Saturday, 14 September 2013

Reflections of a Jewish trans woman on Yom Kippur

Reflections of a Jewish trans woman on Yom Kippur: 

What does a trans woman do with her Kippah and Talit after affirming her identity?

I always remember the Bar Mitzvah (Jewish coming of age ritual) held close to my 13th physical birthday (1978). I remember wearing for the first time my Kippah and Talit. I admit I didn’t feel I had moved from boy to man (even allowing for nerves over all the readings and the speech at the party afterwards). With hindsight, I obviously could never move from boy to man because I never really could be a male of any age.

But I did like the new Kippah and shiny Talit.  There was something about their aura and their Jewishness that...well, was a feeling I can’t describe...a sense of spirituality perhaps?

Our family was not the most synagogue-going family   As liberal (now reform/progressive) Jews, we only went on High Holy days, weddings and Mitzvahs (there may have been a Bas Mitzvah, honestly can’t remember). There were Passover gatherings. I only wore the 2 items a handful of times, but always, that sense of something.

And then the relatively standard trans woman story...not being able to force down my trans truth, coming out in 1995 and transition at aged 32 in 1998 to affirm my female identity.

And never wear my Kippah and Talit again.

Since 1998, I’ve moved house 5 times. Most house moves involve a sense of purging. But not once have I ever considered parting with my Kippah and Talit and their velvet bag. I’ve got this part of my “male” past I want to keep – something which not many trans people experience? I’m comfortable enough about “the first part of my life” – stuff happens. I doubt I’d be alive if I tried to come out any earlier. I was meant to be around to do advocacy from about 2000 onwards. I went through the first 30 years or so and I learnt stuff about lifer and people that guides me today etc etc. But such a male-specific connection remains...

I can’t just throw out the Kippah and Talit – and there are other reasons. Dad (born in the United Kingdom) went to the same store in London to get my Kippah and Talit as my grandfather had before him to get his (my dad’s). I’d feel like I was dishonouring Dad (and I love him - and mum - hugely) and my granddad (who passed away before I was born) if I did that. I obviously have no desire to hurt them. Unlikely I’d ever have kids; if I had a son I’d love to get that Kippah and Talit from the same store, even if it was by mail order or online.

I plan to live as long as I can. I love my life and what I do to advocate for trans (and the rest of the rainbow) and other things too. I want to keep doing it for a long time. But we all gotta go sometime. Fair enough – so long as it’s quick and painless and that sort of thing, fine.

But it raises a thought. I believe the tradition is to have Kippah and Talit buried with a person. Is that what I want? Will my female spirit want that for eternity? (Can I dictate to my spirit after I’m physically gone – there’s a curly question  )

I don’t have an answer. I wonder if any Jewish trans women have faced this dilemma, and how they resolved it.

Because I simply don’t know.

Wishing all the highest of high holy days.

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