Culture, Identity, Religion, Sex & Gender

Religion + Gender

Guestpost by “anonymous,” who is Jewish, and Skyler, who was raised Christian. Both writers are post-transition FTMs. Anonymous first asked to write a guest post a couple weeks ago, before Skylar’s article was forwarded to me. I thought they ran well, and show parallel thoughts and struggles across religions. – TWJ
Skyler: Last weekend was the annual Gender Odyssey Conference here in Seattle. One of the workshops I attended was called Homo No Mo’, presented by Peterson Toscano. Fantastic. He talked and acted out his experience with change therapy and the ex-gay movement, and opened up a discussion. (You can own the full play and a form of the discussion by buying his DVD.) This weekend he also performed Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible which I unfortunately missed. You can see his trailer for that here:
Anonymous: Years ago, I participated in online communities for transsexual Jews. We would talk about when to switch the gendered Hebrew words in prayer to reflect our true gender identities, how to deal with mechitzahs while transitioning, how to fulfill the first mitzvah, of being fruitful and multiplying, and generally support one another. It was a place to find support, when most of us could not find it in our home communities, especially not in our shuls or Jewish communities. We discussed the merits of programs like JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality) and the appeal of diving fully into the frum world so we could make those binary gender models work for us.
I’m really happy they decided to include this in the programming this year. Church was a big part of my life growing up, but it isn’t currently. In joining facebook I’ve found a lot of friends from my past, from school and church. I quickly realized, looking back on my life, that once I got to be a teenager and was involved in the church youth group I had to give up all of my school friends because they weren’t part of the pentecostal/evangelical church. I really regret that. There were so many cool people at school that I isolated myself from. Now that I’m gay and trans, 99% of my church friends will have nothing to do with me, tell me they don’t agree with my lifestyle and disapprove of me, or completely ignore me. It’s sad, really. I’m still me. I’m just presenting myself to the world how I’ve always felt on the inside. I’m just being true to who I am…and am more happy and well adjusted than I’ve ever been before. Judaism was a big part of my life growing up, and still is, though in different ways. When I was younger, I went to religious school, a community high school program, and a Jewish youth group. Being closeted about having transitioned from female to male, I cut ties to my Jewish communities. I felt isolated at synagogue, and stopped going. I no longer felt I had anything in common with the few friends I had maintained from youth group. The social networking world is a nightmare for me; a few people have tracked me down on facebook and have friended me, often asking me incredibly personal questions up front (“You’ve received a friend request from Someone, with the message: ‘Hey, heard that you were a dude now. Did you ask the surgeon to circumcise your surgical dick? lol'”). I don’t know if it’s our religious upbringing that leads to the distance, but when friends from high school find me on facebook, there usually isn’t the same degree of awkwardness.
This brings me to my thoughts about religion. Religion is truly a device to separate people. Peterson did say something that made me soften my almost militant atheism. He said that he had tried being atheist but failed because he kept finding himself praying under his breath. He said that his brain was just wired to have some sort of god in there. I suppose that sort of idea isn’t harmful to others but it’s those that take religion to the point of forcing and injecting their beliefs into society at large that need to be stopped. It’s just dangerous. I’ve had rabbis and relatives argue that religion and piety trump identity. If only I were more frum, more observant, I would have been happy living my life as a female, having babies, and keeping a home for my husband. I don’t know if it was their constant bombardment over several years, or my own internalised trans-phobia, but I gave pause to their suggestions. I then realised that I was being true to who I am, and would be happier being male in the world. I spent a lot of time studying Genesis, and midrash, becoming comfortable with the notion that we all are created in God’s image; God, and Judaism, could still be in my life if I transitioned genders.
There were two obviously gay teenage boys in my church youth group. One ended up committing suicide the other I haven’t been able to locate on facebook to find out if he’s happy and true to himself now. My boyfriend from church back then has been struggling his whole life with being gay. I knew he was struggling back then and I occasionally see him now; once, a couple years ago with a girl on his arm. He’s trying so hard to be a good christian, and works in an industry that he’s voiced to me that he cannot be openly gay in. Back in our youth group days, I remember my parents and the church youth leaders telling him to try and get me to dress and act more like a young lady. That’s a whole other story for another time. When I was younger, I played with gender. I was never a “girly girl,” but I’m sure my parents wouldn’t have guessed I was a boy either. I took cues from two elementary school classmates. One, A, was very androgynous, had an androgynous name, and was fascinated by my Judaism. (I was the only Jew in my class, and one of a handful at the school.) We would spend recess on the jungle gym, then I would teach A Hebrew. R was a girly boy, who had a fantastically individualised style; I would now compare him to Ricky on My So-Called Life. Instead of wearing a backpack like the rest of us kids, R had a briefcase, in which he would carry his homework, lunch, and a doll. R was the friend I would spend lunches with, lying on the field, looking up at the sky, discussing how we might fit into the world. One of the ways I tried to fit in was by getting involved in my synagogue, taking on “boy” roles like leading services and giving d’var torahs.
Anyway. That brings me to this trailer for a new documentary called This is What Love In Action Looks Like, about a teen who wrote on MySpace in 2005 about his parents sending him to an ex-gay centre that offered “freedom from Christianity”:

For resources and support, check out Beyond Ex-Gay, an “online community and resource for those of us who have survived ex-gay experiences.”
I’ve often wondered about going to a yeshiva, living their as one of the guys, continuing to hide. Knowing that I have that choice is empowering. Knowing that some people don’t have that same choice is unbearable.

3 thoughts on “Religion + Gender

  1. um…could someone share the merits of programs like JONAH to me? Looks to me like (perhaps a softer version of) the change movement/ex-gay therapy that I’ve heard Peterson speak against.

  2. Leah: Ditto. I was shocked to hear someone suggest there are ‘merits’ to a group like JONAH whose stated goal is to ignore and defy all scientific, medical and psychological research regarding homosexuality (and perhaps, in addition, transsexuaity). I fail to see how an organization that defines itself in opposition to widespread scientific consensus for genuinely unscientific reasons (i.e. religious beliefs) can have ‘merits’. Have we in the Jewish community afforded the Flat Earth Society or the Discovery Institute similar honors?
    Anonymous: “I’ve had rabbis and relatives argue that religion and piety trump identity. If only I were more frum, more observant, I would have been happy living my life as a female, having babies, and keeping a home for my husband.”
    I wouldn’t give any ‘rabbi’ who creates an argument that stands in flagrant denial of scientific literature the respect of the title he’s claiming to possess.

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