Jewish Perspective on Being Transgender

by Rabbi Sonya Starr

Over a year ago, Columbia Jewish Congregation began its in-depth discussion about
gender identities, and soon after I was asked to prepare a talk about the Jewish
perspective on being transgender and gender non-binary. As I was reading through all
this material, there were three personal memories that kept coming back to me. The
first was when our children were young; Ilyse and I talked with our peers about trying to
raise our children “gender neutral” by buying our boys dolls and our girls Hess trucks;
dressing our boys in pink and our girls in blue. We shared our concern that society’s
definitions of boys and girls were too narrow and too confining.

The second personal memory occurred years earlier when I was first coming out in
college; I was asked if I had my druthers would I be straight. The first knee jerk answer
I gave to this question became the answer I have given ever since, including when I first
came to CJC. If I had my druthers, the world would not be homophobic.

And finally, I remembered something a professor of mine said at Brandeis when I was in
graduate school. He was upset at my class one day because we were so focused on
getting the right answer. He finally blurted out that he did not care what our answers
were; he only cared that we asked the right question, because the right question would
determine the answers we would find. What if the important question is not about the
Jewish perspective on being transgender or non-binary,” but rather “is our world really
bifurcated into only two genders? Is a sacred world one in which there are only two
human gender options?”

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