Thursday, November 26, 2015

That Night I Cried With the Trans Rabbi From Brooklyn

“She weeps, yea, she weeps in the night, and her tears are on her cheek; she has no comforter among all her lovers; all her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.
-         Book of Lamentations (Eicha), 1:2
Four years ago, around the time I started the first half of my transition - leaving the Ultra-Orthodox community - a prominent rabbi from Brooklyn contacted me. In a pretty nice way he tried to convince me about the ‘truth’ of Ultra-Orthodoxy, claiming that he really only cares about me. In fact, he was one of the only rabbis (they were a lot of them involved) who never tried to talk to anyone behind my back, knowing that if he really wants to help he has to talk just to me. His arguments however, were just the typical arguments used in these communities, such as showing how ‘holy’ our leaders were and therefore they cannot be wrong. Later he moved on to more ‘sophisticated’ methods, such as trying to convince me that it is worth to stay Hasidic for whatever reason, and so on.
As you all know, he had no success, I left the community. But, he was one of the only people of my former community, who left some sweet taste in my mouth.
Two weeks ago Thursday, the day after I published my Coming Out post, I got a lot of phone calls, like, a lot. I ignored most of them - I was overwhelmed. Within the sea of missed calls, one number got my attention. Not just for the fact that they called three times, and left two voicemails, but because I recognized the number - it was the abovementioned rabbi from Brooklyn. At first sight, I thought he just wants to give me another ‘nice’ speech about why it is just not worth for me to go forward with the second part of transition, and live openly as the woman I am. After seeing how aggressively they are trying to reach me, I decided that they are nice anyway, nothing to lose, so I picked up when they called the fourth time.
“I need to talk to you, vie amshenelsten [a Yiddish expression for ASAP]” he half said, half screamed, half cried (I know, that’s three halves, but that is how it felt, confusing). To be honest I was terrified of his tone, thinking, “Okay, he is not happy with what I am doing…” I tried to ask him what he wants, but all he said was “I have to meet you.” It was after 10 at night, so I told him, I will still be up for a while, and if he wants to come up to the Upper West Side now, we can meet. He agreed, and said he will drive up to meet. It was weird, and I was wondering what is so important for him to drive to the City so late at night, but I still thought that he is going to try to change my mind.
At 11 o’clock, on a chilly Thursday night we met on the streets of NYC.
When he arrived, I realized right away that it is not what I thought; he is not here to convince me I should not transition. His eyes were red and full with tears, and he was shaking. He asked me if I am okay with a hug, he hugged me, and starting crying heavily. Only after a few minutes, I was able to understand what’s going on. From in between his words of ‘I am lost’ ‘I cannot live like that anymore’ ‘you have to help me’ ‘I tried suicide already’ and so on, I got the picture.
In short, He Came Out. He said that he has been struggling with gender identity for the last forty years.
(Note: I know that I should use different pronouns, but he preferred that I use he/him/his for now).
I am not going to share everything that we discussed in the next two hours, as we both unraveled our life experiences living with Gender Dysphoria, in a community that ignored our existence. They are private details, and for now, I cannot share publically. I will just give a basic picture of his life (as approved by him): A child raised in a typical Hasidic family in Brooklyn, went to the best Yeshivot [Jewish/rabbinical school], and got married to a nice girl from a rich family. After his wedding, he went to rabbinical school where he was seen as a rising star in the world of Kashrut [the industry that studies and overlooks the laws of food in the Orthodox world]. After getting a rabbinical degree, he went higher and higher in the field until he got to where he is today, one of the most prominent authorities in the field. There was just one other part that no one knew about him, he did not feel like a boy/man.
(could not resist adding this picture...)
(Trigger warning: Suicide - Just the next paragraph)
We spoke in detail about out different yet similar struggles. There was just one part where he struggled much more than I ever did; despair. While I also felt hopeless most of my teenage years and early twenties, I never considered suicide. He did, and had tried it twice, with the latest having been just a few weeks ago. The first time he was away from home, and his family never knew that it was a suicide attempt. The second one his wife knew. They went to talk to a Rebbe [a spiritual leader in the Hasidic world, believed to have some kind of stronger divine connection] and he told them not to see a ‘secular’ therapist, but rather take on to be more careful in observing certain Jewish laws. No need to say that this did not change anything, he just fall into even greater despair.
“When I read your post last night, I felt for the first time in my life that maybe there is hope,” he said in tears - the first tears of the night that were not purely sad. “I don’t think I can logistically do what you did. I have a family of ten kids, some of them married, and I have grand kids,” he explained. From the other side it was clear to both of us that if he just continues to suffer in silent, his family will lose him anyway; there is no easy way in or out. However, it was clear that just knowing that they are others like him within our community, is an amazing relief. I did not know either what exactly I can do to help, but I did convince him to start seeing a therapist (to the dismay of his rebbe, a secular one…), and by the time I publish this post, he has an appointment with one.
During the last two weeks, as I have already mentioned, a few people reached out with similar experiences. The more people discussed it the more people reached out, the more awareness we raise, the more people we can help. My meeting with this rabbi that night was definitely the hardest encounter I had in the last few weeks. When I reached out to him last week asking if I can write about it, he agreed, knowing that this can help even more people. At the same time, we were both aware that there is too much at stake for him if his identity comes out. Since last week I wrote several drafts of this post, and after changing as many identifying facts as possible while keeping the story 100% true, we both felt comfortable enough sharing it. I am grateful to him for sharing it with me, and now with the world.
Usually, at the end of posts, I give a clear message to take away. This time I think that there is so much to take away, that whatever I say would not do justice. All I can say to the world as a whole, but especially to the Jewish/Orthodox world, is, WE ARE HERE, AND WE CAN USE SUPPORT.
On that note, Happy Thanksgiving my dear readers!
Abby @ The Second Transition

33 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for supporting someone who initially seemed not on your side- that is very brave and compassionate. To me, that is the essence of Judaism.

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  3. Now you can make up any amount of such storues and there is now way for them to be corroborated as they are a 'secret', so we just have to believe you. so brilliant..

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  4. until she convinced doctors she's not crazy!!! http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3333707/Pixee-Fox-spends-120k-15-surgeries-6-RIBS-removed-look-like-Jessica-Rabit.html …

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    1. My policy is simple: I leave everything up no matter how hateful it is (although a lot of people think I should delete them). The only comments I delete are these calling me by any of my old names, these who attack other people besides myself, or these who talk about suicide - due to the fragile nature of the topic.
      Unless if there is a trigger warning at the beginning.

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  6. While this story may or may not be true (who am I to say) it seems highly unlikely that there's such a huge concentration of "Gender dysphoria" in the Chasidic community.

    The question whether or not this is a mental illness varies and depending on whether you ask a "politically correct" practitioner or an old timer.

    No matter how you look at "Gender dysphoria", they need a good psychiatrist and a great therapist.

    Non-acceptance by family, friends and community is not a religious matter as you want us to believe read on .
    http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/transgender-girl-says-rejected-straight-6857022

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    1. It isn't more than in the general population. It is 0.3% of humanity. So it is most likely the same in the Hasidic community. The Hasidic community world wide is somewhere around a million, which would put the statistical number of Trans people at 3,000. I am only aware of 22 so far. There is still a long way to go.

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  7. You know, you're very great at marketing. You should consider that instead of gender studies...

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  8. Why would this rabbi trust you? How does he know you won't reveal his name? If he needed support, there are people out there.
    Nice try but I don't believe your rabbi story...

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    1. You obviously have never gotten to know Abby.

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  9. Thank you Abby. We need people to speak up about how gender dysphoria is something that can affect anyone-even a religious Jew! Thank you for speaking out like you are. Thank you for telling the story of this Rabbi. May you and the Rabbi you spoke with and every other Jew suffering in silence find their way to a world of love and acceptance, where hate and intolerance does not exist. Bless you, Abby.

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  10. First of all, I commend your honesty and openness on the issues of transitioning. As someone who is very familiar with the Hasidic community, it is my opinion that it is not healthy for you to allow people who will never accept you to post negative comments on your blog. Ultimately, it will do you no good, and may ultimately harm your emotional state of mind. You do not have to be bullied by others who are ganging up on you in a negative way. Continued good thoughts and wishes in your journey.

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  11. I am an Orthodox Jew. I am a transgender MTF who plans to transition and I am proud of who I am. We're here and we exist. It only took me 30 years to realize it.

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    1. There is an entire world out here. We love Abby. We will love you.

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    2. Thank you! I've gotten so much support from my Orthodox and Chasidic friends so far :)

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  12. To AnonymousNovember 29, 2015 at 8:35 PM.
    I guess one of the purposes of allowing these comments is to document the attitude of rejection and mockery chassidic trans people are subjected to.

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  13. Transgender is not mocked / unacceptted ONLY in the religious world, Transgender is mocked and unacceptable in any community. Let's call a spade a spade.

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  14. My parents want to know why I want to be a woman as if they did something wrong. It's nothing that they did wrong. It's how I've viewed myself for so many years but repressed it because I thought these were abnormal thoughts.

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    1. It will be hard. There will be a lot of people who aren't ready to accept you as a trans person.
      However, despite how awesome Abby is, we would rally around her even if she wasn't.
      I truly believe that when the time is right for you to come out, you will have our entire community rallying around you.
      💝

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  15. I'm trying to understand what trans is, is a man who feels like a woman not sexually attracted to women? Are they attracted to men?

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    1. Gender identity and sexual orientation are different things. I'm MTF TG pre-op and I can tell you with 100% certainty that I am attracted only to women but I won't lie in that I've had some fantasies lately in which I was together with someone who was FTM (those would be the only men I would be interested in).

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    2. Rivky there are trans who like men and trans who like women, some like both. Most trans I know (mtf) like men. I also know women who like mtf trans, especially those women who enjoy a good gentle backdoor session.

      Bottom line, who cares, sex is overrated, we should enjoy what we wish with consenting adults. Religion made sex a terrible thing.

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  16. Its getting nicely complicated...since I feel the brain of these people...or rather their emotions...ARE.
    May Hashem help you transition into healthy adults, unconfused with clarity and control over your oh so confused souls.

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    1. souls? What is that exactly? We all have a part of Adams soul, Adam was created originally as both a man and woman as one, maybe this is a sign that within each human we can have feelings that we are either.

      Grow up already with this hashem stuff, stop your selective reading and studying. Respect everyone and realize that anyone that is busy acting shocked is usually the one chasing around the nastiest things known to mankind.

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    2. If only everyone was as 'confused' as Abby. I challenge anyone. You get to know Abby. If you can honestly say that she is not an exemplary human.... then I need to meet someone who you respect!

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  17. Why would you want to know what a soul is? You obviously can't relate to one!And regarding Hashem,He sure is,"GROWING" on me day by day..more and more,thank G...d!!!
    And No,respect is earned and not everything is RESPECTSBLE..
    And chasing nasty things.not sure I know what you mean Cuz you obviously do ..know why? cuz it takes one to know one...you talk about chasing cuz u've been there,done that!
    And BTW,we are not shocked, Abby may have been sheltered,but most of us in the community are highly informed,super intellugent,well read..and not the naiive imbeciles you think we are.
    To Abby: May Hashem,that entity in the sky that you doubt exists, "no man is an athiest in a foxhole"...u just didnt get your chance to be tested.Hashem has patience...He awaits your return...on your own volition, because bechira exists.
    I hope one day,the voice inside you wakes you up to the real Reality of who you are and where you belong.
    May Hashem guide you and heal you...from the depth of my soul.

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    1. Intelligent sorry typo

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  18. Intelligent
    Sorry, typo

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  19. Hashem made us exactly as we are.

    If you have a problem with this, take it up with Him.

    Most human beings are so far from Him that they hate themselves and each other and, as a result, Him.

    Whoever you are, love yourself as you are.

    This is what He wants for His children.

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