Lives were changed last weekend. I know because not long ago I had the honor of attending a Shabbaton like the one Keshet held last weekend, a weekend retreat where LGBTQ teens and allies could explore living simultaneously as Jewish and queer. On paper, it looks like a typical youth group weekend, but most attendees describe it as life-changing. They snack, dance, make new friends, flirt and play; they also discuss scriptural texts with an intellectual rigor and energy that would make any Confirmation Program Director envious.
Since the Trump administration rescinded the guideline memo to schools giving transgender students the right to use bathrooms that match their identities, I have been thinking a lot about one of the text explorations from the weekend. Here are the texts:
A man’s item shall not be on a woman, and a man shall not wear a woman’s garment; whoever does such a thing is an abhorrence unto Adonai.
— Deuteronomy 22:5
Raba said: Any scholar whose inside is not like his outside, is no scholar.
— Babylonian Talmud Yoma 72b
These lines might appear to prohibit cross-dressing, but the teens burst through some initial shyness to grab these texts and found otherwise: if one’s outside should match one’s inside, a trans person would seem to be required to dress as his/her/their identified gender. It’s not really cross-dressing, it’s dressing properly. (Could it ever be just dressing, we wondered together?)
Teens left Keshet’s Shabbaton not only with the feeling of having strengthened all parts of their identities, but also in new possession of how each of those facets (queer and Jewish) has value in the context of the other on a personal level.
I believe that Jewish communities need queer members because they bring a new perspective and energy, and that GSAs should welcome Jewish kids because they ought to have religious diversity too. My point is, in each context, the kids see how they can be valued for exactly and entirely who they are. In other words, they can live with integrity wherever they go.