Sex & Gender

Transgender Identity and the Jewish Community

Months ago, we posted a story about YU’s Prof. Joy Ladin being the first transgender employee at a religiously conservative university in America. (Unfortunately, with all of the server issues we’ve had, the really great and interesting comments on that post have disappeared.) Since then, Ladin has been asked to speak at a few local venues. One of my students offers the following report:
Guest post by Jeremy Schwartz:
Professor Joy Ladin’s return to Yeshiva University this fall as the first transgender employee at a religiously conservative university in America is bringing much useful dialogue and education to the Jewish community. Ladin followed her recent scholar-in-residence weekend at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST) with another appearance last Tuesday, this time on a panel at the Manhattan JCC sponsored by New Voices magazine, the JCC, Columbia/Barnard Hillel – Gayava, and Nehirim.
Prof. Ladin, who is currently working on a book titled “Inside Out: Confessions of a Woman Caught in the Act of Becoming,” spoke more about her experiences growing up transgendered than about the challenges she’s faced with the University administration. She offered much insight into the process of reconciling her lack of conformity to the gender binary with her daily Torah study and her religious beliefs.¬† Jase Schwartz moderated the discussion, also sharing his experience as a transman who has found welcoming community at CBST and Nehirim. Another member of the panel, Rafi, shared his experiences growing up in the Orthodox community and facing reactions to his transition which ranged from rejection to complete acceptance.
Melissa Simon, a Cooperberg-Rittmaster Rabbinical Intern at CBST, opened with an anecdote from the Alef-Bet Shabbat program which she runs at CBST. A young student, upon hearing that in some Jewish communities gender-segregated seating is the norm at services, wanted to know “But where do the trannies sit?” Indeed, this is a problem that many progressive voices in the Jewish world are working to solve. Melissa discussed ways in which congregations can make themselves friendly and welcoming spaces for LGBTQ people, and also shared the progress that has been made in the Reform movement.
The event was successful at bringing together a diverse crowd, with a wide range of Jewish backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities, and age groups. Perhaps most telling for the future of transgender equality, according to Prof. Ladin, is the support and acceptance she has received from her students, if not the YU administration. Indeed, let’s hope that the media frenzy directed at her results in increased dialogue, understanding and progress.
Click here to listen to the full panel discussion [mp3 format], courtesy of New Voices.

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