Beth's Blog

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I wasn't actually going to do this.

Does anyone really need to know that there are transfolk who are frum? What good can come from that? Frum gays and lesbians have enough of a hard time in the frum community... those of us who have changed sex aren't even on the radar.

So much of the Torah depends on whether a person is male or female. And even if the modern Western world is all about blurring distinctions, the Torah is about the exact opposite. Differentiation, respecting the distinctions between things and dealing with the reality of those distinctions, is probably the most basic concept in all of Judaism.

We differentiate between the sacred and the profane, between light and dark, between Jews and non-Jews, between Kohanim, Leviim and Yisraelim, and yes, between male and female.

So how are we supposed to deal with someone who jumps the line from one category to another? You can't become a Kohen if you aren't born one, for instance. And the difference between male and female is much more extreme than that between Kohanim and Zarim.

Personally, I don't usually think a lot about the fact that I grew up as a boy. It's been more than 11 years now since I transitioned, and life is just too short to get hung up on all that stuff. But it does come up. A woman on a forum I participate in found out and started referring to me by an abbreviation, because she thought that calling me "Beth" was wrong. Ultimately, she checked with her rav, who told her that "her analysis was flawed". But her first reaction was to deny me even my own name.

A person I know... who I knew for a very short time about 10 years ago, recently decided to transition. She's frum, too. We do exist. And while some of us have given up, eventually, there are those of us who insist on remaining frum. Who refuse to allow this one aspect of ourselves to be an excuse to abandon Hashem's Torah.

I spoke today with a friend of this friend. A guy who cares about my friend a lot, and wanted to try and understand some things. One of the things he said was that people on my friend's blog had gotten the impression -- from me! -- that Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg, author of the Tzitz Eliezer, said it's okay, halakhically, to transition. That upset me, because I know I've never even intimated that such a thing is the case.

So I thought to myself, maybe there should be a place where people can ask questions. My friend's blog isn't a good place for that. The feelings are too raw. And to the extent that the blog exists, it's her blog, and it should be about her. But this... this is my blog. I can do anything I like with it, really. I can post dumb jokes on it every day. I can go and get a cat and post boring pictures of my cat doing cat-things every day. I can let it lay fallow and never post on it at all -- the fate of most blogs that get created, I expect. What I am going to do with it, though, is different. I'm going to answer questions.

The forum is open, people. Ask away. The blog should be set up to send me an e-mail any time someone posts a comment, so if no one asks anything, I'll probably never (or hardly ever) even open this up again. I might post rants from time to time. Ranting is, after all, the primary purpose of blogs, and who doesn't like a good rant every now and then?

Maybe, if the mood strikes me, I might post some descriptions of some episodes I went through during transition. My memory of the time is a bit fuzzy in places. Like it was someone else, and not me. I think that's mostly because transitioning was the single most uncharacteristic thing I've ever done in my life. I'm booooring. And conservative (little "c"). And pretty right-wing. The freaky life has never held any attractions for me. But... yeah, there were some freaky times along the way. That's for sure.

14 Comments:

  • Beth,

    Hi.

    I don't believe anyone mentioned that you told Nicole that Rabbi Waldenberg is ok with transition. I know I told her that was how I interpreted his words. To my mind the distinction in the responsum is between halakhically approving transition before the fact, l'chatchilah, vs. after the fact. I don't believe any orthodox rabbi would agree with the former, since they apparently don't understand the concept of human sexuality very well from a biological perspective, but I also know of very few who would decide on transition based upon a rabbi's advice. Maybe I'm wrong, but my sense is that advice is usually sought after-the-fact.

    Given that, I think it's fair to accept his writings as acceptance of the reality of a gender change, and to leave it at that. Life is tough enough for a frum Jew anyway.

    Dana

    By Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D., at 7:13 AM  

  • I'm sorry, Dana, but if you interpreted R' Waldenberg's words as saying that transition is permissible, you interpreted them wrongly.

    Leaving things vague isn't the way halakha works. R' Waldenberg addressed the issue of what a person's status is post-op. That's all. There is absolutely nothing in what he wrote, neither implicit nor explicit, that can possibly be interpreted as a heter for transitioning.

    You're right when you say that very few people would decide on transition based upon a rabbi's advice. I know that when I transitioned, the reason I didn't ask for a psak was that I knew I would not be able to follow a psak forbidding me to transition. If transitioning was wrong, I'll answer for that in due time. I didn't see any reason to make it worse by asking a question that I knew would almost certainly give me an answer I wouldn't be able to accept.

    Beyond that, I don't think there are very many poskim who have the requisite knowledge or understanding to fairly pasken the issue. And beyond even that, there is a public policy dimension that could result in a posek paskening l'chumra even if there could be room to permit transition in a specific case.

    I think the issue of transitioning can fairly be compared to that of abortion. Even if there are cases where abortion can be permitted, there is no general rule, and a specific psak is required for each case. If transition were ever to be permitted, I can almost guarantee you that it would be on the same terms.

    The problem, of course, is that by the time the average frum Jew gets to the point where he or she must transition, the risk of asking permission is simply too great.

    By Blogger Beth Orens, at 9:21 AM  

  • Beth, will all due respect, on your "Dina List" you mention that it is far worse to be outed as a transelxual than a homosexual in the Orthodox Jewish community. Why then have you give Nicole the advice to come out to her entire community and try to establish herself there if it is something that you yourself acknowledge as being something that would stigmatize her forever?

    By Blogger Princess Jasmine, at 12:00 PM  

  • Wow. So I assume you're on the Dina list. This is one of the reasons why I insist that people use actual names on that list, you know. It's a little disconcerting talking to someone who you may or may not know.

    In any case, you're making a lot of assumptions. When I transitioned, I moved to New York. A place I'd never been before. Well, other than one time when we missed our connecting flight to Israel and had to stay overnight in NY, but that's not the point. I moved to New York, where I knew exactly one person. A person I'd never even met in person, in fact.

    I was cut off from my former friends and my family. Baruch Hashem, I'm a loner. But even so, it was incredibly isolating.

    I've heard of people transitioning in place. It always blows my mind. If I could go back and do it again, I still wouldn't do that. I can't even imagine it. And yet, there are people who do it. And do it successfully. Look at Jenny Boylan, for example.

    The thing is, Jenny Boylan isn't Jewish. And she's certainly not an Orthodox Jew.

    Jasmine, I have not encouraged Nicole to transition in her community. I'd as soon encourage someone to play russian roulette. But it's not my place to discourage her from doing so, either. There's only one person who is qualified to make that decision.

    All I can say is that I'd never do it. Not for the sake of the people in that community, mind you, but for my own sake. And I suspect that I know what advice I'd give to a frum transperson on the issue if they asked me.

    That's the key, you see. If someone asks for advice, that's one thing. Offering unsolicited advice when I don't know enough about a given situation... that's something very different.

    By Blogger Beth Orens, at 12:45 PM  

  • Hi Beth,

    Fisrt off I'd like to congratulate you with your new blog.
    Asking a Rov whether to transition? Wow that would take a lot of guts, not to mention wishful thinking. I don't think there is a frum rov anywhere who'd say, "yes transition gezunterheit." Yes I told a Rebbe in Boro Park about my gender dysphoria, but that was before I wanted to transition and his tips were about how to get rid of gender dysforia without transition. (Yes like use the mikveh twice a day and learn chasidishe seforim etc.)
    To the oilam I'd say the last thing Beth would ever say is "transition is mutar lechatchilah" or "be out and proud and the frum kehillah will love you." Please.
    Everyone have a tzom kal and be well.
    kisses xoxo

    Shifra

    By Blogger shifrab, at 4:38 PM  

  • Thanks, Shifra. Good to see you.

    By Blogger Beth Orens, at 8:09 PM  

  • For the record, I did not ask for Beth's advice as to whether or not I should allow or facilitate my transition becoming public within my entire community. It was a decision that I made, and that I take full responsibility for.

    I did have the the aid of a small "committee" of people personally affected by my transition in making the decision to be open about my transition. (Beth was not on the committee). This decision was made with the discovery of information indicating that the word of my transition was out in a limtied way and could and would likely be widespread in any event within a matter of a relatively short (but undetermined) period of time.

    I was informed by the friend that passed along this information, that the "leak" was not as a result of any indiscretion on my part, nor on the part of anyone within the inner cirle that had been told directly by me, and had in fact been obtained in a very improbable way.

    In fact, this new information changed the plan that was previously in place (although not necessarily what I was most comfortable, because I felt that the news of my transition would come out eventually in any event). I had previously drafted an email to my closest friends (which was never sent after finding out about the "leak" made the email irrelevant) wherein I advised that my spouse and I were divorced and that the reasons were private and that they would not be discussed.

    Given the fact that it would be out sooner rather than later, the decision was made, (in part to avoid false and hurtful speculation, rumours and gossip regarding the reasons for the divorce of a seemingly very happy couple),to get the truth out, but openly and on my own terms and with the ability to disseminate more reliable and accurate information than would otherwise be available.

    At the point when it was understood that the news of my transition would be out imminently, it was felt that the damage that would come from trying to cover it up would be greater than dealing with it head on. Not that it could have been smooth sailing either way. And not that its been smooth sailing with it being out.

    But its true, I am transitioning. And I know that there are consequences associated with the reality and openess of my transition. I will continue to deal with my transition and the related consequences in the best way that I can (trying my best to try my best), and as much as possible, without going over to the dark side of anger, hopelessness, disrespect, rebelliousness, resentment, etc.

    Nicole

    By Blogger N. Nussbaum, at 2:34 AM  

  • Transitioning in place is not for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned. But if you can immunize yourself to caring about what many people think, and if you have a caring group of friends and family on whom you can rely, then...transitioning in place might be better for you. Moving to Yenemsvelt doesn't help unless you feel the need to start over, rather than to build on what you have, even if some of what you had prior to transition will come crashing down on you.

    If you move, eventually, someone'll trace you back if you've got any roots among Jews. Your Mother's gardener's best friend's fiancee's 3rd grade teacher is your Rabbi's son's next door neighbor? Why, you're practically FAMILY!

    You could lie about who you are, and where you were from.....but..if you're only trying to live your truth, why lie MORE? To hell with shame and embarrassment! It's not easy, and..I probably have not excised shame and embarrassment from my own life and feelings, but I'm working on it.

    By Blogger Dana, at 12:55 PM  

  • Being gay and orthodox is a contradictionin terms those who are gay and claim to be orthodox are just going through the motions for self justification.if g-d wanted you to be a woman you would have been born that way,rutzon hashem is not being fufilled by changing your sexual gender your neshama was meant to be nurtured through g-d's will for you as a male.I'll pray for you that you stop living in denial

    By Blogger miki, at 2:31 AM  

  • Miki, being gay and Orthodox is not a contradiction in terms. But why are you raising the issue of homosexuality here? Are you one of those people who thinks that transsexuality has something to do with being gay? If so, you're mistaken.

    if g-d wanted you to be a woman you would have been born that way

    And if God wanted us to be able to hear, He wouldn't have made people deaf. So cochlear implants are a bad thing. And if God wanted people to see clearly, He wouldn't have made people nearsighted or astigmatic. Eyeglasses are an aveira. And if God had meant for Man to fly, He'd have given us wings.

    We're partners in creation, Miki. There are things in the world that it's our business to fix.

    By Blogger Beth Orens, at 7:24 AM  

  • I was thrilled to read the article in yesterday's JPost. I tried to sign up for Dina's List, but the "host" said they don't host that list. Is that old info?

    By Blogger Genevieve, at 9:09 AM  

  • Hi Genevieve. There is no dina-digest list, just a regular dina list that you can set to digest once you're on it. I'll send you some information when I get home tonight.

    By Blogger Beth Orens, at 9:51 AM  

  • If it's OK Beth, I'd just like to introduce your readers to my blog for Orthodox crossdressers. Please tell any that you know of my blog, as a get-together place on the Internet. Thanks. It's at
    jewishamericanprince-ss.blogspot.com

    By Blogger Genevieve, at 8:53 AM  

  • It seems like genievieve's awesome blog is gone. It was there this morning and a few minutes ago I got the 404 error blog not found. I was in shock as Shani gave me a lot of Chizuk.

    I googled to here. I have a lot of questions to ask and will be looking to your blog for support. Hope thats ok...

    By Blogger chanar, at 5:08 PM  

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