The work of transgender inclusion in the Jewish community requires proactive action. Some of the steps we can take to welcome the trans people inside—and on the margins—of our communities are straightforward. But sometimes, well-meaning allies stumble, get confused, feel unsure, and run into snags in the tachlis (details) of being welcoming and inclusive, because we are human and fallible.
The sacred work of undoing centuries of oppression is a tall order. We’ve pulled together some common questions, answered them, and tried to explain why some questions are more—or less—okay to ask transgender people in your life and community. Some of these are questions I asked myself, and was gently (or not so gently) told weren’t okay. We hope you find this piece inspiring and informative as we prepare for Transgender Day of Remembrance, and that you can join us in supporting a Jewish community that embraces people of all gender identities.
What does transgender mean?
Transgender (or just “trans” or “trans*”) is an umbrella term for anyone who knows themselves to be a gender that is different than the gender they were assigned at birth. Turns out, everyone has a gender identity! For some of us, our knowledge of our own gender matches what the doctor, nurse, or midwife declared when we were born (“It’s a girl!”). If that’s the case, then we’re cisgender. If not, then we could fall under the transgender umbrella. Some transgender people also identify with other, more specific gender identity labels.
What does gender variant or gender non conforming mean?
Gender variant or gender non conforming are also umbrella categories can include anyone whose gender identity, expression, or behavior is outside of social norms of women who are “feminine” and men who are “masculine.” Terms people might use include gender expansive, genderqueer, agender, gender fluid, gender flexible, and more.
Isn’t gender just the two options, boy and girl?
Nope! Societies across the world and throughout time have recognized that gender is more complicated than just the two options, sometimes described as “the gender binary.” If someone you know uses language for themselves or someone else that you’re not familiar with, it’s usually okay to ask them in private what those terms mean to them.