I’m a white gay Jewish man. Up until a few years ago, I didn’t even know what “cisgender” meant.
Three weeks ago, I went to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Germany with a group of LGBT Jews. At Sachsenhausen, gay men or those accused of being gay were forced into isolated heavily guarded barracks in order to prevent “infection” of other prisoners. These men were tortured, castrated, and used in scientific experiments.
Their families denounced them. They had no support network for food or care. When a gay man entered the camp his life expectancy was ten weeks. For Jewish homosexual men, it was a week. When the guide told us this kernel of information, as a group of mostly gay men, we were stunned. How could people do this to each other?
Later on in the week, one gay man reluctantly asked me, “Why do we have to include the ‘T’ in LGBT?” It sounded like a chore. I almost choked on my curry.
And then the next question: “Why should a gay man care about trans issues?” Gulp. “What is a gay man’s responsibility to trans people?”
This wasn’t light dinner conversation. No one intended to be rude. It just wasn’t obvious. He knew to include the “T” but didn’t know why. To satiate their hunger for an answer, I put down my fork.
After reviewing all the arguments in my mind, the complexity was reduced to this:
While I am a trans ally, it’s really that I’m a human ally. Trans people are people. I firmly believe that every person should live with full dignity and have full access to opportunity regardless of whether or not they fit within society’s restrictive and rigid binary code for gender or sexuality. I firmly believe people should feel safe expressing themselves fully in their community. Every person deserves the right to be visible and heard. As a human ally, I want a world where my future children see every person treated with respect and are taught to do the same. I want my children to live and succeed, not just exist and recede into seclusion. They shouldn’t feel alienated, be called freaks, or attacked for being true to themselves.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to be a human ally. Trans issues resonate with me more strongly as a gay man. Not only can I understand a feeling of terror at the thought of telling my friends and family about my “dark, deep secret,” but I can identify with feeling oppressed and repressed. In middle school, I was taunted for having a “high-pitched” voice. In high school, I was made to feel like an outsider because I didn’t play a sport, which didn’t conform to preferred gender norms. This type of homophobic gender policing is directly connected to transphobia. It is tied to a fear of gender variance.
Fortunately, as a gay man, I can identify with a sweet relief of having a safe and welcoming environment where I can relate with others who’ve also felt this way. I understand how much stronger I feel when I’m surrounded by allies who are willing to walk with me.
I care about Trans Day of Remembrance because I have lived with the fear of being other and because I have glimpsed what it feels like to have a supportive community. I’ll hold a lit candle for trans people who’ve faced violence, been murdered, or committed suicide just because they refused to be invisible. In my mind, as a Jew, I will remember the denial of humanity which resulted in 6 million Jews murdered and countless more for being “other.” I will praise those courageous enough to be visible and my fellow allies who refuse to compromise on protection from abuse and discrimination.
I ask you do to the same. It is scary to speak up and to be an effective ally is hard work. It’s worth it; for the sake of seeing a society in which each person is guaranteed the right to live a dignified life with the ability to make choices about their own body, health, and pursue happiness as they see fit.
Thank you for walking with me. I feel stronger already.
In early October, Dan Schulman joined Keshet as the new Massachusetts Community Organizer. Before he could get settled, Dan was off to Germany to participate in a unique trip: The Germany Close Up Fellowship: An Open Program for LGBT Young Professionals. This trip was sponsored by “Germany Close Up – American Jews Meet Modern Germany,” an organization that seeks to “enrich transatlantic dialogue” and provide a way for young Jewish professionals to experience the diversity and history of modern Germany, and was co-sponsored by He’bro. This is the first LGBT-focused trip for the group. Dan checked in with us via email to let us know what he was learning.
It’s been an intense first two days here in Berlin. Although we are jetlagged, we began our program delving into German history. Here are photos of the foundation of the very first shul in Berlin. Anecdotally, the women of the 50 Jewish families in the first settlement were unhappy when it was built, as it took prayer out of the home. Instead of telling you why that made them so unhappy, I’d like to hear your best guesses – leave them in the comments section!