Men, Women, and the Toilet

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Image: A sign designating a women’s restroom. Public domain.

I was once followed into a bathroom by a man, back in the 1990’s.

It was a ladies’ room in a shopping mall, a small room tucked away between the parking structure and the shops. I heard the door open behind me and I glanced back. A man was coming in, looking straight at me, and the look on his face made my blood curdle. I ran right at him and ducked beneath his arm on my way out of the door. I began screeching, hoping that someone, anyone would hear.

I screamed all the way into the mall. He did not follow. I heard him laugh.

I had forgotten all about it until the recent spate of laws aimed at keeping transgender folks out of bathrooms. Like many women, I have a list of scary memories I try to avoid. If I dwelled on them I would never leave the house again.

I tell this story to point out the great flaw in the bathroom worries: men who are up to no good don’t need to say they are transgender to go into the ladies’ room. They just walk in. They always have.

As for the discomfort issue (I suspect, the real issue) there are many women with whom I’m uncomfortable in the bathroom. The ones who pee all over the seat and leave it that way; the ones who hog the sink while they get their makeup just so; the ones who sit in the single handicap stall and play games on their phone while I sit on my scooter outside, hoping I won’t have “an accident.” Oh, yes, and there are the ones who wear perfume as if it were a chemical weapon!

I don’t like them. I don’t want to share with them. But I do because they need a place to pee, too.

Trans women are no danger to me. In the men’s room they are in deadly danger.

There are no cases, ever, anywhere, of a man  posing as a woman to get access to women in the toilet. That’s because they don’t need to do that: if they are up to no good, they waltz right in.

Jerusalem LGBT Pride Murder Impacts the Reclaiming of Zion Square

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” – Psalm 126:5

The murder of Shira Banki z”l is not forgotten. Instead, we have this news from Israel, as reported in Melanie Nathan’s excellent world LGBTQ news blog “O-blog-dee-o-blog-da.”

While nothing can restore Ms. Banki to her family and nation, perhaps change is possible. The dedication of Zion Square in Jerusalem to such change is a step in the right direction.

O-blog-dee-o-blog-da

Zion Square Zion Square gathering, Jerusalem.

Zion Square, one of the landmarks of Jerusalem in Israel, is set to undergo a redesign project, embracing pluralism and tolerance, evolving through circumstances and the passionate activism of several organizations and individuals.

Diverse organizations, ad hoc groups and activists have worked together to bring this extraordinarily progressive plan to fruition, by meeting each Thursday night for over a year and a half, in Zion Square, where they have engaged in informal dialogue and created visibility.

According to an article in Haaretz, “Gay pride murder inspires grassroots movement to reclaim Jerusalem landmark”:

The Jerusalem municipality has decided that, as a major component of its call for a competition for a planned redesign of the square, Zion Square will be turned into “a place that promotes connections, tolerance and mutual respect.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 9.12.24 AMThe decision to brand and design the square this way was motivated in large…

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In Memoriam: Jeanne Córdova

Image: Photo taken of Jeanne Córdova at the 2012 Lammy Awards by lynnhb. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Jeanne Córdova died of cancer on January 10, 2016. She was one of the LGBTQ pioneers who changed the world for us: a community organizer and a journalist. Unless you are a lesbian – and an older lesbian, at that – you probably don’t recognize her name.

Jeanne was born in Germany, one of 12 children of a Mexican father and an Irish American mother. She grew up Catholic in Southern California and entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Immaculate Mary Convent in Los Angeles in 1966. She wrote about her exit from the convent and her coming-out at UCLA in her 1990 book Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story

Jeanne was one of those who did the hard work of organizing lesbians in Southern California back when lesbians were regarded as sick or a social menace. Her recent book, When We were Outlaws is about a short period in the 1970’s when lesbians began to see themselves as Lesbian Nation, but the Establishment, especially J.Edgar Hoover, saw them as another bunch of Commies, enemies of the state.    (I say “them” because I didn’t come out until ’87.) Those were scary, heady times, when the radical Left in America was feeling its oats about the exit from Vietnam, but painfully aware of what had happened to the Black Panthers.  Córdova was a leader in the lesbian community in Southern California during that time, and she wrote about not only the external battles but the internal ones as well.  She was both a lover and a fighter, and breathtakingly honest about it, to boot.

If you want to get a taste of Jeanne’s voice, read her blog, This Lesbian World: Notes from a Community Organizer.  

I am sad that the Jeanne Córdovas of the LGBTQ community have been mostly forgotten in our recent political victories. We tend to focus on the national organizations and their current leadership – and that leadership has not always been generous enough to give credit to the cranky, stubborn visionaries who brought us to this day. The AIDS epidemic carried off many of the men, and now that generation of lesbians are dying, too.

It is a Jewish value to give credit where credit is due. I would not enjoy the freedoms I have today, the safety I have today, were it not for Jeanne Córdova and her compatriots, back in the days of the Lesbian Nation. Their activism and courage propelled us into a future in which I can marry my beloved and in which so much seems possible. Jeanne would be the first to point out that the work is far from done. The best memorial we can give her is to carry the work forward.

 

 

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is designated as the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Jewish tradition teaches us that we were all created b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of the Holy One. We are abjured against violence to the human body so strongly that even after death, we treat dead bodies with reverence.

Transgender people deserve the same respect as every other human being, but in fact they are at grave risk of bodily harm and murder. I learned this on a visceral level years ago, when a young person who had grown up in my kitchen embarked on transition to a greater wholeness. I found I was terrified for him – terrified in my bones, because I knew what might to happen to him even on his college campus here in California.

It’s a happy story: he’s a healthy young man, pursuing his career, contributing to society. Now that he’s a thirty-something with thinning hair and a professorial air, I don’t worry about him quite as much.

But far too many transgender persons, especially transwomen of color, don’t make it to their thirties, much less beyond. Too many are murdered every year. For a sense of that, read Transgender Day of Remembrance 2015: Those We’ve Lost from The Advocate. The graphics there are not visually upsetting – no photos of bodies – but they are nonetheless shocking: too many dead.

Then DO something: join me in supporting the Transgender Law Center, a public interest law firm that has been worked hard for many small changes in US law and policy. There is much work to be done, but I have been an active supporter of TLC for over ten years and I have seen them squeeze more from a dime than any other non-profit I know.

The slaughter of transgender people is an ugly reality. Today, let’s acknowledge it by making the world better.

URJ Takes a Stand on Transgender Rights

This past week the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) passed A Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People. While a resolution is not binding on URJ congregations, it does set a standard for policy in URJ congregations. The URJ is the association of the 900 Reform congregations across North America, just as the CCAR is the association of Reform rabbis, and the ACC is the association of Reform cantors.

This is a landmark resolution. As the International Business Times reported, “It is the most comprehensive and extensive set of guidelines for transgender rights adopted by any major religious organization.”

The resolution addresses the very real concerns and needs of transgender and gender non-conforming members of our congregations and communities. I am sure that someone, somewhere, is saying that this is just the Reform movement being trendy, but the truth is that we have these members among our families and we need to serve them properly and with care for their dignity. We are also responsible as Jews to speak up for the disenfranchised and the oppressed in our larger society. All human beings are b’tzelem Elohim, made in the image of the Holy One. As such, there is no excuse, ever, for causing a person embarrassment, much less physical distress. Every human being has a right to physical safety and human dignity.

A resolution is not a revolution. It is likely that every congregation falls short in some aspect of the ideals enumerated below. It’s up to us to make teshuvah for past wrongs and to make the necessary adjustments in our social action, in our buildings, in our paperwork, in our classrooms, and in our language. We can do this.

I invite your feedback and discussion in the comments after you read the resolution. What do you like in it? What troubles you? What do you wish were there?

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Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People

Submitted by the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism

Background

Throughout the Reform Movement’s history, we have worked tirelessly to fight discrimination, support equality, and strengthen the rights of minorities and women. In 1977, both the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed resolutions affirming “the rights of homosexuals.” We welcome and celebrate people of all sexual orientations in our congregations and oppose laws that fail to uphold principles of equality for all. North American culture and society have, in general, become increasingly accepting of people who are gay, lesbian and bisexual, yet too often transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are forced to live as second-class citizens.

“Transgender” is a term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Gender non-conforming is a term for individuals whose gender expression is different from societal expectations related to gender.

Although much work remains to be done to fully overcome discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people, members of the transgender and gender non-conforming communities face particular ongoing legal and cultural bigotry and discrimination. Transgender individuals are often unable to easily update their government documents, such as passports and birth certificates, in order to reflect their correct gender and name. As a result, transgender individuals can be denied the right to vote because their documents do not match their gender. In Canada, six provinces (Ontario, 20 Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and Newfoundland) and one territory (Northwest 21 Territories) offer protections based on gender identity yet a federal bill has long been stalled in Parliament.1 In both the U.S. and Canada, transgender individuals experience frequent incidents of hate crimes and harassment, and often face discrimination in employment, healthcare and housing. Simply choosing their preferred pronoun or accessing facilities based on their gender identity without facing others’ objections or fearing violence can be a challenge for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. The combined impact of all of these factors has contributed to higher than average poverty, homelessness and suicide rates among transgender people.23

Efforts within the Reform Movement over the past decade reflect our commitment to greater inclusivity of transgender and gender non-conforming people. In 2003, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion admitted its first openly transgender rabbinical student. Recently, both NFTY and URJ camps have taken steps to become more inclusive of transgender participants in their material, application forms, facilities and programs. In 2015, the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ Rabbinical Placement Commission updated its policies to require that congregations and other organizations seeking a rabbi commit to including in their search all candidates regardless of gender identity. The Reform Movement has also built partnerships with organizations like Keshet (www.keshetonline.org), to create and improve resources for our congregations, institutions, affiliates and programs. Despite this important progress, there is more work to be done to make our Movement and our society fully inclusive of transgender and gender non-conforming people.

Two key Reform responsa highlight the imperative toward full inclusion of transgender people in accordance with Jewish tradition. A 1990 responsum (CCAR 5750.8) affirmed that being transgender alone is not a basis to deny someone conversion to Judaism. A 1978 responsum affirmed that a rabbi may officiate at the wedding of two Jews if one partner has transitioned to the gender with which they identify, as opposed to the one they were assigned at birth (“Marriage After a Sex-change Operation” in American Reform ResponsaVol. LXXXVIII, 1978, pp. 52-54). These responsa reflect biblical tradition that teaches us that all human beings are created b’tselem Elohim—in the Divine image. As it says in Genesis 1:27, “And God created humans in God’s image, in the image of God, God created them.” From this bedrock principle stems our commitment to defend any individual from the discrimination that arises from ignorance, fear, insensitivity, or hatred. Knowing that members of the transgender and gender non-conforming communities are often singled out for discrimination and even violence, we are reminded of the Torah’s injunction, “do not stand idly while your neighbor bleeds” (Leviticus 19:16).

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Union for Reform Judaism:

  1. Affirms its commitment to the full equality, inclusion and acceptance of people of all gender identities and gender expressions;
  2. Affirms the right of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals to be referred to by their name, gender, and pronoun of preference in our congregations, camps, schools, and other Reform affiliated organizations;
  3. Encourages Reform congregations, congregants, clergy, camps, institutions and affiliates, including NFTY, to continue to advocate for the rights of people of all gender identities and gender expressions;
  4. Urges the adoption and implementation of legislation and policies that prevent discrimination based on gender identity and expression, and that require individuals to be treated equally under the law as the gender by which they identify. This includes establishing the right to change without undue burden their identification documents to reflect their gender and name and ensuring equal access to medical and social services;
  5. Calls on the U.S. and Canadian governments at all levels to review and revise all laws and policies to ensure full equality and protections for people of all gender identities and expressions;
  6. Urges Reform Movement institutions to begin or continue to work with local and national Jewish transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual organizations to create inclusive and welcoming communities for people of all gender identities and expressions and to spread awareness and increase knowledge of issues related to gender identity and expression. These activities may include cultural competency trainings for religious school staff, the new congregational resource guide on transgender inclusion being created by the Religious Action Center, education programs on gender identity and expression, and sermons on the topic of gender identity and gender expression;
  7. Recommends URJ congregations and Reform Movement institutions, facilities and events ensure, to the extent feasible, the availability of gender-neutral restrooms and other physical site needs that ensure dignity and safety for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals;
  8. Urges Reform Movement institutions to review their use of language in prayers, forms and policies in an effort to ensure people of all gender identities and gender expressions are welcomed, included, accepted and respected. This includes developing statements of inclusion and/or non-discrimination policies pertaining to gender identity and gender expression, the use when feasible of gender-neutral language, and offering more than two gender options or eliminating the need to select a gender on forms; and
  9. Will work in collaboration with other Reform Movement institutions to create ritual, programmatic and educational materials that will empower such institutions to be more inclusive and welcoming of people of all gender identities and expressions.

[1]http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/transgender-bill/

[2]http://transgenderlawcenter.org/archives/11393

[3]http://www.transequalitynow.ca/ten-points

National Coming Out Day 2015

It’s National Coming Out Day (NCOD), 2015.  Things have changed a lot since 1988, the first one. A couple of years ago, I wrote about my memories of that day:

I remember the first National Coming Out Day, in 1988.  I had my last foot surgery that day, to repair the damages from a series of bungled surgeries.  It was at the old Foot Hospital in San Francisco (where the Jewish High School is today).  I have a vivid memory of taking two Valium tablets I was offered, and as they were wheeling me off to the operating room, full to the gills of Valium, I delightedly came out to everyone I passed. “Hi! I’m a lesbian! Happy coming out day!” …

The surgery was a salvage job on a poor little foot that was never going to work right or quit hurting, but that ride to the operating room ROCKED.
Back in the day, there were festivities for NCOD, because it was truly dangerous for many to come out. One way we fought the fear was to celebrate. That’s something that’s hard to communicate to the people who object to “Pride” in such movements: we were Proud because if we stopped to be anything else, we’d be terrified.
Today coming out is less terrifying for most white cis-gendered gay men and lesbians. We can get married in any state in the US. In a few states, our rights to housing and employment are supported by law. (To learn more about that, the ACLU has a great set of charts.) There is plenty of legal work still to do, obviously.
But we need to be sure that no one is left behind – and most importantly, that we are not trampling on the rights of others. When we make a catty comment about someone who comes out as bisexual, we have just made it harder for them to function in the world (lashon harah, anyone?) When we gloss over the concerns of LGBT people of color. when we tell our national organizations that we’re only worried (and will only fundraise) about issues that concern People Like Me, we are leaving folks behind. When we refuse to recognize someone’s gender, when we inform all our acquaintances that so-and-so isn’t a “real” man or woman we are just as bad as the folks throwing Leviticus in our teeth.
How about making this National Coming Out Day into National Leave No Sibling Behind Day?

Ki Tetzei: A Trans-gression?

A woman must not put on man’s apparel, nor shall a man wear woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 22:5

Historically, this commandment has mostly been used to reinforce the status quo around gender. It guards against the danger that women will cross-dress and usurp men’s power, or that men will cross-dress as a way to trespass in the harem. In other words, it safeguards patriarchal inheritance rights.

Fast-forward to the gender anxieties of the 20th century, when some of us have been very worried that women were trying to “wear the pants” or that men were “being castrated” by women. Back in the 1960’s I remember a lot of fuss about women and slacks; this verse was always a popular proof-text. Today it is handy for those who wish to buttress transphobic feelings with Biblical texts.

In fact, Jewish tradition has not always seen gender in a binary way. The sages of the Talmud recognized and discussed six genders:

  • zachar – male
  • nekevah – female
  • androgynos – one having both male and female characteristics
  • tumtum – one whose gender characteristics are unclear or unformed
  • ay’lonit – one who is identified as female at birth but develops male characteristics and is infertile
  • saris – one who is identified as male at birth but develops female characteristics and/or is lacking male genitalia

Notice that some of these categories are mutable and change over the course of a lifetime.

Some readers may think that this is a wild Reform reading of the texts.  (I am certainly a Reform rabbi!) If you are interested in following up, I recommend Terms for Jewish Diversity from Classical Jewish Texts by Rabbi Elliot Kukla. He gives citations and a count of the time these terms appear in the texts. The Religious Action Center offers a readable article on the subject, Gender Diversity in Jewish Tradition.

So now, in the present day, what might we do with the commandment that seems to say “no crossdressing?”

What if we were to make a new interpretation of this verse? Try this:

Do not disguise yourself as something that you are not, unless it is necessary for the preservation of life. Do not oppress someone on account of gender, because we are all made in the image and likeness of the Holy One.

What do you think? I have no idea if I have any trans readers, but if so, I’d be particularly interested in hearing from you.