Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Intersectionally: Queer and OTD/XO Pride - A Personal Reflection

Some pictures from this year's Pride
When a journalist from Yahoo Style emailed me asking if I would like to answer some questions about Pride Month for a slideshow presentation, I was kind of excited to do it. In the past year since I started this blog (I know; hard to believe, but it is almost a year!) I have realized that it is way more important to talk about these issues (-facing transgender individuals leaving fundamentalist religious communities) than I originally thought. I heard from more and more people who struggle - each in their own way - to live a self-determined life, and decided to do whatever I can to help out. That is a big reason why I agreed to all these media interviews, and why I keep on doing them. I did cut down a bit in the last few months, but how could one pass on an interview with Yahoo, and even more, a style magazine… However, to be honest, when I saw the questions, I was even more excited. For the first time I had an interview just about pride and LGBT identity, without having to exoticize my background. Super.
Or so I thought.
I started answering the questions determined to talk just about my Queer identity, and leaving my background, and OTD/Footsteper/Ex-Orthodox identity behind. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud with both of these identities, it is just that every so often I feel that the media tends to focus more on my past, even when trying to focus on the future. After all it is Queer Pride, not OTD pride. As you can see by reading the article, I almost succeeded; up to the final question. I managed to give my favorite secular summer song, my favorite Pride food and dress, etc. Then I was asked to “Talk Like A New Yorker” AKA, say something in juicy NYC slang. Here I failed.
I love NY, and even more so New York City. I am proud to call NYC my birthplace, my hometown where I grew up, the city where I go to school, and the city where I live. However, that is all geographically; culturally, I grew up somewhere else totally. How can I quote New York slang, when I barely knew the English alphabet growing up?
The cover photo on the Yahoo Style Article
First I thought I will turn to my all time favorite all knowing being, Google, and just find some juicy New York slang that I can relate to, so I don’t have to out myself, but then, I realized something bigger. I realized that I am wrong.  
They are no separate identities. I have one identity, that is named “Abby Stein” (and sometimes using my middle name Chava), an identity that doesn’t need labels. That identity is proudly combined from a range of details, but it is One. I found a new respect for the term “Intersectionality” - that so magical word.
Intersectionality - an obvious concept that came to light thanks to WOC during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, and coined in 1989, has been, is, and always will be, the backbone of social justice. I never doubted the importance of consciously considering every aspect thereof when we try to create a better world, for everything the world contains. However, for a long time I perceived it as the study of interrelated identities and how they affect each other. One has to be blind not to see that the same people that expressed the strongest racism, also express the strongest sexism, homo/transphobia, classism, and so on. Yet, they were all different social justice issues, that we have to deal with. Now I know that they are not different; they are one.
It is impossible to tackle racism or homophobia without tackling sexism, elitism, and ya, antisemitism and Islamophobia. These are not 'related' issues, but one and the same.  
On a personal level, for the first time I knew without any doubts; If I want to succeed in tackling the issues facing Trans people leaving Ultra-Orthodoxy and other fundamentalist communities, I have to tackle the issues facing the entire OTD community. These two identities are not interrelated, but one and the same. At the same time, we, the entire OTD community has to come together and support the LGBT community, and vice versa. Not because we are both fighting for social equality and self-determination, and they “Sometimes Intersect”, but because they are one and the same. The same goes when it comes to sexism, racism (even more within specific (read: Jewish) communities), ability, classism, and so on.
I know that for so many people reading this, there is nothing new here. But at the same times, way too many social activists think that maybe they can tackle one issue at a time, maybe they can still help some people with what’s ‘easier’ first, so to speak. So here is what I learned: NO YOU CAN NOT!

On a lighter note, a lot of people have been asking about my observations of the similarities between leaving the Ultra-Orthodox community, and transitioning on the gender spectrum. The more I think about, the more I realize how much they are intertwined. On that, in an article coming soon!
With Xo and Rainbow love,
Abby @ The Second Transition

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Romemu, XOxo:

This post is way overdue, at the same time as it is always in due time, especially now as I am preparing myself for a “Celebration of Life in TRANSition,”[1] next Saturday morning June 4th.
It was a summery Friday afternoon, exactly three years ago, when I visited this place called Romemu for the first time. For over a year, since I have joined Footsteps in May of 2012, I have been hearing about this place. All of my ‘secular’ friends (aka, people who grew up in the Hasidic community and left that world, and were now ‘Off The Derech’) who went there were praising it as a place where Judaism is fun and interesting. My friends were talking about how Romemu uses musical instruments on Shabbat (which - in the world I grew up - means that they are not r'really' religious in any way), and yet they still celebrate Shabbat in a meaningful way. However, to me, a youngster in my early twenties who just left my radical religious community of birth, and identified as an Atheist, exploring anything new felt useless and stupid. I only went to Romemu because a friend of mine was going, and he convinced me to join him.
I got there late, and walked in as the Rabbi (little did I know that this ‘rabbi’ will one day transform my life in every possible way) was giving the sermon. I walked in and walked out after five minutes.
What happened, you might ask? The rabbi mentioned “God” (how dare).
At the time, I was suffering - without having a name for it - from “Post God Traumatic Disorder.” A common distress for people who are being raised in radically religious communities (okay medical professionals, don’t be upset, I know this is not an official DSM diagnose… but it should be). I could not stand to listen to anymore God talk, even if it was on Friday Night, in a synagogue that is hosted in a church, with music on Shabbat, and mixed seating (all of these facts are enough to declare a synagogue ‘not Jewish’ for Ultra-Orthodox Jews).
Perhaps I did not realize it at the time, but I wasn’t just upset with the God Talk. I was also disappointed and maybe lost (here you go, I said it). At that point it was a year and a half since I stopped being observant, and even longer since I realized that I don’t believe in that ‘thing’ or whatever it is that my family and community called God, or Hashem, or Aibishter. Yet I started to realize that I am missing community, I am missing enjoying the celebrations of the life and year cycles through Shabbat and Holidays, I am slightly missing community, and well, I am even missing hardcore text study. In my mind I knew and believed that religion and everything surrounding it, is 100% man made (I still think that until today, but nowadays it is not only not discouraging, but it is empowering), and if there is no god, I just ‘cannot’ follow it. Secretly I was hoping to find a place where I can have all of the benefits Judaism has to offer, without believing in some divine existence. I have tried non Jewish/Humanistic communities and none of them felt like home. I think that as much as the rabbi mentioning God turned me off, I was more disappointed that I did not find a new home.
Once again, little did I know that I found a home, and not just a home; I found a lifeline in so many ways.
It took me another six months before I stepped foot in Romemu again. I will maybe share another time how that happened[2], for now, let me make a long (maybe not so long in time, but radically long in emotional turbulence) story short, at the end of fall 2013, I was back, this time to stay.
Two of the (so many) features I observed at Romemu, which convinced me that this is the place for me, were the values of radical egalitarianism, together with radical acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, and the celebration of the queer community with pride. At the time, a bystander might have thought that I am a straight, heterosexual, cis-male. None of these three labels were accurate, and I knew it way too well. I have already shared some of my experience in the past here on my blog, and on national and international media. At that time, I was battling some of the worst forms of Gender-dysphoria; I already had a Facebook account with a Female identity, and was active in the online Trans community. I consciously observed and realized, that not only have I found a place that can nurture my need for community, and meaningful mindfulness, but also a place where - if I ever find the courage, or what ended up being the need for survival - I can come out, and live life as a woman (with a sexuality that I am still figuring out) of trans experience, I will have a supporting and loving community.
On top of that, I saw Romemu as a place where I am not an outsider for the fact that I grew up in a sheltered community. To the reverse, it is a place where they are no outsiders, because we are all insiders. The Formerly-Orthodox, or as we call it the XO (hence to title of this post) community, is a strong and contributing part of the community.
All together I felt like I found a community straight outta a fairy-tale Disney movie. Yet here, the fairy-tale became a wonderful real-life story!
When the time came last November and I came out, I realized that I was wrong. In my sweetest dreams, I could've not even dared to imagine how this community, of which I was by now a two year long member, will help me and embrace me. From the Rabbis to every community member, young and old. My dear life mentor Rabbi David Ingber, who went above and beyond to help me in private and in public (I really can’t say enough about the amount of help and support he gave me, especially with my family), including an emotional sermon (coming full circle with the sermons here…). If you haven’t seen the sermon yet, make sure to check it out on my YouTube channel. Rabbi Jessica Kate Mayer to whom I first came out; her support has since been pouring non-stop, and she will go out of her way to help. And so on, the entire community. Thank you all.
I wanted the write this post for a while by now, and as I said in the beginning, now it is just in place.
I am currently preparing for an event that feels like it will be one of the most important days and celebrations in my life. Next Shabbat Morning, June 4th, I will be having a Celebration at Romemu. Call it a Bat Mitzva of sorts. We will do a name change at the Torah, followed by a Kiddush, which is the traditional way of celebrating milestones in one’s life. I am doing this event in public not just to celebrate my own life in transition, but to send a message to the entire Jewish-Trans community, the entire queer community, and well, every human being:
Look, no matter what you think, you can find community, you can, and will find love. Don’t feel alone, because you are not alone. One might think that tradition has no way to accommodate and celebrate us, and maybe it didn’t have until now, but it does now!!!
This is also a personal invite to every person reading this. I would love to see you at the event. It is at Romemu, 105th Street and Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side of New York City. Services start at 10:00, and Kiddush will be at around 12:30. No matter if you attend synagogue every week, or if you have never attended synagogue or any place of worship at all, you are welcome.
Also, if you want to contribute to this event in any way or form, especially donate towards the Kiddush, please email at abbycstein@gmail.com.
With Love, xoxo,
Abby @ The Second Transition

[1]Here is the event description from Facebook:
No matter how we feel about religion, tradition and rituals, there is one thing that I always loved about Judaism; we know how to celebrate and ritualize the life cycle. For two thousand years, Jews all over the world have used the time of Torah (Hebrew Bible) reading, to celebrate different milestones in their, and their families and loved ones' lives. Especially, the naming of a newborn girl.
I want to invite ALL of my friends (I invited 500 of my Facebook friends to this event - the maximum FB allows, Jewish and non Jewish alike, friends I know through Footsteps, Romemu, Columbia University, Camp, Queer Support Groups, and from everywhere else, because I want to see as many of you as possible, feel free to remove yourself from the event) To my celebration at Romemu!
There will be a name change ceremony during reading the Torah, at morning services, starting at 10. And a celebratory Kiddush (lunch) following services at 12:30.
If you are at Romemu every week, or if you have never been, or if you have never been to a synagogue at all, you are heartly invited!!!
[2] I will just mention two books that played a part in that, because well, I love books. “Judaism as a Civilization” by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (founder of the Reconstructionist Movement), was the first book I read about contemporary liberal Jewish Theology and Community development. His work was a great introduction to redefined concepts of God, Jewish Nationality and identity, the role of community, and spirituality outside of the traditional connection with ‘something above’.
The second book, and one that I was introduced to because of Romemu, and which ended up forming most of my current relationships with spirituality and Judaism, was “Jewish With Feeling” By The Rebbe, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (founder of Jewish Renewal). His book, and then his other teachings, gave me the first tools on how to deal with God, divine, and God talk, while being philosophically an atheist, and how to build a personal meaningful practice.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

An LGBTisch In the Heart of Orthodoxy: A Reflection On the Past, A Wish For the Future

It was a (a)typical Friday Night in Washington Heights; the hub of traditional, establishment, Modern Orthodoxy, and home to its flagship institution - Yeshiva University. In what would look like a standard YU/Stern (YU’s college for women) inspired Friday night Tisch (a gathering to sing and socialize in celebration of the Jewish Shabbat), we were a group of over 150 young Jews socializing over great Chulent (a Traditional Shabbat dish) and songs. Everyone in the room was having a great time, nothing news worthy about that. Nevertheless, something else made that event so overwhelmingly special that I decided, I don’t care if I have time or not, I have to write it down. It was (possibly the first of its kind, at least in that magnitude), what we called, an LGBTisch (and allies). Almost everyone in the room was from an Orthodox Jewish background, and at the same time queer identified - or at least openly supportive of their Queer friends. Furthermore, most of the people in the room (excluding myself…) currently identify as Queer-Orthodox Jews (hyphenated intentionally).
A few weeks ago, after the Eshel National Retreat, I was overwhelmed in a similar way. While I am constantly vocal about my very non-orthodox beliefs and disbeliefs, and proudly identify as a Secular Jew of some sort (and add a few other labels if you so please, such as Humanist, and lover of Jewish-Renewal, personally, I hate labels), Orthodox Judaism is still part of who I am. Admittedly, most of my interactions with it are negative, yet it is not something I can ignore. I can count several reasons; if not for the fact that wiping out 20 years of one’s life is not that easy, it is for the fact that my child lives in an Orthodox community, or just an internal (naïve?) hope for an in depth awakening within Orthodoxy. The latter - hope for change within Orthodoxy - is actually the one reason I gave up on a while ago. Until I woke up to a reality that was literally just the opposite of what I would expect; I came out as an openly queer Jew.
It might sound Ironic, but ‘living out’ as a queer Jew, reinstated my hope for, and believe in, a better and accepting future within Orthodoxy. I find myself surrounded by proud Jews more than I ever did in the last four years. Even more, for the first time since going Off The Derech, I once again feel welcomed in some Orthodox settings.[1]
          The LGBTisch was just another, yet amusingly, such an important milestone in the history of Queer Judaism as a whole, and specifically Queer Orthodoxy. An outsider reading this probable thinks that I am overreacting. However, to me, and to the others in the room on that Friday night, it felt like our very own Stonewall Riots - in some way - although peaceful. 60 years ago our forbearers went out on the streets of America’s (and perhaps the Western World’s) [counter-]Cultural Capital, the West Village, and announced that enough is enough, and it is about time to ‘get better’ for the LGBT community. This time we gathered in (one of) the cultural capital of Modern-Orthodoxy, and in the ultimate Jewish way - a Friday Night gathering - we announced that it is time to ‘get besser[2]’ for the Jewish Orthodox-Queer community. There is no better way to launch a Jewish riot than a group of over 150 Jews - Queer identified, and these who are just amazingly strong allies - gathering to announce, “Hey Rabbis, hey Orthodoxy, we are Queer Jews, and we are here to stay.”
          The event itself was nothing noteworthy, just singing, reciting Divrei Torah (words of wisdom), and personal stories. Nevertheless, exactly that was noteworthy. While we were sitting in a circle and singing traditional Shabbat songs, as well as old and new Hasidic (a 18th century anti-establishment Jewish Movement) songs, in addition to some of our very own Queer versions (such as ‘Anshei Chayel’[3]),
One of the original songs performed at the event...
I couldn’t stop wondering where all these queer orthodox people come from. At one point during the night, I could not help myself but turn to one of my local friends and check in whatever they are any Cis/Straight Jews living in Washington Heights… I met some of the most courageous, self-determent, yet community oriented human beings. They were old friends; and I made new ones, they were people who are ‘out’; and they were these who are still finding their way out, but altogether it was one of the best groups of people I have ever spend time with. While I am writing these words, over a week later, I am still tearing up, and cannot find a way to describe it.
          I want to touch on one other point. Thankfully, the Jewish community, especially in the North America, does not lack in LGBT support groups. From LGBT specific organizations such as JQY, Keshet, Eshel, and more, to numerous Queer support groups within existing Jewish communities and college campuses (YU might be one of the only Universities in New York without an official LGBT support group). Nonetheless, most of these groups are by queer people for queer people, and that is amazing. What is even better is an event like this one, one that is clearly open and inviting to our amazing “Allies.” The reason for that is twofold. First and foremost, it serves those who need our support perhaps more than anyone else - people that are still ‘in the closet’ so to speak. No doubt, we are sadly still living in a world where we need to DO SOMETHING to get our so needed support as Queer Humans, but for our siblings still in hiding, this is life support. Only an event that is open to allies can achieve this goal. Then, there is the hope for change. We are not just trying to survive as our true selves; we are trying to thrive, within the broader human family. In my humble opinion, having more LGBT AND Allies events, is bringing us closer to this goal.
          Okay enough said.
          I am writing this post as a way of reflecting and sharing my own personal feelings, yet the stronger message is one I want to share with the world, the Jewish community, and above all, with Orthodox Judaism. We still have a long way to go. I am totally ignoring the fact that all of this is happening within the boundaries of Modern-Orthodoxy, which is still at the very beginning of its way towards equality. I am not even thinking (as of now) about my community of origin, Ultra-Orthodoxy.[4] It is heartbreaking that an event like this in Hasidic Williamsburg or Yeshivish (non-Hasidic Lithuanian Ultra-Orthodox Jews) Lakewood - in the open, is beyond anyone’s wildest/sweetest dream. However, we are sending a clear message. To the establishment, the rabbis, institutions, etc. we are exclaiming: WE ARE HERE TO STAY. We, Queer Jews of Orthodox background, are not going anywhere. We grew, we are growing, and we will grow, in numbers and in depth. It is about time to show us the ultimate Jewish value of love, and endurance.
          At the same time, we have a message to every struggling individual, within religious communities and beyond. A message that I have said before, and will continue to preach until there isn’t even a single child, living in a world that tells them ‘your feelings are erroneous’ who has not heard this memorandum: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You are not crazy, you are not a sinner, but you ARE amazing! We are here for you. There is a loving community, made up by some of the most inspiring individuals alive, waiting to share their love!!!
With sight on the future,
Abby @ The Second Transition

[1]  No worries, the chances of me becoming orthodox again are lower than the chances of becoming a Buddhist or Sufi… sorry Orthodox friends, had to say it.
[2] Yiddish for Better.
[3] Find the full text in the first comment on this post. Feel free to post corrections and edits, as well as to copy it and use it as you please.
[4] I can not skip on that without mentioning the lifesaving organization “Footsteps” which helps these who are leaving Ultra-Orthodox communities. In addition to being a place that encourages every member to live their own life to the fullest, it is one of the most LGBT friendly spaces I am part of. Find us at http://footstepsorg.org/

Sunday, February 7, 2016

My FB Response to Columbia Queer Alliance (CQA)

This is what I wrote on Facebook as a reply to Columbia Queer Alliance's post supporting "Apartheid Divest" (I am intentionally NOT putting a link) - which is pretty much the Columbia chapter of the international BDS movement.
Here is CQA's original post.
I am not sure what to say.
As an openly queer Columbia student, I now feel excluded, and in some ways, marginalized within my own marginalized community.
Poster for J Street CU's event, at the Columbia/Barnard Hillel
We had an amazing discussion with an amazingly diverse crowd
about how to find alternative ways to end to occupation while
preserving our belief in Israel's right to exist in peace.
I agree, and I am outspoken about the Human Rights problems in the (entire) Middle East. I joined J Street U at Columbia with one main goal: fight the occupation of the Palestinians in a productive way. My pro-Palestinian stance has put me in odds with many of my Jewish friends, and even more so, with the few family members who still talk to me. Yet I do not support BDS for to many reasons.
·        BDS clearly undermines Israel’s rights to exist, which is somewhat ironic as we are all supposed to fight for the right of self-determination. I have had Jewish family and ancestors in Israel/Palestine going back to the 16th century (at least). BDS is telling me that I have no right to my heritage. Let us not even talk about the fact that a group that is constantly quoting UN resolutions (rightfully) ignores other resolutions from the same body all the time.
·        BDS has proven to jeopardize peaceful negotiations towards a two state solution on both sides. Well, some members of the movement, including the co-founder openly said that they do not want Two States.
·        BDS has thus far affected the Palestinian economy more than it did the Israeli economy. As a Jew who strongly identifies as Pro-Palestinian, I find this challenging.
·        BDS ignores domestic politics. This movement is strengthening the Israeli Right in unprecedented ways. The fact that Israel now has a right wing government that is not interested in a peaceful solution is in large ways thanks to the international BDS movement. That hurts so many of my fellow liberal Jews.
I want to see an end the occupation. I want to see an end to the human rights violations against Palestinians. I want to see an end to the suffering of every human being, Jews, Arab and Druze alike 'from the River to the Sea', and BDS is not helping.
I wish that next time I visit the State of Israel; I should be able to visit the beautiful cities of Ramallah, Jericho, and Nablus as part of the sovereign State of Palestine. 
I feel that BDS is standing in the way of achieving these goals.

So CQA, please take notice that BDS, even the majority of its members really mean well, is not the best way, if an effective way at all, to fight for Human Rights, something that we, Queer people, have been fighting to achieve for years.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I Have Daddy and Mommy Issues: Yet I Am Finally Proud With It. A Trans Woman Coming To Terms With Rejection

“Mom, our family is breaking up because I’m a transsexual, and I can’t live as a man anymore.”
Years crowded into silence between us, years long gone and years yet to be lived. I thought I had prepared myself to lose her. After all, I told myself, you’ve never really had her. But, in that phase, when truly motherless years were only a breath away, I realized that I had never stopped clinging to the hope of her.
“I’ve heard about this,” she said at last. Her voice, rich and low, trained for a radio career she had never had, was thick with feeling. “I know that you have to be who you are, and, no matter what that is, you will always be my child.”
The air above my head felt empty. The sword that had always dangled above me, the terror of what would happen if my mother discovered what I was, was gone.”
Anyone who has been following my life experiences, in person, online on this blog, on different media outlets, or just via social media, knows that I rarely talk about my current relationship with my family (besides one genetic post I wrote over Hanukkah). That is not in any way because there is nothing to talk about; there is a lot to talk. Neither is it because I don’t care; I care more that I care to care. Rather it is because I can’t, I just cannot bring myself to talk about it. It hurts so much, so strongly and so deeply, yet (at least until now) I feel numb. I wanted to cry, just cry aloud like a newborn child, but my feelings are (/were) hard as a stone. On the other hand, I would rather describe it as deeply hidden beneath a rock. A Rock so big that the weight of it is more than any human being should ever have to carry.
          Today, as I read these above paragraphs, I managed to break through my stone-hard heart. I cried for over an hour, and I am in tears while I am writing these words.
          Since I was a child writing was my best therapy. I always used it to explain my inner feelings - to myself. Sharing it in public will help me more, and hopefully others who struggle.
These are some of my thoughts about my parents and family. Some of the reflections and heartaches I would like to get off my chest:
This is my way of doing it. The support I got until now from so many beautiful people in this beautiful world has been lifesaving, and I am counting on that even more. At the same time, please respect my families and my own privacy, and don’t ask for details I have not shared, as I don’t plan to share too many personal details, but rather emotional.
My father, maternal grandfather, and my great uncle, the Bobov'er Rebbe
On my third birthday
          If someone would ask me how I would describe my relationship with my parents, and even more specifically my father, prior to 2012 when I left religion, I would have to come on with a new term. Father-son relationship wouldn’t do justice. My father was one of my best friends; my father was probable one of the only people on earth who understood me in some way. For example, through my entire teenage years he was one of the only people who sincerely believed that there is something more going on beneath my identity struggles; and he was right. However, that this struggle might have anything to do with gender identity did not cross his mind,[1] because to him, cross-gender identity was a hypothetical idea discussed only in Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism). My father was the ONLY person in the world with whom I knew I can always be honest (not that I was, but that is a separate conversation), no matter what. He was the ultimate embodiment of the superficial “father figure” - but in a close reality. We had a lot of hiccups throughout the years, as my identity struggles all so often manifested in different ways, but we only grew closer.
          My parents have 13 kids, with eight of them marries that makes it 21, and tens of grandkids (I lost count), yet they both (used to, by now they only speak to twelve of them) speak with all of them every day. Growing up I thought this is how it is in every family. My father spoke to his parents[2] every day, it just felt ‘normal’ that we do the same. Until I went to boarding school at age 15 and I realized that this is not the norm, and in most families, kids speak with their parents a few times a week at most. Up to a few months ago, or to be exact, up until I came out to my father, I spoke with them every day. We disagreed on everything in life, but we were on the phone every day.  
My mother with my son on his third birthday
          My mother was kind of my doctor. She always said that having raised thirteen kids made her a better a doctor than a medical school ever could, and she was right 90% of the time. Whenever we (my siblings and I) wouldn’t feel well, she would know what it is just by looking on us. We would go to the doctor, but when we came home, she knew what the doctor said before we had a chance to tell her. Until two months ago, she was the first one to know when I was not feeling in best, and she was accessible by phone 24 hours a day, six days a week. I always knew that I can’t call her at three in the morning hoping that if she asleep she just wouldn’t pick up, because her phone was never on silence. She has thirteen kids, eight in-laws, tens of grandkids, and she knew every time one of us went on a doctor’s visit. Just like my father, she was - to me - the ultimate embodiment of the Mother figure.
          Throughout my life’s transitions, the thought of losing my relationship with my parents was always on top of my list of possible “Side defects” to living a self-determined life. It is one of the reasons I pushed off every change - especially to the big changes of leaving my ultra-religious community and coming out as a woman - until the last minute. However, it gets to a point where one realizes that “You cannot be a family member, you cannot be a child or sibling, if you are not you.” I always waited until I was a point where I simply wasn’t. When it got to a point where it was my sole existence and survival versus endangering my relationship with my parents, the option was clear. If I don’t exist, if I am not alive physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, I have lost my family anyway. That was the belief and underlying understanding in family relationship that guided my actions, and is guiding them until today.  
          When I came out to my father as an Atheist, I was ready for the possibility that he will reject me outright. Yet to my great excitement his response was pretty much like the one of Joy Ladin’s mother in the abovementioed quote. His exact words were: “No matter what happens, no matter how you are, you are still my kid[3] (okay, he said son).” I continued to speak withboth of my parents almost every day, I still visited on holidays and family weddings, and so on.
          That all changed on Wednesday November 11th, the day I came out to my father.
          As much as when I came out to my parents as non-observant I was a point of knowing that I cannot pretend to be religious anymore, coming out as a woman was when I was already at a point of no return, after two months on HRT. I knew that I had to come out to my parents if I don’t want them to hear it from other people, I owed them that much. I knew it is going to hurt them deeply, I knew that the shame in a community that is not ready in any way to accept anything outside of its White Hetro-Normative lifestyle, put aside gender transition in a radically segregated society – is going to be close to unbearable. Yet at the same time I knew that I am not doing anything wrong. Wrong would be for me to continue to be in the closet until I would die physically and/or emotionally. As my therapist kept on telling me, and I know it is true, “they are doing it to themselves.” I had to tell them.
          I chose the most appropriate way to do that. I called my father and told him that I want to tell him something, but I want to do it in front of a rabbi. He came down to the house of that Rabbi, and we both spoke to him in the most Jewish, Hasidic[4] and Kabbalistic way possible. I was not expecting acceptance, well, I was prepared for utter rejection, but I was secretly hoping for a similar response to until now. Think that I am sick, think that I am crazy (for now), but talk to me.
          His response was: “You should know that this means I might not be able to talk to you ever again.” When I told him that the attempted suicide rate for people of trans experience is high, in a society that still has problems accepting us, and I asked if he would prefer me dead, he said “I am not going to response” - this killed me internally. Finally, he said “I will find a way to let you know what I decide (regarding staying in touch)” and for the first time in my life, he left me without even a handshake. THAT WAS THE LAST TIME I HEARD FROM MY PARENTS.
          Naturally it bothered me in the beginning, but when after an hour it stopped bothering me whatsoever, it bothered me that I am not crying. I can cry while watching Boy Meets Girl or Transparent, but my mind and heart were numb when it came to my parents. The fact that I felt like I don’t care while I knew I cared, bothered me more than anything, I knew it is unhealthy, I knew that I have to cry it out, but I couldn’t.
My parents, my son, and myself, on my son's third birthday
          Today I mourn the loss of my dear parents. I know this whole post sounds like a vigil journal entry, which is about right. This is how I feel. Today I celebrate in the most non-celebratory way possible a sad milestone. A milestone of realizing, coming to terms, and starting to heal the loss of my family. I don’t give up, I hope that they will come around in some way, but for the first time in months I feel like I have my family back. It is a family that is still lost, it is a family to whom I am still lost (at best), but it is a family that is openly on my heart, it is a family that I am no longer numb to. I DO NOT REGRET MY DECSION, EVERN IF I WOULD HAVE KNOWN CLEARLY THAT THIS IS GOING TO BE THE RESULT. More than ever, I know and feel that I have a family that I am trying my best to be part of.
          I am writing all of this not just to cry about daddy and mommy issues that I proudly have. I am writing to help myself make sense of all of this, and to tell the world, and others that are struggling that “You cannot be a family member, you cannot be a child or sibling, if you are not you. If your family gets hurt by you living a self-determent life, know that they are doing it to themselves. You are not doing anything bad to them.”
Writing in tears of longing and relief combined,
Abby @ The Second Transition

[1] And even when I tried telling him when I came to him that daddy you were right, something was going on, and this is what it is, he refused to accept it.
[2] Who also had ten kids, and by now have hundreds of grandkids and great-grandkids.
[3] He did add an ‘explanation’ that he looks on it as if I am sick, and if his kid gets cancer he is not going to reject them. It bothered me the way he looked on it, and for the next four years we had a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell relationship, but we had a relationship.
[4] For reference how much Hasidic Judaism means to my father: He is the tenth generation of the founder of the Hasidic movement, Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer - the Ball Shem Tov, in five different ways, and he always preached that to us, non-stop.