Inclusivity. I believe that inclusiveness is a virtue every single human being can strive for, regardless of our religious beliefs or the faith we’re born into. As a transgender Jewish woman, I’d like to tell my story to show exactly why inclusivity is so important.
Transitioning: From inclusion to exclusion
For the first thirty-five years of my life, I lived as a reaction/shadow of the world around me. My identity as a transgender person with an unwanted identity mostly existed in a vacuum – it was excluded for the most part. That was until life became unbearable.
Yet, for the people around me so used to seeing the man they carved out, the change after my transition was just something they couldn’t come to terms with. From receiving death threats, to being left ostracised by many members of my family and community, I was then encouraged to undergo conversion therapy.
Every effort was made to put “that man” back into the straight jacket – none of which worked. Despite all their efforts, they could never manage to get Jessica to say that she regrets the fact that she saved her life. Instead, the transphobic members of my community that I left behind were quite certain of their religious laws which they interpreted from the Bible. These were their shield to which they laid claim and they assured everyone that their interpretation was “the right way”.
They tried to force their values upon me until I came out one day in August 2018 and challenged once and for all everything I had heard.
Faith and gender: LGBT rights in Judaism
With well over thirty-five Jewish sources clearly indicating that transgender rights were legitimate and entirely different to their Biblical interpretations, their narrative was all debunked. At least in my mind and as far as I was concerned, it was debunked forever.
In their minds however, such beliefs still lingered on because their book was now their weapon, not simply a shield. They couldn’t hide behind the text anymore, yet they still attempted to wave it in my direction as a weapon of fear and anger. They carried on reinterpreting, reinventing, redesigning and redefining the Bible according to their own narrative and beliefs.
The Biblical narrative and how it’s been misinterpreted is in fact however very complicated and even sometimes crude towards women. As a transgender woman, this bothers me very much. However, it is not fair to overlook everything else. It is not fair to entirely disregard the times which very much set the tone of the religious text back then. However, the people I was up against have a habit of knowing how to twist, bend, reshape and explain scripture to meet their own ends and needs.
So how do I instead infer from the bible that LGBT people are not in breach of the Torah’s laws? How does the Bible approach lesbian sex? Well, the Bible is very much fixated on men. There is very little reference to women in the Bible. In fact, there is no real viable credible source in the Bible which in any way indicates that sex between women is prohibited.
So is there an indication then that sex between men is prohibited? Again no. The Bible tells men not to lie the way women lie because of its concern for deceit. There is no indication that two men loving each other in a sexual way indicates deceit. Similarly, the biblical narrative of the account of the cruel acts of Sodom and Gomorrah is not about male sex. It is about cruelty and a deep inner dislike toward strangers.
Moving forward: Inclusion for everyone
Today, as a result of my transition, I am now feared by people within my former community – but no one will say this to my face. As members of the transgender community – including myself – have received death threats and been ostracised, the Department for Education has now decided to enforce a curriculum which includes LGBT values in all faith schools. Without exception.
Sadly, the hatred of LGBT people and the misogyny continues as we speak. But this is not about a battle with one side who is wrong and another which is in the right. This is a battle created by those who are born into believing they are superior over others and who refuse to think critically. LGBT inclusiveness is however not about fixing the world or shaping views – it’s about taking past attitudes and literally putting them to rest.
But why do they do this? What do they gain? Well, many are very often simply products of their upbringing. The age of old is not likely to settle for difference but the younger generation will change things. Young people already are, for it is our understanding that if God made everyone equal, certain people cannot be more or less equal than others. If God made LGBT persons, then members from outside the LGBT community do not get to define what being queer or transgender is or means.
Conversion therapy, the mistreatment of women and die-hard attitudes which violate the boundaries of others will finally be seen for what they are actually are – a means of violating the personal space of total strangers. However, we still need the world to understand that my boundaries and your boundaries are not up for being scrutinised by someone else. They are not up for being reinterpreted or for being categorised under the clause of “it’s their right to practice their faith as they please”.
Hurting total strangers in the name of religion cannot be a given right in a democracy. We must instead stand up for the inclusion of everyone – including the LGBT community and all other minorities. With members of faith groups from all walks of life and each end of the spectrum exposed to abuse and discrimination, we must stand together. There is no other way.
Written by Jessica Maden.
Credits and acknowledgements
Voice of Salam would like to thank Jessica for sharing her story. Wishing you all the best for the future!
About the author:
Jessica is a freelance YouTuber based in Cheshire (UK) who works in retail helping in charity shops.
Originally from an ultra-orthodox Jewish background, she is a transgender woman who strives to raise awareness of the needs of the transgender community.
You can find out more about Jessica’s transition and her life as Jewish woman via her YouTube channel.