As a proud parent of a transgender child I worry constantly about transphobia and the violence that naturally follows this kind of irrational hatred. As a Jew, I am also triggered by all acts of dehumanization because they contribute to the erasure of God’s identity as our Creator. We are all formed b’tzelem Elokim, in the image of God; to be unkind to a person is to denigrate the Godliness within them.
We teach our children to be respectful to other students at school, and to be particularly mindful if someone is being excluded or bullied. We expect our teachers to have a sensitive awareness of the varied nature of a diverse classroom and to model intentional inclusivity. Schools are meant to accustom young people to be curious and help them achieve self sufficiency in exploring our collective wisdom, while contributing to it.
Transphobia, accompanied by anti-trans legislation, threatens the foundation of the entire educational system and undermines the American values that I learned when I was in school. The most basic lesson I was taught in kindergarten was “If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all,” which happens to come from a verse in this week’s Torah portion: וְלֹ֤א תוֹנוּ֙ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־עֲמִית֔וֹ וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם – Don’t say hurtful things to another, and you shall have fear of your God; for I am Hashem, your God (Leviticus 25:17).
One of the most basic truths that Judaism offers to the world is that God knows what is in our heart. We do the right thing, whether or not anyone else is watching, because we believe that God is always paying attention. It is our relationship with God that should motivate, and inform, all of our actions and inactions, not some absurd phobia of God’s children.
Everytime we mistreat another person we are choosing to distance ourselves from the Divine will. When people endorse transphobic rhetoric they are refusing to acknowledge the role of the Divine in the trans experience, and they weaken their own connection to God in the process.
Our Rabbis teach: “לְעוֹלָם יְהֵא אָדָם יְרֵא שָׁמַיִם בַּסֵּתֶר וּבַגָּלוּי – a person should always have an reverence of Heaven, in private and in public.” Being transgender involves an expanded awareness of one’s gender identity beyond one’s physical body. For many trans folks, this consciousness emanates from a soul level. It is this quality, of an honest expression of gendered attributes of the Divine within us, which anti-trans legislation is threatening to deface.
The order of “private” followed by “public” isn’t just because the purest indicator of our faith is demonstrated when we are alone, but also because it is a necessary first step. My child’s transness began as their internal recognition of a gender identity that was then revealed to the outside world. Denying their transness is a heretical claim of God’s limitation, intention, and presentation.
As parents, teachers, and people of faith we must protect our children and the integrity of our holy tradition. Transphobia is an evil movement that requires a deep and thoughtful response. Replacing hate with a heartfelt love requires the unifying power of our communities. We must come together to wholeheartedly embrace the blessing, and protect the sanctity, of trans lives as we parent a better future for all of God’s children.
Please join me and other parents and allies of Jewish trans kids and call on Jewish community leaders to take action for trans rights and dignity by signing our letter. Together we can make a difference.