Ten reasons why being trans is like being a ger tzedek

Why being trans is an awful lot like being a convert to Judaism:

  1. “I feel like this is what I’ve always been, even if I’ve only discovered it now.” Many people who convert to Judaism do so out of a sense that they were born with a Jewish soul and that only now are they finally coming home. Being trans is also all about that uncomfortable separation between your truest soul and the outward circumstances of your birth.
  2. Enculturation: Needing to work your butt off to pick up the incredibly basic social and cultural cues of your new peer group, things that seem to “come naturally” to most because of how thoroughly they’ve been socialized from an early age. That nagging sense of regret for your “lost” childhood. Feeling secretly jealous of people who were “born that way” because of how easy they make it look.
  3. It’s really impolite to ask: Once someone has gone through the conversion process, they are considered totally Jewish in all respects and it is a mitzvah not to refer to their “convert” status unless they bring it up for some reason. It should really be the same way with trans folk.
  4. Body modification as a way of bringing your outward form into harmony with your identity: Brit Milah, ’nuff said.
  5. Your parents’ utter shock and disbelief when you come out to them.
  6. The difficulty of getting people who’ve known you a long time to recognize and accept your new identity: Whether it’s going by a different set of pronouns or getting it through peoples’ heads that you just don’t celebrate Christmas or eat pork chops any more, it’s always an uphill struggle.
  7. The weird looks you get from your friends when you take such unabashed delight in things they tend to see as a hassle. “I just don’t understand why anyone would enjoy shaving their legs!” “What do you mean you had fun kashering your kitchen!?”
  8. Designated Ambassador Status. As a convert to Judaism, chances are you’re the only Jew your old friends or family know, and it is therefore your job to speak for all Jews, everywhere. As a trans person, chances are you’re the only trans person your old friends or family know, and it is therefore your job to speak for all trans folk, everywhere. Oi.
  9. The lack of comprehension from a lot of people who assumed the only way to have an identity is to have it assigned to you at birth. “I didn’t even know it was possible to convert to Judaism, I thought you had to be born into it!”
  10. The immense and indescribable sense of relief you feel when you realize you are finally home and at peace with yourself.

9 thoughts on “Ten reasons why being trans is like being a ger tzedek

  1. Awesome article Leiah! It is so true, and when you put it that way – it really gives a new perspective and deeper understanding. Thank you for writing it down( I printed it and put up in my office)

  2. Brilliance! The parallels really are astounding, and quite invisible to those of us who were born and raised in a Jewish environment. That’s a kind of privilege for us. Nicely conceived and written.

    • Thanks ^__^ I’m fairly certain that without all the support I’ve received and the things I’ve learned from my Jewish community I never would have found it within myself to come out and embrace the person I really am. Navigating a multiplicity of identities can be confusing, but it can also be so rewarding in terms of seeing things from a perspective you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

  3. If I may humbly add a suggestion to this already comprehensive and insightful list: EXPENSE! Practising Judaism, I think, requires a certain financial investment in purchasing rituals tools, items, and other important accessories needed for the holidays and so forth. And being trans is like that as well — a great of deal of cash to support the new identity (for me, it was makeup – whooo.)

    • Too true. And in both cases it helps to have supportive friends to help out! (I remember getting our first mezuzah. Our rabbi joked “You’re a real Jew now!” I was so happy.)

  4. Related to ones you’ve already got:
    a) because people assume you have to be born into a Jewish family to be Jewish and (in my case) assigned male as a baby to be a man, people make false assumptions about what kind of life you had before they met you. “Where did you have your Bar Mitzah?” (I didn’t) “You have a child care qualification? Were you the only boy in the class?” (Yes, but no one else knew it at the time…)
    b) When you come out to people about the above “Actually, I’m the only Jew in my family…” “I’m a trans man which means I spent my childhood assumed to be a girl…” they immediately ask about your genitals. “Did you, y’know… I mean… Are you circumcised?” Did you, y’know… I mean… Have you had surgery?”
    c) If people know any other trans people / any other converts, they tell you all about them within a few minutes of finding out about your journey.
    d) People ask you “Why?” and can’t understand why anyone would want to convert / transition.

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