Shabbat Surfing: What We Talk About When We Talk About Women


International Women’s Day (IWD) this week prompted the blogosphere to challenge what we think about women, and who we call women.

In fact, this challenge is covered in the questions from the Jewish Organization Equality Index survey, which is currently trying to hear from every Jewish organization in the country on questions of gender and sexuality inclusivity. As Jewish organizations, in what ways do we embrace those in our community when they don’t express their gender in the most common ways? Do we make people check boxes when asking questions about gender, or is it a fill-in line? Do we give everyone something as basic as a safe place to use the restroom?

We often use the phrase b’tzelem elohim, that every person is created in God’s image, and kavod habriyot, that everyone deserves basic dignity and respect. Some trans women and allies took their communities to task this IWD, about how it seems trans women are often excluded from that respect when we police gender in our women’s communities.

Relatedly, Huffington Post featured an excerpt from Joy Ladin’s new memoir, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders, which explores her transitions with her wife and God and career as a professor at Yeshiva University. Regularly, Joy’s wife asks what is so bad about being a man.

“There’s nothing so bad about being a man.” I try to sound like I’m joking when I add, “as long as you’re a man.”

A body is there, but it’s not yours. A voice is coming out of your throat, but you don’t recognize it. The mirror contains another person’s face. When your children wrap their arms around you, they seem to be hugging someone else. Every morning you wake up shocked to find that parts of you have disappeared, that you are smothered in flesh you cannot recognize as yours. That you have lost the body you never had. This isn’t me, you say to yourself. This isn’t me, you say to anyone you trust. Of course it isn’t. There is no “me,” no body that fits the map, no identity that fits your sense of self, no way to orient yourself in a world in which you exist only as an hysterical rejection of what, to everyone around you, is the simple, obvious fact of your gender.

This week was also Purim – the holiday that includes plenty of joyous play around bending gender and celebrating the power in creating different views of ourselves and each other. Though trans identities are obviously more complex that simply Purim costumes, as we honor the women of our communities this week, my hope is that the drag-tastic embrace of Purim can spill over into how we think about women – all women – and the joy found therein, in that inclusiveness.

 

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