Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The 'she' in Yesheva

I believe that the trouble some transsexuals have being accepted by society has to do with people's (mis)conceptions about who we are. It seems that while most of us live an otherwise typical and average life, we are not the examples of transsexuality that people remember. There are some transsexuals out there that put forth a very different portrayal about what it means to be transgendered, a very over-the-top, absurd, Jerry-Springerlike portrayal. Unfortunately this is what people seem to think of when they hear the word transsexual. I think it makes it hard for transsexuals as a whole to gain mainstream societal acceptance.

For this reason I am usually very happy when I read a news story that involves a transsexual woman portraying us with some level of normality, especially when she is immersed in a traditional, conservative environment. It leaves me thinking that while at first her associates may be horrified, eventually her normality and humanity will win them over.

My friend Levin works at a Jewish university in New York where a male professor has just come back to work as a woman. Levin sent me an article in the New York Post that tells the story. You can go read it at the link above, but the basic outline goes like this:
  • A male professor named Jay gets tenure at conservative Jewish university
  • Jay takes a couple years off
  • Jay comes back as a female professor named Joy
  • Faculty is horrified, students don't care
  • Joy mentions unfinished memior with a convoluted and completely stereotypical transgender-oriented title. 'Inside Out: Confessions of a Woman Caught in the Act of Becoming'. Oh please.

Normally if I am reading an article about a transsexual, this is exactly the news story I would prefer to read. It has everything that I think is required for North Americans to better understand and accept transsexuals. It talks about a transsexual living an average lifestyle within a conservative environment. It seems to describe the perfect scenario where frightened conservative people will be exposed to the normality of transgendered people. It isn't that hard to project ahead and imagine that this currently horrified faculty will eventually think of Joy as nothing other than an average woman. All we transsexuals need to become fully accepted in society is for everyone to know/work with/heard of transsexuals that are just normal every day people and not at all how we are portrayed in sensationalist media.

"...massive violation of Torah law, Torah ethics and Torah morality."
- Rabbi Moshe Tendler

Still, this article didn't really make me feel good. It left me trying to be hopeful, but feeling like it is a tainted hope. I don't want to be pessimistic, but I can't help it. The problem is that while I believe people are capable of overcoming the insignificance of what it means to be transgendered, in this case we are not just dealing with people - we are also dealing with religion.

The article above quotes Rabbi Moshe Tendler talking about Joy: "[S]he's a person who represents a kind of amorality which runs counter to everything Yeshiva University stands for. There is just no leeway in Jewish law for a transsexual. There is no niche where [s]he can hide out as a female without being in massive violation of Torah law, Torah ethics and Torah morality." Please note I have corrected Moshe's incorrect pronoun use.

I am sure his comment is, pronoun use notwithstanding, correct. Even if he wasn't a rabbi at a rabbinical school, I've been informed via comments to this blog (all of which were unceremoniously deleted) of my own immorality based on religious standards many times over and I am sure that some of the commenters must have been Jewish. Even if none were, it doesn't really matter because those so zealous in any particular religion all have something in common, and that is either an outright inability to rationally think, or an overabundance of ability to suspend thought while indulging delusion (what they call faith).

I suppose what I just said can be hurtful to some, but that doesn't really bother me. I think what is more hurtful is to think about poor Joy who did nothing wrong, but will be subtly punished anyway during her time at a religious institution. Even if she is by all appearances treated with respect, she'll likely sense the disgust exuded by, and hear the words muttered by, at least some of her co-workers who will fervently believe she is immoral and unethical despite how well she lives her life.

I fully believe that the average conservative individual can overcome his or her misconceptions about transsexuals, and I fully believe that individual people can realize and admit when they are wrong, but religion never will.


Rachel said...

"Even if none were [Jewish], it doesn't really matter because those so zealous in any particular religion all have something in common, and that is either an outright inability to rationally think, or an overabundance of ability to suspend thought while indulging delusion (what they call faith)."

It's funny that you should say that in light of the fact that Joy is Jewish. While I understand what you are saying and agree, I am having trouble feeling sorry for her, given her insistence on remaining involved with religion and a religious institution. I think maybe she should consider not being Jewish.

But the irony is doubled by the fact that it is Jews that are being so vociferous in this issue. Point of fact: While Iran persecutes homosexuals, it has no official problem with transsexuals and allows them to exist (albeit insisting that they immediately receive SRS - this insistence being, of course, an injustice itself).

One of the most liberalized religions in the world, whose people have been on the receiving end of attempted genocide, has a problem with something that their deadliest enemies accept? Irony indeed.

I see in the comments of the article another interesting irony: The university, in trying to "balance" religious and secular interests, has no problem with the many individuals who cohabitate out of wedlock or are openly gay. Their problem with Joy's "lifestyle choice" is with the fact that Joy is ostensibly Jewish.

Frustrated tears and mocking laughter abound. Ugh.

Sarah J M said...

To say that she should consider not being Jewish is not at all acceptable.

Although I would prefer that people believe in something real, everyone is allowed to believe in something. She shouldn't have to give that up, especially because it looks like she'd also have to give up a job that I assume she enjoys.