Sage Rosenberg, AKA King Femme, Isn’t Hiding Anymore

The nonbinary Black Jewish creator spoke with Hey Alma about their Orthodox upbringing, their queer Jewish wedding and gender-affirming Jewish rituals.

This Pride Month has been a little different for queer, nonbinary Black-Jewish content creator Sage Rosenberg.

“In the past, I’ve seen my share of parades and a few parties. But honestly, this Pride Month has been a lot of self-care,” Rosenberg, whose online handle is @kingfemme, told me. “I was on my honeymoon for the first week and a half of June following a queer wedding — which is a pretty good-sized celebration, I’ve being doing a lot of staying home and sitting in a bathtub. That’s my Pride.”

I’d also argue that Sage has been doing some community care. This month, they teamed up with nonprofit organization Jewish Queer Youth, whose goal is supporting youth from Orthodox, Hasidic, Sephardi and Mizrahi backgrounds. In a video posted to JQY’s Instagram page, Sage, along with other Jewish influencers and creatives, answered questions like “What is the most Jewish thing about Pride?” and “What is the queerest thing about Judaism?”

The video is a subtle, yet important reminder that LGBTQ+ Jews exist, are worth celebrating and can be their most authentic selves not in spite of their queerness, but because of it. Add in Blackness, and that’s essentially what Sage is doing on their own social media pages. And there’s clearly an audience for it. From earnestly posting about their identity to answering questions like: “Why are you always shirtless!?”, the 24-year-old content creator has around 19.4K followers on Instagram and 47K followers on TikTok at time of publication.

Sage AKA King Femme spoke with Hey Alma about being a queer, nonbinary, Black and Jewish content creator, all the otherness on their plate and gender affirming Jewish practices.

This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Could you tell me about your Jewish background and identity?

As a Black person — well, I’m biracial, technically. My father is white and my mom is Black — I was raised in a Modern Orthodox environment. I went to Modern Orthodox school my entire life. So growing up as a Black Jew, I was very used to this feeling of otherness. I think there was only one other family with a similar background to us. I commonly describe it as feeling like a tourist in my own religion.

There’s this one story I have where — I think it was Purim — my mother and I were walking to synagogue. My father, who’s white, wasn’t with us. We were getting ready to go into shul — and on holidays there will typically be a security guard present, which definitely is needed, unfortunately. And the security guard put out his hand and said, “Sorry, I can’t let you in. This is an event just for Jews.”

As a child, I felt othered; I knew what it felt like for people to make me feel bad about the color of my skin. But I didn’t completely understand racism. I was like, I was raised Orthodox! I can tell you what’s happening in the service in Hebrew if you want me to. And yet I still feel very excluded from those spaces because of my skin color. Once we started adding being queer into the mix and, later, being nonbinary, it’s just… wow, there’s a lot of otherness on this plate.

How have you been able to reconcile that, if at all?

Some of it comes down to just being the person that I needed when I was younger: someone who is very proud of the person they are. Someone who’s not ashamed and not hiding in the corner, like I commonly did. And I talk openly about being Jewish as well as being trans, being queer. Most importantly, I partner with organizations like JQY that I feel reflect exactly what I needed when I was younger. I’m so grateful to be working with them. An organization that says “Orthodox and queer” upfront? I’m sold.

That’s wonderful. So do you still identify as Modern Orthodox?

No.  My relationship to Judaism currently is less religious. I identify with being Jewish, but more with the cultural and heritage aspects of my Jewish identity. And that’s something that I really, really claim. But the extent to which I practice Judaism now is attending Shabbat with my family when they have it, which is really good family time and community time.

Every so often my husband and I — we’ve been married for about two and a half years legally, but it didn’t feel real until a month ago, when we had our religious ceremony under the chuppah — try to do Shabbat, because that just makes me feel really, really special, and feels like a really good connection between something that I loved to do when I was younger and my present life.

Yeah, absolutely. And mazel tov on your ceremony!

Thank you.

King Femme
Photo by Ashlyn Mckibben

So how did you get involved with JQY?

They reached out to me about participating in a video series that they were doing talking about Judaism and Pride and what that looks like. In the video they asked me: What is so Jewish about pride? I talked about the communal aspect of Pride and how drawing everyone together in an almost familial way feels very Jewish to me. I don’t view it so much as just my religion; I view it as my culture and my chosen family.

In terms of being a content creator and a Jewish influencer, how did your Instagram and TikTok pages (@KingFemme) come to be?

More than anything, it’s kind of surprising for me that I’ve managed to garner such a following of people who just like to hear me talk. I’m like, OK, that’s a choice. But we’ll go for it!

I’m not quite sure what it is, I know that my platform really started taking off when I started doing drag — I was a drag king in the past  — and it feels like my following has been mostly built around me celebrating what makes me, me. It really is a contrast from how I was raised, when I felt pretty embarrassed about my skin color and I was still in the closet, and I held a lot of shame. So I think so much of my following is dismantling that shame and realizing the pride underneath it.

That’s so important. And what do you want people whose identities align with yours to get out of your page?

I think I want them to find a place where they feel at home and feel seen. Obviously I want to fill everyone with that feeling of ooey-gooey love stuff.

I think the support I’ve gotten also shows that it’s OK to be non-traditional. Like, with my wedding, there were so many pictures I shared that were just like, so Jewish. There’s a photo of me running out with my husband who was wearing the tallits we were married under, and there’s a picture of us where we’re both up in chairs with a handkerchief in between us. I had a lot of my friends tell me how much it meant to them that someone like them was getting married. Because sometimes, as queer people, we’re like oh, can we still have that as an option?

There are so many different ways to live life, and all are exceedingly valid if they make you feel comfortable, but I love that you can still build a family without it being the traditional family. I love that I was able to have a Jewish wedding. What I ended up wearing was a suit with a pair of heels and a veil, because I wanted to take as many elements of what brides wear and what grooms wear and blend them together.

So: It’s realizing that you can have a wedding that doesn’t have to be cookie cutter. And that’s really it’s about celebrating the union you’re having with your partner.

That’s really beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. On the flip side, what do you want people whose identities do not align with yours to get out of your pages?

I would want them to broaden their own worldview and understand that even though what they do is maybe the cultural norm, that doesn’t mean it’s the end-all-be-all “right way” to live life. And that at the end of the day, we should understand that people can be different from us without being wrong, without being freaks and without being something that society should push away.

Definitely. How do you deal with antisemitism, racism and anti-LGBTQ sentiment online?

I guess it depends on my mood. Sometimes it makes for really great content when someone says something that’s just obnoxiously incorrect. Talking about diversity, equity and inclusion best practices is actually what I do for work. So it really comes down to how much space I actually want to give people who disagree with me and what my purpose is in talking about it.

Typically, even if I’ve been very upset by what someone has said, my goal is always to lead with education. Something that I live by is to educate and not belittle, because I think that’s something that ends up resonating with people more. I’ve had a lot of experiences where I feel like someone’s purpose was either to shame me or to make me see how I was incorrect. But when I approach the topic like, “hey, this can be an educational moment for you,” and I see their eyes widen with the thought, “that’s not something I would have considered, but I can see how that is true…” That’s typically my goal.

That’s so compassionate of you. I’m sure that’s hard.

I definitely don’t advise that for everyone, because we as queer people don’t have to be walking pamphlets. For everyone else, Google still exists. It’s free. Feel free to utilize Google as much as you want.

But my upbringing and how I decided to live my life make it a little easier for me to lead either with compassion or the goal of educating others. I definitely also address in my content the fact that, hey, just because I am educating you doesn’t mean that this was an appropriate question — and doesn’t mean that you’re ever required to be the one to educate.

Absolutely. What does it mean to you to be a queer nonbinary Black Jewish content creator?

I think it’s a lot of challenging what people expect. I see it a lot less on my TikTok page now because I’ve addressed it, but a couple of months back, the number one comment that I would get would be from other Jews. They’d ask me — because I always wear a Magen David. That’s something that’s on my person 24/7 and it’s as much a part of me as my engagement ring is — “Hey, I have a question for you. Do you know what your necklace means?” Or, they’d say, “ Oh, wait. You’re Jewish? I wouldn’t expect you to be Jewish.” And I’m just like, if you had seen anyone besides someone who looks like me wearing a Magen David, even with my tattoos, even with me being trans, you would assume that this was most likely a non-religious Jewish person.

People are very, very surprised that I’m Jewish just because I’m Black. For instance, someone reshared a photo of me and my husband on our wedding day and said, “Oh my God, I love interfaith weddings.” And I responded, “Hey, thank you so much for sharing. By the way, we’re actually not interfaith.” People never question my husband’s Jewishness, but for me, what I get is, “Oh, did you convert for him? Oh you did an interfaith wedding where you honored his identity? That’s so awesome.” And it’s just like… my last name is actually Rosenberg. I can speak in Hebrew. I know the blessings. I used to be a Jewish Day School teacher.

Similarly, something that I see people get from my page a lot is this sense that maybe being trans is a broader identity and spectrum than they originally thought it was. I’m someone who’s on hormones, and I had top surgery. But I very proudly wear skirts all the time, and I wear makeup, because that’s just the person that I am. And I can still be trans and do all those things. I just am a different type of gender non-conforming person. And in the same way, yes, I’m Black, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t also be Jewish.

You said you’re not religious, but are there any Jewish rituals or practices that you find particularly gender affirming?

Both my parents are Orthodox, and I think the most special thing that they’ve managed to do, which really gives me gender euphoria and a sense that Judaism is mine, is during the Shabbat blessings. It’s a custom for the father, or whoever takes up a parental role, to give a blessing to each of their kids. And for boys, the blessing goes “ke’Ephraim v’che’Menashe,” and for girls it’s “Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel v’Leah.” Something that my family has actually done is that they say all the names in the bracha (blessing) just for me.

Oh, that’s beautiful.

It never ceases to make me feel very choked up. Especially since it’s this affectionate moment where my father or my mother has their hands on my head, and it feels like this hug. I’ve received the Shabbat blessings since I was a child, but they just added a few names to make sure that I feel seen as the person that I am. That’s really honoring tradition, while still altering tradition to reflect the person.

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