In six installments I’m going to discus:
- 1 – Orthodox Judaism and Sexuality – I did here
- 1a – Orthodox Judaism and Self-Gratification – I did here
- 2 – Orthodox Judaism and the Two Sexes – I did here
- 3 – Orthodox Judaism and Transgender – below
- 4 – Orthodox Judaism and Homosexuality – later
- 5 – Orthodox Judaism and Bisexuality – later
One would think that after Judaism and women, first should come Judaism and homosexuals and only after that, Judaism and transgenders, because that would be in order of increasing rareness and also of decreasing drasticness: women are who they are, homosexual only want acknowledgement for a special sexual orientation but transgenders want to change their sex. However, I chose this order because, strangely, transgenders seem to pose less problems for Halachah. The reasons could be:
– Almost every rabbi has an opinion on homosexuals although most of them lack basic information (“not inhibited by too much knowledge”); about transgenders most rabbis are wise enough to shut up, stunned as they are. Therefore less nonsense about transgenders and Halachah needs to be countered.
– The professional field knows already for a century that it is possible to change some of people’s sex but not people’s gender identity. Professionals still today are much more timid about the impossibility of homosexuals to change their sexual orientation. They can find fake gay-curing unethical if they are of the opinion that each should decide for themselves what to do with their lives, but that doesn’t mean that they know that it is impossible to change one’s sexual orientation – which it is. In the case of transgenders, Rabbis follow what the specialists recommend; on homosexuals there is no loud psychological consensus yet to follow.
– Homosexuals themselves are often much more insecure about their need for a same-sex partner – so they ask permission of rabbis and are susceptible to the lure of healing-the-gays quacks. Transgenders, on the other hand, have nothing to ask. Their gender identity leads them to whatever they need and places Rabbis for a fait accompli with no questions left to ask. Generally, Rabbis will not rule when no one asks a question.
Some people find it hard to empathize with transgenders. How can one feel differently from what one sees? Well, do you feel a (fe)male? Some people feel their gender identity as strongly as you but it is the opposite of what their bodies look like. People who are not transgender are called cisgender.
This issue is compromised and complicated by oversimplification and lumping together dissimilar things. When one is clear about differences between these distinct things, the whole issue is actually not that complicated.
a. Gender means: what sex we feel, sex means: what sex our bodies look like. The first is internal, the second is external, can be seen by everyone.
b. Unfortunately, in English, sex has two meanings that have nothing to do with each other:
- What gender a person looks, plural: sexes, as in: same-sex marriage;
- Short for sexuality, plural: sexualities, as in: heterosexuality.
c. There are male-to-female and female-to-male The first sex refers to what the person was designed at birth, the second how they turn out to see themselves.
d. There is transgender and homosexual and these are independent of each other. The former relates to their own gender and inner identity, the latter to what sex their sexual orientation needs in their sexual partner.
A transgender person of the female sex and with the a heterosexual orientation (towards men) may want to live as a male gendered person coupled with a man. He simply cannot honestly relate to his partner as a woman. Fear of being abnormal does not redeem not being oneself and passing as a heterosexual woman.
Because of the preponderance of heterosexuality and cisgenderism, a girl could miss that she feels a man and identify her sexual orientation towards women as lesbian, being butch.
Many homosexual men and women are much more genderqueer or genderflexible in their behavior than heterosexuals. The one who feels the most effeminate could still be the one doing the housekeeping.
e. Effeminate men and masculine women do not need to be transgender (or homosexual).
A true cisgender butch woman feels herself to be a woman though she might act with “macho” behavior and she may still be heterosexual, while a true cisgender effeminate man sees himself as a man and could still be heterosexual, even if he might sympathize or even identify more with women.
There is nothing wrong with female-to-male transgenders who are “effeminate.”
Effeminate and masculine are cultural norms and stereotypes and exist more or less in every person. They can be an expression of: culture (Jewish heterosexual men in the West are more effeminate, Arab men may walk hand in hand), sibs (growing up only with brothers or sisters), character (there are gentle cisgender heterosexual men), social or political choices and role play (queer), sexual role play (flirting), or expressions or hints of gender or sexual orientation. Don’t just assume – ask.
f. It seems that there is no bisexual sexual orientation – it’s or homosexual or heterosexual (though one may fall in love or be attracted to both sexes, may have a bisexual identity – see the next installment), but gender identity is not always one or the other. One can be more or less transgender and cisgender.
” I’m transgender in that I often identify with woman and relate to both men and women as a female person, but I’m cisgender in that I learned well how to theorize as a man and I can’t multi-process like my female friends.”
g. Physicians a century ago already discovered that gender identity cannot be changed, so the only way to “help” transgenders harmonize inside and outside is to change their sex features.
h. The medical profession in general and psychiatrists in particular often are dedicated to maintain the one-or-the-other They have more respect for normalcy than for acceptance of whatever way a person is.
They often mutilate babies with signs of both sexes (“intersex”) into one sex. And if later this person is transgender, they would operate again in the opposite direction? What’s so tough about abnormal? Put kids in a school where everyone is regarded and appreciated as abnormal and they won’t suffer.
More and more Jewish female-to-male transgenders leave their ability to be pregnant intact – only grow a beard and have “chest reconstruction.” Should we call them intersexual transgenders?
i. Medical doctors want to see gender dysphoria, unhappy tension between a person’s sex and gender, in order to operate them. They made popular that transgenders without a sex change operation must be suffering. However, there are plenty of transgenders who are perfectly happy, also while they have a discrepancy between their sex and their gender (especially when people around them would be happy to address them the way they want). Some want to be called s/he (against their birth label), some prefer to be addressed as they or it, and some would like both or either she and he. Ask!
j. There is gender fluidity and gender queer. The first means not always being one or the other (see above: f.), and relates how we see ourselves. The second means not wanting to fit ridged norms associated with the sexes, and relates to how we want to express ourselves and be perceived.
k. There is cross dressing and transgender. The first is a role play that stands loose from gender identity and sexual orientation. There are dedicated cross dressers who are heterosexual and cisgender. Cross dressing can be in private, as part of a sexual act, or in public, as a show (or to be provocative against a stifling oppression). Transgenders in “travesty” express their gender, while cross dressers express (fe)male aspects or possibilities of their personality.
l. The way people appear can relate to psychological sex patterns (effeminate, masculine), biological sex (female, male), sex diversity (women with a low voice, men without much beard), their sex role (how they like to dress), sex-hormonal status (genetically female, with full beard), or status after a sex change operation.
A transgender without a beard therefore can be: a biological woman without or before lengthy hormonal treatment, a biological man who happens to have no beard growth, a man who dresses up “as a woman” or for other reasons shaved with a knife, or a biological man after hormonal or anti-cancer treatment. When such a person says: I’m transgender, ask: male-to-female or female-to-male?
Judaism acknowledges reality and doesn’t dispute scientific findings. So per g. above, the Rabbis who know about transgender do not obligate transgenders to live as frustrated cisgenders.
Judaism is against gender queer ideas. Unisex clothing seems forbidden. Judaism has rules against unisex or queer clothing or cross dressing.
Judaism works with different rules for men and women. Therefore intersex and transgender need new rules. Which of the rules for men and women are determined by the sex of their bodies, which by the sex chromosomes in their DNA and which by their brains: gender?
Judaism has rules against intermingling of the sexes or ignoring the differences. That is not as strange as modernist try to pretend that is. Many people distinctly are interested in having a life-partner who is either male or female. Most people, no matter how modern, do make a strict distinction.
The role for allies is: ask, ask, ask, listen, listen, listen, don’t judge, don’t form opinions. That’s how we become knowledgeable over time.