Cross dressing

March 28, 2014

Purim was not long ago and one of the things I love about Purim is that it is just so free.  Favourite Rabbi often does drag (and sometimes looks better than I ever did as a woman) and it is so cute.  I think he just needs an excuse to do it.

One of my gay friends who comes to the synagogue (but is Episcopalian and belongs to the church down the street) joked that if Favourite Rabbi did it more often, it would be a lifestyle.

What I have always been curious about is why is Purim affiliated with cross-dressing? Is it the costumes which as far as I know are a later add on as it is not mentioned in the book of Esther?

What is interesting to me is that we are supposed to get joy from the Torah, yet Purim is a holiday when many people don’t take Torah as seriously because we are supposed to be merry-making or making merry, depending on your point of view.

Normally I take the idea of cross-dressing for fun as insulting as it down plays the serious plight of the transsexual, but somehow Purim does not bother me nearly as much.

I still wonder why we cross-dress on Purim. While I am at it, which sex is considered cross-dressed for me?

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Well someone does not understand halacha

March 21, 2014

I did a favour to someone who claimed to work for a small magazine in England. What I learned is that the person worked for Tablet magazine.

I didn’t mind that I was interviewed for something in England and I was slightly misquoted in another magazine (Tablet) which until last Thursday (was the Fast of Esther) I had not heard of as I don’t read e-magazines.

I didn’t mind that I was outed as transgender even thought the magazine published my name, age, and location (I live in a small town) making it a safety risk, luckily my google rank is likely higher than this article is likely going to get. Luckily also that my Orthodox yeshiva would not believe we were the same person anyway (and the few that do know my past keep it very very quiet both the transgender thing and the conversion thing).

What I did mind is the mentioning that I am a convert, which I had said was off the record since it had nothing to do with what the subject of the piece was. It is forbidden to remind someone that they were not always Jewish which it did by discussing my birth religion (age 0 to 8), ironically not the religion I was clergy in from the time I was 18. I was told to keep my conversion on the down low when in Israel and to NEVER mention the R word (Reform) since I act and live as an Orthodox Jew. For the record, one does not convert to a movement, one converts to Judaism.

The author had claimed that she did nothing wrong, but I expect Jews to follow Jewish law as well as secular law especially when I say don’t talk about something. I was a reporter and when I interviewing people and someone said “Don’t mention it” or “Off the record” I would find out exactly what they did not want me to say and I would not include it.

Now I will discuss being a convert, heck the address of this blog is LGBT JBC (as in Jew-by-Choice), but I prefer to discuss it on my own terms. I also would have preferred the transgender aspect to not be associated with my name. Given I said I only want my name used if the rest is hidden, or you can make me anonymous otherwise, this could be bringing me a fair bit of trouble.

I am however writing a book about my experiences, which I am trying to decide whether or not to use my real name or my Hebrew name. Currently I am soliciting feedback so if anyone wishes to read it let me know, it is available on http://authonomy.com/

Shabbat Shalom!


Orange at the seder plate

March 3, 2014

Favourite Rabbi offered a how to lead a seder class yesterday, I being someone who honestly has never been in charge of a seder and who is scared of the experience I figured it was good for me… besides it was being taught by Favourite Rabbi although honestly if Senior Rabbi offered the class I probably would have gone to it as well. He brought out about five million haggadot. How Rabbi B has so many, I don’t know. I asked if there were any that he had which was more LGBT inclusive for example the orange. I was asked why I put the orange on my seder plate and I passed on the LGBT reason I was then told I was wrong by Favourite Rabbi and Female Student. Never tell me I am wrong.

The following is a somewhat adapted version of the email I sent to Favourite Rabbi yesterday.

The origin of this symbol, as with all other symbols, is shrouded in a mixture of myth and veracity. The version which circulates most widely is that the use of the orange began when Susannah Heschel, a leading feminist and daughter of the famous rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, was lecturing at a shul in Miami. An elderly male rabbi then stood and protested: “a woman belongs on the bimah like an orange belongs on the seder plate.” In response, the orange began to be included in the seder plate as a defiant symbol of the prominent role women must have in Judaism.

The real story is that in 1984, a group of 8 young feminists at Oberlin College in the US decided to create “A Women’s Haggadah” and celebrate the seder together. Their haggadah included a story written by Shifra Lilith Freewoman about a young Jewish lesbian who is told by her Chasidic rebbe that “there is as much place for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for chometz at the Seder table,” based on a newspaper article about the reaction of a hassidic rebbe to lesbianism. Their idea for adding the story was to address homophobia within Judaism and create a space for LGBT Jews.

When soon afterwards Sussanah Heschel came to Oberlin, these women discussed their haggadah with her. Heschel misunderstood and thought that they were actually putting bread crumbs in their seder plate. At the next Passover, however, Heschel placed an orange at her seder table. She felt that using actual bread crumbs, chometz forbidden during Pesach, incorrectly suggested that being lesbian was transgressive and violated Judaism. For her, placing an orange suggested the “fruitfulness for all Jews” when lesbians, gays, and all others usually excluded from the community, become “contributing and active members of Jewish life.” An orange segment was also given to each of the participant at the table, who in turn had to spit out the seeds – a symbol of repudiating the homophobia that poisons so many of us.

From http://www.npls.org.uk/Sermons/New/First-day-Pesach-5772.html

The newspaper article that they are referring to (regarding the ultra-orthodox and lesbianism) occurs several times between the 1950s and 1960s and even continues today, bread is the most common and was a phrase used by Reform and Orthodox alike. (I, as a Jew that observes kashrut, would have said like pork in a kosher kitchen.) The author of the story left Orthodoxy around 1975, she was 14.

You might wonder why was this being discussed by Orthodox rabbis as early as the 1950s and 60s?

As you might or might not know, when the concentration camps were liberated, not all were freed. Gay men (pink triangles) and lesbian women (usually black triangles) were simply transferred from the death camps to another prison in Germany. They were then often serving another 20 to even 30 years for simply the crime of being gay and really it should have been life in prison but they were freed in the late 1960s. Of course some were Jewish and of course Jews being Jews (especially after the horrors of WWII) their families tried to find them and later once free they tried to find their families. Orthodox rabbis would discourage families from trying to learn more once they found out the women were black triangles (less of a problem with the pink triangles which still were ignored but seemed as far as I know to be not as bad), but said LGBT were such a mark/blemish, that they had no place in Judaism and to stop trying to find their imprisoned daughters. When the LGBT people were freed they were shunned by their families (assuming they could find them!) because they gave into their desires. So many LGBT Jews have been lost to Judaism because of what these rabbis said, cut off from their people. One of the less desirable things in Judaism. And it’s *still* going on.

When people read the story they started doing the orange to say there was always room at the seder for gay people. Later this expanded to include every marginalized person, including the disabled.

Judaism really doesn’t have much of a specific place for lesbians or are mentioned in any of the holy texts of our tradition. It’s not in the Torah at all, although some interpret the story of Ruth (and her relationship to Naomi) to be… ahem…! I do not believe the Talmud says anything, but I could be wrong. Gay men of course if they act (commit sodomy) are to be stoned otherwise they are to marry a woman. (Fun Fact, one of the translations of Saris is homosexual.) And of course there are places for most of the trans or intersexed people as they are mentioned specifically in the Talmud.

As a LGBT Jew, I constantly wonder what I did to HaShem to be cursed with a Jewish male brain inside a female Gentile body. Being born a Gentile is bad enough, but he had to make me transgender and gay-identified?

I am still haunted of course by what could have been if I had not been assumed to be a lesbian growing up. If I had just been cisgender, no one would have objected. I would have married Favourite Jewish Boyfriend, I would be living a frum-ish life with lots of little Jewish babies although it would have been hard to find appropriately modest clothing with the 34DDDD boobs attached to me. Instead I get a partner who is repulsed by me because he is straight. And gay men are repulsed by me. And I have no hope of having a normal Jewish life and no chance that someone will even bother to say Kaddish for me when I die. I just want a guy to love me and hopefully want more kids so I can build a Jewish life with him and raise my kids to be truly awesome Jews. Instead it is rejection and rejection. The best I could do at this point is to try to become a teacher, for our tradition teaches that a teacher is in many ways more important than the parents. If your teacher and your father have heavy burdens, you are supposed to help your teacher first. Maybe a student will say kaddish. Maybe a student will name their kid after me.

The only person who loves me and has not rejected me is HaShem, even when I was rejecting him because I listened to rabbis who were so caught up in saying LGBT people make bad Jews that I sulked alone and withdrew, sneaking Jewish books and shows, and then crying because of the rejection. Now I just cry because I suck as a Jew, but not for the reason other rabbis have said I was going to suck.

And that is why I put the orange on my plate, HaShem made it clear that I was loved despite everything and that I belonged at His table even when no one else wanted me at theirs.


How do you keep your faith?

December 17, 2013

Question from a reader : With all that has gone on in your life, how do you keep your faith?

Well actually this was another person who knows me reasonably ok.  Well at least knows of my life situation as we have talked.

How do I keep my faith?  Honestly, I don’t even know if I truly do keep my faith in the way that many people would consider “keeping of faith.”

After all what really is faith?

Faith as defined by Merriam Webster:
(1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) :  belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion”

Well according to this really you can have one without the other.  A belief in G-d can occur without believing in the traditional doctrines of the religion in question.  And I know a lot of people who claim to believe much of the doctrine but YET identify as atheist.  I know Hassidic Jews who claim to be atheist!  Don’t ask me how that works out as I don’t know.

That still doesn’t answer how I am dealing with faith and how I keep faith.

As a matter of fact, when I was converting one of the bigger things I admitted having a problem with was faith.  See, I am a scientist by training so it’s difficult for me to put that faith out there.  And on top of that I am not very trusting so people are asking me to trust an invisible force that I cannot prove.  Seriously?

However, something I have learned is that so far everything that I have been promised when I was arguing with HaShem or meditating has come to pass sooner or later with the exception of getting into medical school.  That is the only thing that had it’s time moved.

When it comes down to it, the worst things in my life should be over.  There is not a lot that HaShem can take from me that I won’t survive.  I have survived worse.  I have books that have taught me how to survive when I need to go out and get my own food.  I know how to get water.  I know how to find or make a shelter.  I know how to make candles.  I know basically most of the skills needed in order to just… disappear for a while.  I even know how to make an anti-seizure medication!  All I need is electricity for my laptop and phone and really it is just a matter of time before I learn how to build a generator or I can just bring my computer to restaurants and such and charge there.  Not like I haven’t done that before.  I don’t even need electricity at night most of the time.

I think that knowledge that I can be self sufficient if I need to be is what gives me a little bit of faith.  As Rabbi Avraham Chira said, “The hardest faith is faith in yourself.”  After that, anything is easy even if it is talking about an invisible dude.

What really is the worst that can happen to me?  I don’t get into medical school?  (After all one school stated they didn’t accept Jews.)  Is that really the end of the world?  Probably not.  OK I could save a lot of lives because I would be able to talk to patients and be able to provide culturally competent care.  However, I cannot force them or anyone to accept me into their program.  I just don’t have that type of power.  I can’t force anyone to accept me into rabbinical school either. Everything I have to worry about really is external.  Maybe that is what the trip to Israel really showed… I can survive on my own with very little.

HaShem has to have a plan somehow.  I just don’t know what it is.

I just don’t know.

And that is part of having faith.


Israel Trip

October 13, 2013

So back to updating.

Sorry it has been so long but my camera died so no more photo a day although I did eventually get a new one which still sucks so I am going to be making those blog entries private.

The past year has been fraught with cleaning, shul joining, helping people, getting a passport, bar mitzvah preparations, and financial and health issues including paralysis of my right arm due to an assault when I was doing a mitzvah.  It sucked.

I figured I would reboot the blog because of some  pretty awesome news I got about a month ago.  In about two weeks, I will be going to ISRAEL!  I’ve never been before and it was a big shock to me when this opportunity popped up.

I was on Facebook and saw one of my other trans JBC friends post to his husband’s wall (another trans JBC) about the A Wider Bridge trip to Israel in 2013.  They said it’s a shame the deadline for scholarships passed.  I contacted the organization, saying I knew the scholarship deadline passed but was curious about it… maybe I could apply next year?  Turns out the deadline had been extended and I was sent an application right before Rosh Hashanah.  I read it over, talked to two rabbis about what I could do for the project.  (Scholarship recipients have to do a project.)  I wrote it up, sent to Rabbi B to look over, he liked it, I sent it off the next day.  Day after that (we are still in the days of Awe) I said to HaShem, either write me in for the best year ever or strike me out!  I can’t handle another bad year. Next evening, I was sent an email saying I won the full scholarship for the land part of the trip!   Then I started looking for plane tickets.  I asked the senior rabbi, Rabbi R (my rosh beit din) for advice on getting a cheap flight, he offered to contribute to the plane fare, then Rabbi B did the same.   It ended up being about half my plane fare!  I guess HaShem made His decision before Yom Kippur. Then two friends donated another ~$200 towards it.

So the person who has  never traveled more than a few hours from home alone and never has been on an international flight is going to a country where they don’t speak English BUT it’s technically one of my homelands although you could argue that it is my only homeland since I converted.  I will be gone for 15 days, 10 are paid for, and a few are travel days.

And what makes all of this scarier is that I am doing all of this out of a carry-on that can only weigh 8 kg so I will be doing things such as packing ultra-light and wearing things like a Scottevest packed to the gills and using other specially designed travel clothing, etc.  There is the possibility of travel reviews.

One funny thing about this trip is that I got my passport in March. When they asked where I was going, I said Israel.  When they asked when, I said Oct/Nov.  This trip was not known by me at the time.  And it was so hard to get my passport because they literally forced me to produce my conversion certificate because I needed to put my Hebrew name on the passport application under alias so that my female names would be bumped to another sheet so that they would not be processed and have my application bounce back.