Posts Tagged 'Transgender'

Changing the Narrative :Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Each year on November 20th people around the world gather to mark and honor the memory of the transgender people whose lives have been taken in acts of anti-transgender violence. We memorialize those murdered and draw attention to the violence endured by transgender people. This is not me. It is hard to relate to this or anything else beyond my own life experience. As a cisgender heterosexual Ashkenazic white Orthodox Jewish man I connect to this day through the lens of  Yom HaShoah. Where Yom HaShoah marks on the calendar the senseless violence toward Jews for being different, we take time on this date to bring attention to violence towards transgender folk for being different. But this got me thinking, what else can be learned from Yom HaShoah for Transgender Day of Remembrance?
It is notable that we commemorate Yom HaShoah on the day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising not on Tisha B’Av. This is a choice to change the narrative. Instead of it being a story of Jews being lambs lead to slaughter, we tell the story of a people who nobly fought back. This does not hide the horror or moral depravity of the perpetrators, but it changes how we see ourselves. We are not victims.
I was thinking about this recently when I watched this amazing video by Everlast. Please take a moment and watch this powerful short video”Be First” about Patricio Manuel the first professional male boxer who is transgender:

There Patricio Manuel says:

Unfortunately when you deviate from the norms that society has constructed,  you have to fight for that identity and you have to really make it yourself. I think a lot of people in boxing, who I talk to, they would come to me and say, “You could have been, you know, one of the greatest, you know, a world champions, and you would throw it all away to be yourself.” And I tell them that is how bad I felt living that lie. 
He clearly articulates the importance of living his true self. No one throws away the chance to be the best unless they need to do it. It is just that important. Patricio Manuel goes on to tell his uplifting story of his first victory as a professional male boxer. He is a total bad ass. 
Today we need to take the time and be honest about the horrors society has perpetrated and continues to perpetrate against transgender people. And at the same time we cannot limit our imaginations of transgender people to the role of history’s victims. Patricio Manuel, like Mordechaj Anielewicz before him, is heroically fighting to live his true authentic self.  On Transgender Day of Remembrance it is not enough to remember what we are fighting against. We need to remind ourselves what we are fighting for.  If we are willing to fight the good fight we can change the narrative. As Mr. Manuel said so well, “Living in your truth is going to hurt, but it’s worth it.”
Keshet has compiled some resources to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance: 
  • The TDOR Guide with readings, text studies, personal stories, calls to action and more.
  • This reading and list of resources about the history of Transgender Day of Remembrance.
  • A printable sign, reminding everyone that Trans Jews Belong in your community.
  • A list of the 22 trans people whose names we know who were murdered in 2019 due to anti-trans hatred can be found here.

What About the T? – Ki Tzetzei and Transgender

It is great to see some more positive conversation regarding including LGBT members of our community. It is curious to me how the “T” sort of slips in there as if it were the same at the LGB, but at the same time ignored. Who we are attracted to is very different then how we want to present ourselves. Transgender people experience a mismatch between their gender identity or gender expression and their assigned sex. So, what about the T? How does our community deal with transgender members?

In Ki Tetzei, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the prohibition of transgender dressing. There we read:

A man’s attire shall not be on a woman, nor may a man wear a woman’s garment, because whoever does these is an abomination to God, your God. ( Deuteronomy 22:5)

Between the use of the word “abomination” and testing the limits of heteronormative lifestyle I understand why so many people for or against transgender people lump them all together. But still the Torah it seems like a different issue.

According to Rashi on the verse, cross-dressing can lead to promiscuous behavior. Wearing the clothes of a woman would enable a man to mingle inappropriately among women, and vice versa. Alternatively Maimonides argued that some of the ancient pagan rituals involved cross-dressing and that we must therefore distance ourselves from this type of behavior. ( Guide III :37). Beyond the presumptions of the person having lascivious or idolatrous motivations, I wanted to suggest another from the start of this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands, and you carry away captives, and you see among the captives a woman of goodly form, and you have a desire for her, and would take her as a wife; then you shall bring her home to your house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails.( Deuteronomy 21:10-12)

We see here that the practice would be to strip the captive women of the outward appearances of gender to determine his attraction to her. Is it possible that the prohibition for cross-dressing was limited to dealing with the military strategy?

Gender is such a fundamental aspect of what makes us who we are. In my experience of transgender members of our communities their motivation is neither lascivious, idolatrous, and certainly not a military strategu. Their need comes from a profound drive for self-expression. Given the profound amount of violence perpetrated against transgender people I think we need to reconsider how we talk about gender roles in our community and not just sexual orientation.  While we maintain our commitment to tzinuit, modesty, devotion to God, and of course maintaining the peace, how might we make more room for the “T”?


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