Leaving My Ultra-Orthodox Home and Finding My Trans Self: Part One

Abby Stein grew up in an insular, Hasidic community in Brooklyn. When she realized she wanted a different kind of life, she contacted Footsteps, an organization that helps formerly ultra-Orthodox Jews integrate into mainstream society. It turns out, that would be only her first transition.

When I decided to leave the religious community where I grew up, it was primarily about religion: ideology and belief.

I didn’t believe in that way of life. I even told myself that once I left, this – whatever it is – is going to go away. Then, when this did not work, I thought that when I got my high school diploma, or when I got to go to college, when I got to date someone, it was going to go away. I tried it all the time, nothing worked. Yet, throughout this whole time I knew what it was, I knew in my heart that unless I could align ‘myself’ with my mind, I would continue to suffer. But I was terrified by the idea, so I chose to ignore it.

From ages 6 to 20 I was convinced that I was crazy because of what I had in my mind. In my mind I had several different ideas on how to become the girl I was. For example, from ages 7 to 9, I read a lot, collecting different articles about organ transplants. I had this idea in my head that I could do a full body transplant. It was the only idea that I had. I didn’t know about gay people then, I certainly didn’t know that anything like transgender people existed. I thought gay people were just something that existed in the Bible, like nephilim.

If only I had known growing up that trans people existed. Nothing might have changed when I was 10, but just hearing someone mention it would have helped me so much.

I didn’t know anything about transgender people until after I got married, when I was 18, and moved into my own home, where I finally got access to the Internet. It was the first thing I looked up online: My first Google search was “boy into girl” or something like that. I had been taught that the Internet was a terrible place to “find out stuff,” so I was happy to be able to “find out stuff.”