I am proud to be a part of the Reform Jewish Movement whose rabbinical arm (CCAR) and congregational organization (Union for Reform Judaism) recently passed uplifting and hopeful resolutions on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People. At its root, our approach is based on this truth found in Genesis: that we all are created b’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image), meaning everyone, including transgender people.
Laurie Tragen-Boykoff, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who specializes in concerns related to the Transgender and Gender Variant communities, recently wrote this important article that illuminates some of the internal challenges people face when embracing this community. Ms. Tragen-Boykoff writes:
There are beliefs and expectations we hold and believe to be incontrovertible: the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, the earth is round, all men are created equal. Even the suggestion about challenging any of these thoughts is met with shock, disbelief, and even accusations of sacrilege or heresy. Yet not so long ago, a majority believed that the earth was flat. Many clung tenaciously to the idea that the races were unequal and that white superiority was a God-given right.
Another uncontested certainty that forms the foundation of our society is that humans enter the world as one of two genders – male or female – based on genitalia. To question that “truth” shakes some people to their core. Many find any alternative to be staggering and unspeakable. Others feel propelled to physical aggression at even the suggestion that gender is not fixed.
Could it be different? What if gender is determined by more than genitalia and chromosomes? What if the way we have always perceived humanity has been flawed or wrong? Considering all the unyielding beliefs we humans have held that have been proven false or have changed as a result or education and insight, perhaps we should be more open to new understandings.
There are those whose real life experiences completely contradict the old, familiar paradigm of genitals + chromosomes = gender.
People work hard every day to manage and control their lives, to have everything in its place and to know what to expect. When we walk into a room, we immediately organize many pieces of information, large and small. It is our natural inclination to gain a perspective and make things fit. What is my role here? What is the other’s role? How do I make my entrance and exit? What do they expect from me? What can I expect from them? What behaviors are acceptable here? What behaviors will be rejected? Is there a place in my brain to categorize this experience? Where will I make it fit?
We should acknowledge the challenge of beginning to consider that gender lies somewhere on a spectrum, rather than at two bipolar points. But what is new for some of us has been a certainty for others for all of their lives. There are those who, at three years of age, persistently and insistently assert that the gender they identify with is not the one they were assigned at birth. Consider the experience of those who are born anatomically as girls, but who live with the knowledge and conviction that they are boys. Or those who are born anatomically as boys, but knows themselves to be girls. The “assigned gender” for these children is wrong. Some will ask how this can happen. The etiology is unknown and is far less important than helping each individual life an authentic and unburdened life.
I challenge you to consider that the genitals we are born with do not conclusively determine our gender. We need to learn new language. Those of us for whom genitals equal our gender are called “cisgender.” It might surprise you to learn that approximately 1 in 2,000 babies come into the world labelled “intersex” (defined as “a child born atypical in terms of genitalia”).
When a caterpillar metamorphs into a butterfly, it is simply fulfilling its destiny. Its body and biology naturally transform and we are in awe of its newfound beauty.
Can we also entertain the possibility that as human beings, some of us come into the world not yet transformed into our final state and that like the butterfly, our ultimate form and way of being is not completely aligned with the form and function with which we enter the world? It is a challenge to move away from our comfort zones, but I place that challenge before you today.
Laurie Tragen-Boykoff, LCSW is a psychotherapist who practices Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Affirmative Psychotherapy in Calabasas. She has been a member of Congregation Or Ami for over 20 years and actively engages in social action programming, acting as an educator and an advocate for hundreds of families. She can be reached at ltblcsw57 [at] gmail.com or (818) 917-4878.