trans.cafe

Yes, You Can Be Transgender & Practice Religion

Stories, Mind + Spirit, Community + AlliesEmet Tauber
Image by Rebecca Lieberman

Image by Rebecca Lieberman

by Emet Tauber

In one month, I will begin a journey I have long hungered for—to become a rabbi, a member of the Jewish clergy.

I have heard many people doubt that it’s possible to both identify as transgender, and participate in organized religion. Many see religion as a long-standing vestige of conservative values, of traditionalism. My take is a bit different.

My roots in Judaism and Jewish culture are deep and vast. My grandmother is a Holocaust survivor, and many of my great grandparents were first generation immigrants who grew up in shtetls (e.g. Jewish villages in Eastern Europe).

And yet, Jewish spaces were also some of my first interactions with highly-gendered spaces. In preschool and kindergarten, I went to a chabad school. Chabad is a very observant sect of Judaism, and so our school adhered very strictly to Jewish traditions. On Fridays, we would have a pretend Shabbat dinner (Jewish Sabbath, our day of rest) and the school would assign one person to be a wife and one person to be a husband. Sometimes I wanted to be the husband, and I couldn’t be. I didn’t understand why.

Later, when I was in middle school, I went to another religious school where many people were conservative. I was afraid of my peers figuring out that I wasn’t straight, and was made more uncomfortable when I was coerced into having a bat mitzvah (the Jewish coming of age ceremony; bat mitzvahs are for girls and bar mitzvahs are for boys). These gendered traditions and the conservative politics that accompanied them were parts of Judaism I didn’t know how to engage with.

For a long time my own understanding of Judaism wasn’t able to exist in the progressive and accepting place I know now; instead, I thought about Judaism from a place of fear and xenophobia—anything that challenged the status quo seemed threatening.

Don’t get me wrong: that attitude still exists in the Jewish community, but it exists, and often prevails, in every community.

When I got to high school, my school was pluralistic and didn’t identify with any one denomination. There, I was free to be myself without sacrificing any of the tradition I loved and cherished. When I was able to be myself at school, while also able to recognize the parts of Judaism I was in love with, I was at home. This was the place from which I came out as trans at age 15. This was the place that allowed me to grow up trans and into a Jewish leader.

I have always found solace in liturgy, the connection with my ancestors, and my faith. Reading any piece of the siddur (prayer book) or tanakh (scripture) stirs up something deep inside me that I can’t explain. It awakens my soul.

When I was first coming out, people would often ask me how I reconcile my faith with my gender/sexuality. 

The answer is simple: I don’t have to. There is no doubt in my mind that I am accepted and loved by God for exactly who I am, no exceptions. I don’t need to make excuses for my “sins” because I have none, and I don’t need to reconcile anything because there’s nothing to reconcile.

My goal in becoming a rabbi is to create a space where all Jews are welcome. Where gendered spaces aren’t a thing, where social justice takes the forefront, and where ideas turn into action. This space would be radically trans-inclusive, and take on a bent that goes above and beyond to welcome trans and gender non-conforming people into the community. I want what I never had to be available to all in the community.

Regardless of what you hear in the media, faith is at heart an inclusive practice, and we need to show that. If you are a person of faith who longs to create a welcoming and loving home for trans people, use the hashtag #transfaith and show how you’re making that a reality.

 

 

Emet is a transgender man, a disabled person, and a rabbinical school student at the reconstructionist rabbinical college. Emet has a degree in Liberal Studies from Purchase College, extensive activist experience, and a strong Jewish connection.Emet came out 6 years ago as the first openly trans student at a Jewish day school.Emet is originally from Memphis, but currently lives in Philadelphia.  Emet currently serves on the board of both GLSEN  and TSER (Trans Student Educational Resources), where he works to make things better for transgender students. Emet hopes to be a rabbi with a passion for social justice and working for action within the Jewish community.