As a Jewish Feminist, I stand for Trans Rights
As a queer woman, rabbinical student, and feminist activist, I’ve come to realize that one of Jewish feminism’s greatest contributions to my life has been theological. Its work to expand God language beyond the masculine and God’s portrayal beyond the cis-masculine has been instrumental in helping me see myself as a queer woman reflected in the God I pray to every day.
For me, God is a many-gendered life force. While God is often construed as melekh (king) or av (father), God is also portrayed as a mother who comforts us (Isaiah 66:13) and who mourns her children (Jeremiah 8:1-23), a midwife (Ps. 22:9-10), and a woman in labor (Isaiah 42:14). The name Elohim is a sort of Divine “they”.
God created human beings to reflect God’s expansive gender. We learn in Genesis 1:26-27 that when God created the first human being, God said: “Let us make adam in our image, after our likeness...And God created adam in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Genesis Rabbah 8:1 elaborates on this, saying that God created the first human being androgynous, as containing both male and female characteristics simultaneously. Rabbi Margaret Wenig reads Genesis 1:27 in particular as “a merism, a figure of speech in which a totality is expressed by two contrasting parts (e.g., “young and old,” “thick and thin,” “near and far”) … God created male and female and every combination in between.”
So, as a queer woman, rabbinical student, and feminist activist, I’ve also come to realize that an inclusive and compassionate world, where my trans siblings are celebrated and afforded the right to exist in public spaces, is a continuation of the liberation that the Jewish feminists gave to me when they liberated God from a cis-masculine construction.
As a Jewish feminist, I have a particular obligation to fight alongside my transgender siblings as their rights are threatened at the state and national level.
In Massachusetts, these rights, and our vision for our community, are under threat at the ballot box. In 2016, the State of Massachusetts passed laws protecting transgender people in public places. This means that legally, transgender people cannot be discriminated against places like restaurants, medical offices, and parks. Most significantly, it means that transgender people have the legal right to use the restroom that best corresponds to their gender identity in public places.
Soon after this law passed, a small group of people who are against these protections gathered enough signatures to put a question on the Massachusetts ballot in November 2018 that asks whether Massachusetts voters would like to uphold the current laws. Their hope is that Massachusetts voters will say “no” and bring back discrimination based on gender identity into the law.
This group’s aim is not simply to roll back protections for transgender people in Massachusetts: their scope is national. In the words of Janson Wu, executive director of GLAD, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, “People are hell bent on making an example of Massachusetts. A loss here would embolden anti-gay activists from coast to coast in states where LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections are still sorely needed.”
If opponents to transgender equality win in Massachusetts, it’s only a matter of time until the rights of trans people nationwide are under threat, too. As a Jewish feminist, I can’t let that happen without a fight. My hope, and the hope of all those in support of trans rights, is that Massachusetts voters will vote YES to uphold these protections.
We need you now more than ever.