From queer text study and institutional inclusion to profiles of queer clergy and youth voices, the Keshet blog features new ideas and reflections by and for LGBTQ Jews and their allies. The blog is produced by Keshet, a national grassroots organization with offices in Boston and the Bay Area that works for the full inclusion and equality of LGBTQ Jews in all areas of Jewish life.
Nick Teich is a busy person. In between pursuing a Ph.D. in social policy at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management, working as a licensed social worker, and founding and running the first-ever summer camp for transgender and gender-variant kids, Nick wrote Trans 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue, hailed as a go-to source for “students, professionals, friends and family members.” We caught up with Nick to ask him about the inspiration for the book, how it’s been received, and why a “simple guide” is so vital.
How has this book not yet been written? What inspired you to write it?
There are a lot of books out there that are clinically-focused, academic, or just plain memoirs. I thought it was important that students of gender-related disciplines, students who will be working with people in a clinical setting, and the public in general learn what transgenderism is, starting at the very beginning. I run into a lot of people who feel like their questions are “dumb” or that they should know more about the subject than they do, and I believe that holds them back from learning more. This is not a subject most people know much about, if anything. I wanted to give people an easy-to-read and somewhat entertaining way to learn about transgender people and the issues they face in society. It was important to me that there be some levity because the subject is often so serious, so I added cartoons, one for each chapter, that playfully mock ignorance and discrimination toward transgender people.
What’s your relationship to the topic?
I am transgender myself, and I founded and run a camp for transgender youth. I also train schools, camps, and companies about trans issues. I enjoy seeing people understand the ridiculousness of trying to shove the population of an entire planet into two boxes (your “traditional male” and “traditional female” genders).
The subtitle of your book is “A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue.” I think many folks — potential allies — shy away from engaging with trans issues because they’re afraid it’s too complicated. What overarching ideas do you want people to walk away with?
Yes, I agree with this. I want people to walk away with the sense that they have a good grasp on basic issues of what it means to be transgender (it might mean male-to-female or female-to-male, but also might mean other things), why gender doesn’t just mean male and female, the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity, and what types of discrimination toward trans people is out there. I want people to walk away feeling like they want to educate others on the fact that transpeople are people like anyone else, and that we are all more alike than we are different.
What advice can you give to Jewish institutions on how to be trans-inclusive?
If social justice is important to a Jewish institution, and it is to many, then I advise that they figure out how to be trans-inclusive. I recently heard someone say, regarding a study about young Jews and marriage, that same-sex marriage need not be included, insinuating that there are not enough gay Jews for it to be of importance. There are many GLBT Jews, and though transgender people are just beginning to get recognized, I think that it is important for leaders in communities to speed that process along. Anti-discrimination clauses are a good start, but we need education in synagogues, religious schools, and in the community-at-large so that clergy, teachers, parents, and kids can begin to understand that there are Jews of all genders, and that they should be afforded the same respect as anyone else.
What has the response been like? I’m especially curious about the responses you may have received from the Jewish community.
The response to Transgender 101 has been overwhelmingly positive. I have heard that many people feel as if I was in the room easily explaining things to them rather than having to comb through a heavy text and decipher meanings from dense passages. I have not had specific feedback from the Jewish community, at least not that I know of.
I don’t think that there was much of a direct relationship between the two, but both were created in an effort to help transgender and gender-variant people in different ways. Camp Aranu’tiq is a special place where trans and gender-variant kids can be themselves in a world that does not allow for that for the most part. There were specific reasons, outlined in the introduction to Transgender 101, that led me to start Camp Aranu’tiq. Similarly, I feel that most people misunderstand what transgenderism is and who transgender people are. With my undergraduate journalism degree and my master’s in social work as a background, I knew that I could help if I wrote a book that could help teach people about the subject.
I like to think of myself as a do-er. If I see a gap in something, I try to fill it as best I can. But, I don’t do everything by myself. I have a wonderful support system of friends, family, people with experiences to share, and amazing volunteers at Camp Aranu’tiq.