(Re) Assignment of a Trope

There has been quite a bit of discussion about the movie (Re) Assignment in which a hit-man is “turned into a woman” using various surgeries and medical interventions. There is the issue of who was cast to play the lead role, a cisgender female, as well as the transphobic, transmisogynistic, nature of the plot. The idea that the worst punishment for a man is to be made into a woman. To be forced to be a woman. This is not a new concept and is both misogynist and transmisogynist at the same time. It is usually presented in a way that devalues being a woman and that women are less than men. Where I am diverging from the discourse I have seen about the film thus far is in how it normalises a trope that is found in sexual/erotic fiction writing, particularly online. That trope is referred to as “forced feminisation.” Yes, it is out there and is, apparently, popular.

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Transgender Day of Remembrance Open Letter to the Rabbis and Jewish Congregations in Ottawa, Ontario

November 15, 2015
3 Kislev 5776

Dear Colleagues,

On Friday November 20th people around the world mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance. November 20th, the anniversary of the 1998 murder of Rita Hester in Allston, MA. The first Transgender Day of Remembrance was held on November 20, 1999. We remember all those who were killed because of anti-transgender prejudice or hatred. This day is marked in secular and faith communities. On this day we also remember those transgender people who have taken their own lives, in part because of the struggles and violence faced daily by transgender people.

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Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue: Dvar on Shoftim 5775

In my Dvar, or teaching, for this year’s Interfaith Pride Shabbat I look at the commandment to pursue justice and the questions and challenges it raises for those of us in LGBTTQ* / Queer spaces.

This week’s parshat, or Torah reading, Shoftim, is the 48th weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the fifth in the book of Deuteronomy. It constitutes Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9. Overall this parshat talks about justice and what to do when people break the law, the establishment of cities of refuge, what sort of witnesses are acceptable, how many witnesses, and, perhaps most importantly, the command to pursue justice. “Justice, justice you shall pursue”, (Deut 16:20). But what does this mean, particularly for those of us who fall under the LGBT / Queer umbrellas? Justice can take many forms, and often justice does not result in equality or equity. I am going to look at a few aspects of justice that are discussed in this parshat. Who is eligible to not participate in the army when going to battle, cities of refuge, bearing false witness, and to judge fairly and not take bribes.

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Shhhh, it’s a Secret! How we don’t talk about surgery.

Surgery, more specifically, gender confirmation surgeries, is often the elephant in the room when it comes to talking about trans experiences and stories. We talk about access to the various types of surgeries trans people may or may not have. We talk about why it is important, and the myths about it. Yet because of the sexualization of trans bodies, especially trans women’s bodies, discussion of the lived experience of those who have surgery tends to be put to the side and not often discussed in public forums. Media and many people often thinks it’s okay to ask trans people about what surgeries they may or may not have had, usually in a way that identifies and objectifies the trans person based on what is presumed to be between their legs. This video with Janet Mock turns it around and she asks the same questions of a woman who is not trans. We are also facing proposed legislation in a number of jurisdictions that would define which washrooms we can use based on what is current genitalia, or even worse in some cases, what genitalia we were born with. Therefore, most do not discuss surgery except in broad terms that tend to leave out the stories and lived experience. We self censor in order to, in my opinion, avoid the disrespectful, objectifying, and all too often hateful articles, coverage, and comments. A major drawback to this is that it can, and does, put up barriers to healthy conversation and education. If one considers that there are barriers to healthy conversation and education a question that immediately comes to mind is, “What does healthy conversation and education look like?

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Balak, Balaam, Blessings, Curses, and Authority

This week in the annual cycle of Torah readings Jews are reading parsha Balak. The first part of the parsha tells the story of Balak who feels threatened by the Israelites and thus seeks out Balaam to curse them. This does not, however, go according to his plan. Balaam does not immediately go with them, but instead tells Balak’s messengers to wait overnight so he can sleep on it. Balaam is told by God not to curse the Hebrews, indeed, he is told not to go with the initial group of Moabites. Eventually he does go, but is stopped by an angel he can’t see, but his donkey can. His donkey shows some sense and doesn’t try to pass the sword wielding angel on the road. Balaam gets a bit annoyed with his donkey after the donkey stops and lies down with Balaam still on it. Further, when Balaam threatens the donkey the angel appears before Balaam and tells him again not to curse the Israelites, but instead to “say nothing except what I tell you.”(Num 22:35) Balaam continues on his way and meets Balak. Three times he is called on to curse the Israelites and three times he blesses them. Balak gets more and more irate about it.

What images and ideas does this story bring to mind today, in 2015, the week after the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of marriage equality making same gender marriages legal across the United States? As more and more jurisdictions are recognizing not only the rights of those who are gay and lesbian, but also protecting rights on the basis of gender identity and expression? For religious conservatives this is a tragedy. For those of us who fall under the wide LGBTTQIA+ umbrella they are victories. As I read the chapter in Torah Queeries on this parsha I was struck by the relationship between authority and power that the author talks about.

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