced the character Meowth on “Pokèmon” and Solomon Moto on “Yugioh,” among others. I knew her in those whimsical first few years of my childhood in the early 2000s, when I’d get up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons with my older brothers, stretched out on a rug.

What I didn’t know when I was a child — and wouldn’t learn until years later — is that Maddie and I were both Jewish trans women.

Years back, I stumbled upon an article about Maddie in them (a must-read) which brought her to public attention. As I read about her, it seemed as if I could feel self-affirming neural pathways forming along with the requisite frisson and goosebumps.

For many trans people, myself included, the early days of transition are like a second childhood — a flood of exploring new identity and a new relationship you have with the world around you. I learned about Maddie in those delicate early days of my transition — those scary early days full of so much fear and desire for validation and affirmation.

Maddie Blaustein gave me the opportunity to tie the joy and exploration of my trans and Jewish identities directly with the childhood I already had. Pokémon and Yugioh were such ubiquitous, joyful pillars of my childhood world that the connection felt cosmic.

While I knew her from the beloved Brooklyn accent she gave Meowth, learning about Maddie’s life outside of her voiceover acting came to feel like I’d had this secret aunt all along who might have understood what I was going through. Even simple quips like this one Maddie made on a podcast provide subtle humor and wisdom particular to the trans Jewish experience: “I would be more likely to get SRS than I would a nose job.”

Maddie was taken from us too soon in 2008, but learning about her as a young adult made me feel nurtured, even if from beyond the grave, in those days when I needed it most. Rather than feeling I’d been robbed for not knowing about Blaustein, it felt fateful that I’d only learned about her then. I was so young when I latched onto her voices and obsessed over Pokémon and Yugioh. But perhaps I knew what I was looking for, even then.

In remembrance of the 15th year of her passing, I wanted to write about what learning about her meant to me. I was interested to know more about her Jewish background particularly, and I got the privilege to talk to Maddie’s younger brother Jeremy about the Blausteins’ Jewish upbringing.

The story he told me was of a prototypically complicated and chaotic Jewish-American upbringing. They grew up in the 60s and 70s in West Islip, Long Island in what Jeremy described as a “toxically antisemitic environment.” Hate crimes were normal. Epithets like “bagel-nose Jew boy” were thrown around casually, Jews were banned from country clubs, swastikas were drawn on school lockers and synagogues alike.

Their mother’s Conservative background had the funny combination of excellence and intelligence while continuing to “act poor.” While there was a grandma speaking six languages and a great uncle working amidst physics Nobel laureates in Brooklyn, Jeremy recalls his mother boiling unseasoned chicken in a pot and calling it dinner. Their father was from a working class Jewish background, scornful towards religion.

While all the Blaustein children went to Hebrew school and became bar and bat mitzvah, religion was not necessarily a unifying force. “My mother’s family would come and visit and expect two sets of plates and my mom pretended like we were keeping kosher — it was all very weird,” said Jeremy. Even so, Maddie, with her penchant for language and performance always intoned kiddush. Jeremy also recalls their father being an abusive, “boys don’t cry” type of man. Maddie, growing up in the role of the oldest boy, received the brunt of this harm especially as someone who never took to traditional masculinity.

Jeremy also mentioned an interesting tidbit, especially for the “Is Meowth Jewish?” debates.  Jeremy’s belief is that Maddie modeled the voice for Meowth off of the comedian Leo Gorcey. The Blausteins knew him from the show “The Bowery Boys.” Gorcey was Irish and Jewish from a vaudeville family in New York and became well known for his quips in a thick Brooklyn accent, just like Maddie’s Meowth would have decades later.

Despite all the chaos in their childhoods, the Blaustein children were fighters, “pugnacious…feisty,” as Jeremy put it. Maddie remained a strong individual and a Renaissance woman to put it lightly. Throughout our conversation, Jeremy kvelled about his late sister’s genius multiple times. She wrote her own language and immersed herself into creative worlds in DnD. She would become a successful voice actress and comic book writer. She was an editor and became a well-known 3-D world builder on the online world Second Life. She was such an utter polymath that Jeremy hadn’t even heard that she’d been a stand-up comedian until I asked him about it.

Given her rich life of reinvention and obsessive passion, it became clear after talking to Jeremy that Maddie Blaustein is more than a role model for me as a transgender Jew. She is a role model for me as someone committed to courageously exploring identity and creativity as a rule in life.

“The transition is never done for anybody, transgender or not. We’re all in a process of growing and realizing no matter who we are.” – Maddie Blaustein

Miri Verona

Miri Verona (she/they) is a writer, researcher and klezbian musician with her band “The Klezmommies.” She can also be found moonlighting as an Italian teacher and enjoying quality time with friends.

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