Real Roles: Chanel Dubofsky

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1. What’s your name? Where do you live? How old are you?  

Chanel Dubofsky, Brooklyn, NY. I’m 33. 

 2. Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?

I was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, but I’d say that the place where I really grew up was Amherst, Massachusetts, where I went to college. Confusion is an excellent and accurate adjective to describe my childhood. My parents divorced when I was 7, and my mother and I went to live with my grandmother, who was essentially my other parent. That’s not the confusing part (I actually thought nothing of the fact that my father wasn’t around—I didn’t think it was weird until someone told me that it was, and then I still didn’t think it was weird). My mother had breast cancer from the time I was 7 until I was 19, when she died. In that period, there was a lot of manipulation of the world, which is what happens, I think, when a kid becomes the parent. I was a really independent kid, because it’s who I am, and because I had to be, the world was so crazy that I would only survive it if I could get away, but my mother couldn’t deal with it. On one hand, she wanted me to be independent, and on the other, she wanted me to be normal, which, surprise, I never was. 

3. How would you describe your current family and close support community?

Without question, my friends are my family. My mother would say that the only people you can depend on are your family, and she was referring to biological family, which in my experience is soooo untrue. My grandmother and I were very close, but when my mother died, she essentially broke down and I think expected me to be her caretaker. I was, not surprisingly, entirely emotionally and financially unequipped to do so, and it damaged our relationship. She died when I was 25, and with her, I think, went the last actual familial bond I felt. I do have aunts and uncles and cousins, and I know that will hurt them if they read this, but with the exception of two of my cousins, we don’t talk, and it’s hard to think of them as family. Although, to be fair, I don’t think I really understand the concept of biological family, at least not the part where you have to love people just because you’re related to them. 

My community now are people who share my political and intellectual values, who are creative, who have wanderlust, who struggle and push and want and love very, very well. 

4. What are some of the things you do on an average day?

Write, drink coffee, take a long walk, listen to music, photograph things. Repeat. 

5. What do you do to pay the bills?

 I organize young Jewish social justice activists who want to build networks and power. I’m lucky, I love my job. A good friend of mine says, “Your job is relevant to your interests—the Jews and the unfucking of the world.”

In case I hadn’t already made this clear, what I also do, which only sometimes pays some bills, is write. 

 6. Does your life look like what you imagined it would when you were young?  

I’m writing and traveling and living in New York City. I have a lot of books. I have my own space. That’s more or less what I’ve always wanted, but it’s hard to say if it resembles what I thought it would look like, because I didn’t actually believe certain things were possible, although for a long time, I thought certain things (marriage, children) were inevitable. As in, they would just happen to me, even if I didn’t want them, because that’s just what you do. I’ve spent a long time unlearning that, and I’m still unlearning it. 

7. What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your life?

The year my mother died was a challenge, and not necessarily because of grief. I had done a lot of my grieving before she was even dead, and so the year that followed was full of me torturing myself from the inside. I was depressed, I was basically nocturnal, but I got the best grades I had so far in college, and I was taking the most classes and working many jobs. I was supported by my friends, but to be fair, there are very few people at the age of 19 who are prepared to handle not only someone losing their mother, but dealing with an elderly grandparent, a house in foreclosure, and relatives who did not in any way support them. In retrospect, no one has the tools for that, and even now, relaying the story, it seems rather unbelievable. 

Also, I was unemployed for a year, and it was a long, terrifying year. Money has so much been a story in my life, because I have never really had any of it. 

8. Have you made any decisions or choices that have surprised those around you?

Sometimes I think all the decisions I make surprise people, but if you know me, none of them really should. Some people are shocked that in spite of everything, I graduated college and moved away. My traveling, specifically in the Global South and the Middle East, surprises people and worries them. The way I often live, in small spaces with no stuff. Mainly, though, I think it’s the fact that I say (write) what I think, which seems weird maybe because a lot of what I think is radical and risky? It keeps me alive, though, saying my truths. 

9. Who have you looked to for inspiration while creating your life? What have they taught you?

Feminists, other radical activists, my friends. That’s everyone I know. They’ve taught me and helped me to see that race, class, gender, sexuality, etc., are lived experiences, and that I’m not crazy or imagining things. Shit is actually fucked up. Also, to listen to myself, and to take risks. 

10. What TV shows, movies, music, or books have been particularly formative or important in your life?

I am really good at getting obsessed with things, so when I love a book, I have to go find everything that author has ever written, said, breathed on. Recently, those authors have included Jamie Attenberg, Jonathan Ames, Aimee Bender, Nathan Englander, Aryn Kyle, Pearl Abraham, and Shalom Auslander. Music is also so much a part of my life, especially since I figured out that I could like whatever I wanted. Examples of folks for whom my love is consuming and boundless: Nerissa and Katryna Nields, Girlyman, The Mountain Goats, the Decemberists, We’re About 9, Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, Death Cab for Cutie, Indigo Girls, and the Weepies. And The Magnetic Fields. And the Staves. And the Shins. 

11. Are there any stories not told in media that you’d like to see represented?

Women being unapologetic. Women who don’t want to get married, or don’t want to have children, or both, and aren’t afraid to speak about that. People who aren’t white, straight, rich, and thin. So, most people. 

12. How often do you think about gender roles and whether your life matches what others might expect from your gender? 

I think about gender every day. Other than my outward presentation, which is pretty femme, I don’t think I fall in line, generally, with what people expect from women, particularly in terms of not wanting to get married or have children (Yes, ever. Yes, I’m sure.).

13. What wisdom have you gained in life that you think other people would benefit from knowing? 

There was a sign in the first issue of Tidal, Occupy Wall Street’s journal of theory, being held up by a woman in a group full of people, and for some reason, it makes me cry. It says, ‘This too will pass.’ (I know, she didn’t make up the expression.) It’s the relentlessness of that belief, I think, and the idea of building solidarity around it, and fighting so hard in so many ways that are imaginative and risky and scary, for it. 

Also, when I let my brain get very quiet and loose, the thoughts that come into it tend to be the best ones to listen to and hear.

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