This Queer Jewish Icon’s Music Is the Real Star of ‘Sex Education’

If you’ve been on Netflix since January 11, you may have seen the promos for the new British original series Sex Education.

Filmed in Wales (and complete with intermittent gorgeous landscape cinematography), the dramedy follows the lives of multiple teens in the UK and the creation of an amateur, very much not school sponsored or otherwise certified, sex therapy clinic. It is reluctantly opened by Otis, the sexually repressed child of a liberated sex therapist (played by the great Gillian Anderson), and Maeve, a badass punk who doesn’t hide her intellect or feminist values to be someone’s Manic Pixie Dream™.

As an official NSFW warning, there are sex scenes right from the start, masturbation (including women, obviously, because female orgasms are important too), an uncircumcised schlong/schvantz/why-are-there-so-many-Yiddish-words-for-penis, and so (soooooo) many erections. Sex Education is great show, but maybe not a great show to watch with subtitles in lecture or next to unsuspecting passengers on the subway.

These sexual scenes don’t serve to objectify the characters. Rather, they further the plot. The incredibly honest storytelling explores the intricacies of parent-child dynamics, religion, sexual growth (no pun intended), acceptance, independence, and loving others and yourself (both in the innuendo and literal sense). Notably, it has multifaceted female and LGBT representation. As someone who’s come out of an abstinence focused public school education (see: the sex ed class in Mean Girls), it’s a very welcome change that actually accomplishes the goal to teach you something. (Sex education in sex education? Revolutionary!)

Netflix is no stranger to hilarious yet timely and informative sex education shows. Obviously, here at Alma, we are huge fans of the animated, monster-aided Big Mouth kids in Westchester. But unlike Big Mouth, where the setting is a Jewish suburb of New York, the Sex Education characters aren’t very Jewish. Or at least none are explicitly written as such (still hopeful room for the Semitic factor to grow next season).

Yet, something stood out to me in the promo for the show: the exhilarating Lou Reed-esque vocals of Ezra Furman, an indie musician. The trailer features his song “Love You So Bad” from his album Transangelic Exodus.

Furman’s new music made up the original soundtrack throughout the season; he even makes a cameo as a band member at the school dance!

Ezra Furman is a queer Jewish icon who shows “this is a way to be Jewish, and this is a way to play rock and roll that you might not have expected.”

Furman is an alum of the Jewish day school Solomon Schechter and grew up attending a Reconstructionist synagogue. As an adult, he returned to his religious roots, becoming an observant Jew. He wears a yarmulke, doesn’t perform on Shabbat, and “reads the Torah portion on tour each week.” He even has thought about becoming a rabbi. On his Judaism, he professes, “It’s the best part of me.”

Furman is not your typical musician, nor your typical observant Jew. He expresses himself creatively and dresses in androgynously “tomgirl” fashion with makeup, classic dresses, and pearls, all while being comfortable sporting his tefillin and tallis.

His 2018 album “Transangelic Exodus” thematically ties both these identities together. The “queer outlaw saga” is rooted in his Jewishness, with his grandparents who were refugees and survived the Holocaust. Two of the songs from this album are featured in Sex Education.

Some of the lyrics match up in a hilariously perfect way. For example, “I’m coming clean” and “I got pictures in the dresser drawer” are sung as Otis pulls out a porn magazine and pumps lotion into tissues to fake a masturbation session for his mom to see in Episode 1.

Episode 1 also includes the song “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.” Setting off on his goal to “own his narrative” (that for some reason leads up to the reveal of the aforementioned, erm,head without a yarmulke”), Adam, the school bad boy bully and ironic son of the headmaster, is accompanied by the song to highlight the split in the world’s perception of the character and who he is.

On the more serious end of the spectrum, one of the most powerful plotlines is Otis being there for Maeve after an abortion in Episode 3. The actual act of the abortion is not done in a way to dramatize or sensationalize; it feels very human yet informative. Maeve, largely on her own, is not accustomed to, as the actor Emma Mackey who plays her put it, “accepting genuine love from people.” As the episode ends, in her emotional vulnerability and budding relationship with Otis, the unreleased Furman song “Every Feeling” begins to play. The lines “fuck the panic, fuck the hurt, fuck the sadness, fuck the shame” and “only love and happiness will remain” punctuate the emotional core of the episode.

Ezra’s music pairs perfectly with the freeing theme of the show. It speaks to being yourself in all of your intersections and complexities.

And like the personal conflict of religion and queerness in the Sex Education character Eric, often times the two can seem incompatible. While avoiding spoilers, Otis’ best friend Eric is gay and comes from a conservative Christian Nigerian family. Similar to Ezra, he likes to wear makeup and feminine clothing as a means of self-expression. This is a source of discomfort in his family and results in him distancing himself from religion. His later reconciliation of the two identities in order to be his genuine self is a beautiful moment in his character arch.

Furman has discussed his own experience with this conflict at length. He said, “If you read Leviticus, you see your religion is in love with a book that legislates your death. It’s very disturbing. It’s disheartening and heartbreaking, especially if you’re in love with the religion, if a part of you is really drawn to it.” Nonetheless, he believes that the Jewish tradition “protecting and siding with the vulnerable…would legislate total equality for queer people.”

Insightfully, Furman has come to the realization that his “Jewishness and queerness are very interwoven, and, although they sometimes conflict culturally, intellectually and spiritually they deepen one another.”

As a queer Jew myself, this is emotionally profound for me. It puts words to how I intrinsically feel. I am incredibly secular, but I still care deeply about Jewish ethics. Like Furman, my Jewishness and queerness intersect in their otherness. They compound and interact with each other, building a connection with others just like me.

I’m so glad that Furman’s incredibly personal, nuanced music is being used by this incredibly personal, nuanced show. Sold? Go (sex) educate yourself! This binge-watch really is worth your time. And, like Ezra, it’ll leave you with fingers crossed for an official soundtrack.

Header image via YouTube

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