Tag: interview

Five Questions With… Joy Ladin

Posted by – June 18, 2013

I had the chance recently to ask Joy Ladin, the author of Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders, a few questions. What followed was a conversation about transition, marriage, separation, spirituality and religion.

1)      I was a little surprised that there wasn’t more about theology, and specifically Judaism, in your story. Is there a reason you shied away from addressing the issue of transness & religion head on?

I don’t feel I shied away from talking about transness and religion; I talk quite directly about how Judaism, particularly the Torah, and Jewish communal norms, affected my sense of my gender identity when I was growing up, and the course of my transition after. But my intention in the book was to talk about trans identity and its consequences in very personal terms, rather than to reflect about general issues. As I say in the book, I grew up in a family that barely practiced Judaism; being Jewish was an ethnicity, not a religion, for us. I was religious, but I more or less invented the Judaism I practiced, based on my reading of the Torah and scattershot study of Judaism. I wasn’t interested in theology; I was interested in God, with whom I have had an intense relationship from early childhood to the present. Since the book was finished, I written a number of pieces that are part of the fledgling but growing discourse of trans Jewish theology, but I hadn’t done any of that when I wrote the book. What issues did you want me to address that weren’t in the book? I’d be happy to address them now.

** Fair enough. I guess because your employment was at an Orthodox school, and so many people seem desperate to disprove some of the Torah’s verdicts on gender and sexuality, I expected a specific take. I’d be curious to know what the themes are of the pieces you’re writing now about trans Jewish theology.

Traditional Judaism doesn’t directly address transgender identity. There is the prohibition against cross-dressing in Deuteronomy, which I discuss in my memoir, rabbinic prohibitions against doing anything that would impair male fertility that are taken by many Orthodox rabbis as prohibiting male-to-female transition, and a brief discussion in the Talmud about how to integrate intersex Jews into Jewish law and community. Strikingly, the rabbis WANT to include intersex Jews, and reinterpret the law to make that possible. Yeshiva University made Orthodox Jewish history when it allowed me to return to teaching after transition, but that was clearly in response to secular law rather than a desire to be a trend-setter in terms of Orthodox Judaism. However, there are many trans Jews living in the Orthodox Jews. Most are in hiding, but many are “out” to their rabbis, who are privately empathetic. I have recently heard of one Orthodox community whose rabbi has explicitly welcomed a trans member, and the Orthodox world is in the midst of an intense discussion of how to respond to LGBTQ Jews in their midst who can no longer be quietly ignored or exiled. There are now several organizations, including Eshel and Keshet, of which I am a board member, working toward full inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in the Jewish world.  I think it’s a time of difficult but positive change. My work on trans Jewish theology is still preliminary, but you can hear some of my thinking in this podcast of my talk to rabbinical students and their teachers at the Jewish Theological Society, and read some in this essay, written for the first Jewish Trans Gathering last fall in Berkeley, CA. I discuss the intersection of trans and Jewish identity more generally in this podcast of my conversation with Lilith editor Susan Weidman Schneider at last fall’s  DC JCC Jewish Book Festival.

Also, there is this conversation with Rev. Shay Kearns which took place at the Encountering Sacred Texts panel at the 2012 Philadelphia Trans Health Conference – in conversation with Rev. Shay Kearns: Part 1 and Part 2.

2)      Betty has commented that she thinks she wound up an actor in order to find some kind of man she might be able to be (but didn’t). I’m wondering if the conservative gender roles assigned by religion now seem like a bulwark against your own sense of gender incongruence.

As I discuss in the book, I found in teaching literature as a profession – a vocation – in which I could feel close to people in a way that seemed to me to temporarily transcend gender. As I said in the book, I’m not and have never been an Orthodox Jew, or a practitioner of any conservative or traditional form of Judaism. I commute to the Orthodox world, because I teach at an Orthodox Jewish university, but I don’t live the way my students live, and my gender identity and expression have nothing to do with theirs, or with Orthodox Judaism’s gender roles. I’ve never looked to Judaism for guidance about my gender identity or expression either when living as a man or now that I’m living as myself. More

Five Questions With… Zach Wahls

Posted by – March 27, 2013

I was lucky enough to meet Zach Wahls at a recent fundraiser and awards gala for Fair Wisconsin. He gave such an amazing talk and was such a cool guy that I couldn’t help but ask him a few things.

Zach Wahls: My Two Moms(And how can you not love the adorable cover of his book? It’s good, too. )

1)      You are sometimes referred to as an “ally” of the larger LGBTQ communities but I don’t think you see yourself that way. Can you talk a little about what it means for you to be called an ally as opposed to being a community member?

I’m most often referred to as a “straight ally” by both the public and members of the LGBTQ community. And that’s usually fine, I don’t correct people or feel that it’s necessary for me to do so. But personally, I don’t feel as though I’m truly an “ally” because, in my mind, I’m a member of the LGBTQ community even though I’m not, personally, LGBTQ-identified. I know that the last thing any of us want to do is add another letter to the acronym, but the reality is that I do feel as though I’m a member of the community. Like LGBTQ people, I was born into this community. Like LGBTQ people, I have felt the shame and humiliation of being in the closet. Like LGBTQ people, I am regularly stigmatized by those who oppose LGBTQ rights as inferior, defective and sinful. The parallels are not perfect, of course, but as a community, we need to figure out a way to create spaces and community for those of us who have grown up with queer parents. So, to be clear, it’s not that I’m LGBTQ-identified, but that I feel the LGBTQ community includes its children, and that, to the extent that that’s true, kids like me are a part of the community. More

A Few Questions With… Eleanor Hubbard

Posted by – January 10, 2013

Eleanor Hubbard is the co-editor of the anthology Trans Kin: A Guide for Family and Friends of Transgender People< . I got the chance to ask her a few questions about the book.

1) What encouraged you to create this book?

Cameron (the other co-editor) is a former student of mine, and he studied the transgender literature in a guided study project under my direction. Although I knew a little about transgender issues through teaching Sex, Gender and Society for many years at the University of Colorado and I was already an ally of the GLBT community, this project helped me learn a great deal more. Then Cameron was my student in Qualitative Methods and Critical Thinking and wrote an honors thesis under my direction. After his graduation, we talked how we could continue to work together and actually started on a paper that would reflect what we were calling the gender spectrum at that time.

One time when we were together, I wish I could remember the exact date, Cameron said to me: “I found many books to read during my transition that were very helpful, but when my mom asked me for something to read that would help her, I couldn’t find anything.” I responded, “This is the book we were meant to write.”

As we started to collect stories, we were encouraged even more that this book needed to be available for SOFFAs! The stories were funny, poignant, inspirational, and most of all, heart-felt. Cam and I became the conduit through which more people could hear these stories.

2) What, in editing it, is the biggest surprise? What was the most expected?

The biggest surprise for me in reading and re-reading our book was how many differences and similarities, there were in the lives of SOFFAs and their Transgender loved ones. For instance, the experience of SOFFAs going through transition with their transgender spouse, family member or friend had some similarities with their trans loved one. SOFFAs often feel that they are put in the closet as their loved ones were coming out of the closet during their transition. Who to tell and when to tell about their trans son is a big concern for the parent just as it is was for their son. What pronouns to use? How to introduce their male spouse to people who knew her as a woman? How to explain what their friend was going through to family members? These are all questions that trans people deal with as well, but with a different slant.

Another surprise for me was how well many family members, spouses, and friends went through the transition and came out on the other side. I have had many transgender people tell me that their family and friends disowned them when they transitioned, but I was particularly moved by the story of the step-father who disagreed with his son’s transition, but still loved him and spent time with him when his wife, and the son’s mother, could not. But this is only one example of many in the book where SOFFAs find their own way through their transition while still loving and supporting their transgender loved ones.

Another surprise was how many SOFFAs were also priests, pastors, rabbis, and committed church and synagogue members. Allies within the church were particularly important for many transgender people who have been disenfranchised by their church community.

I brought many expectations to the book about SOFFAs, but every single one burst. I learned that my expectations were what got in the way of really hearing the stories of trans people and their SOFFAs.

3) In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about the friends, family, and spouses of trans people?

The biggest misconception about SOFFAs is that they are different than us. Some SOFFAs can’t cope with their loved one’s transitioning, but many not only deal with it, but survive and thrive, just like the rest of us. SOFFAs have hopes and dreams for themselves and their trans loved ones, but they, just like the rest of us, learn to move through their expectations and love the person in front of them, not the person they wanted them to be. Some people cope with life-threatening illnesses in their friends, family and spouses. Many people worry about substance abuse or infertility or disability and continue to try to change the person rather than accept them for who they are. But because there are resources available to them and their own inner resilence, many people find their way through difficult times, just like SOFFAs do. We have much more in common than we have differences.

A Few Questions With… Miriam Hall

Posted by – January 3, 2013

Miriam Hall is a partner of a trans person and a contributor to the book Trans Kin: A Guide for Family and Friends of Transgender People. She and I did a reading together for the Wisconsin Book Festival a few months ago at A Room of One’s Own Bookstore in Madison.

1) What encouraged you to create this book?
I always write about what is happening to me – it’s my way of understanding. When I met Dylan I was already writing about my own sexuality, and so writing about our combined sexuality and her gender fit right into what I was writing. When I saw a posting (I don’t remember where!) asking for writings for this anthology, I was excited to know I could put a bit of what I was doing somewhere. I am working on a longer memoir of which this is a part.

2) What, in reading it, is the biggest surprise? What was the most expected?
I was surprised at the large number of people who formerly dated trans people and their incredibly strong advocacy. There’s an unfortunate stereotype, not to mention fear, that people who leave trans folks do it only because they are trans. That they are all bitter or anti-trans. Being really close to someone – like living and sleeping with them – who is transitioning is quite a bit closer than being friends. It’s really intense and not easy – like a “regular” relationship, only pitched up that much higher. I really appreciate allies – really, really appreciate them. But nothing beats the person I am talking to/reading having (or having had) their own heart on the line (ie another partner or former partner).

3) In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about the friends, family, and spouses of trans people?

I think the most common misconception is that you cannot be an ally, much less a partner or even a trans person, without messing up: using the wrong pronoun, etc. People figure if they don’t “have it down yet” they aren’t “doing a good job.” I find this tragic. Like so many things in life, you simply have to jump in with a good heart and try your best, be apologetic when you screw up and let it go and move on.

You can find Miriam Hall’s writing, photography, & practice online: her website.

Five Questions With…. Nick Krieger

Posted by – August 22, 2011

Nick Krieger recently published the FTM spectrum narrative Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender and I was very impressed with the book. I’ll admit that his bio, on the back of the book, was what reeled me in: “A native of New York, Nick Krieger realized at the age of twenty-one that he’d been born on the wrong coast, a malady he corrected by transitioning to San Francisco.” With a sense of humor like that, how could I not read it? Beacon Press published it.

1. You couldn’t have chosen a more fitting place for displaying and sometimes explaining other people’s gender choices and you show a lot of respect for them. Was this intentional?

One of the many amazing things about living in San Francisco is the diversity. Difference is accepted and celebrated, which allows more space for self-expression. After spending ten years in lesbian and queer communities, I really started to see the myriad ways that people presented and understood their own genders; there was so much room outside the binary gender boxes. From the media, shows like Dateline and 20/20, I had always believed that all trans people were “born in the wrong body” and had Gender Identity Disorder. But in looking around my community, I discovered a new understanding of transgender that included a whole array of FTM spectrum (trans-masculine) people.

I very intentionally tried to respect the choices of the other characters. I think that in any type of personal inquiry or journey, it’s really easy to judge/oppose one side and admire/align with another. It creates certainty during an uncertain time. But it also limits the opportunity for self-growth, reflection, and understanding. In early drafts, I work through my judgments in the hope that I’ll eventually be able to render my characters with compassion and acceptance.

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