Building a Bridge to the Israeli Trans Community

Elisha Alexander, Executive Director of Ma’avarim, the transgender Israeli organization, just finished a successful round of talks in the United States with three of the organization’s teen members. In an exclusive for A Wider Bridge, Elisha reflects on the group’s U.S. visit.

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Ma’avarim in Los Angeles

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Ma’avarim in San Francisco

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Ma’avarim in South Florida

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Ma’avarim in New York

And what a trip it was…

The trans youth leadership group’s story starts almost three years ago. It was actually the first program we started at Ma’avarim – an NGO for the trans community in Israel. At the time there was a great feeling of hopelessness and despair in the trans community in Israel, and there was a great need for a change.

While there had been a trans youth group before, like many trans groups, it was a support group. While trans lives are not always easy, as some, including youth, experience things like homelessness, violence, and discrimination, we felt a need to focus on something positive, rather than sitting around and simply sharing our difficulties. How can we meet these big challenges and change our own lives and others for the better? The youth loved this.

Within half a year, the entire discourse withing the trans community had changed: from hopelessness and despair. There was a glimps of hope; trans youth were featured in a cover story by Ha’aretz, talking about “the next generation” of our community. Following that, we took a dozen trans youth for a special discussion at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, to demand equality and respect from their schools and the Israeli education system, which does not know how to deal with transgender students, and how to stop violence.

This is where we happened to meet a delegation from A Wider Bridge, and a year later, three of the young leaders, Amy, Adi, and Alan, were invited to the US to meet with other queer and trans activists, and tell their stories.

For us it was a great opportunity to meet with other organizations dealing with trans issues, tell them about our programs, and hear about theirs. Our first stop was South Florida (Miami and Fort Lauderdale) and we were very impressed with the work that was being done in there, especially with the trans latina communities, and amazing work empowering trans survivors of domestic violence and hate crimes.

Our journey took us from Florida to New York (Westchester and NYC), and then to the West Coast to San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. Along the way, we spoke to gatherings in people’s homes, in synagogues, and at LGBT organizations, such as JQ Int’l in Los Angeles. We also met with a couple of Jewish trans youth groups (JQY in NYC and JQSA in Los Angeles), and mazingly enough, they were very similar to what we have in Israel. It was as if we were visiting our American trans relatives, or the American version of our own groups. We also exchanged the best practices with organizations dealing with trans youth – many LGBT organizations find it difficult to reach out to trans youth, some of them too depressed to leave their homes, or do not have enough courage to come to a trans youth meeting. We spoke about our chest binder program, which reduces the risks and allows trans FTM boys to flatten their chests. Binders are usually a big problem for young trans kids, and this is something that gets them out of bed, out of the house, and into our LGBT center. And once they come – they are much more willing to come a second time to join a group, or get help.

Also, we were amazed at the response to our visit; people were so nice, and the feedback we got was heartwarming. We even got some financial support, which will help us do so much more. Unfortunately, Israeli LGBT NGOs are not as well funded as in the US, and in addition, while there are a number of very strong LGBT organizations, all around the world trans organizations are still struggling with funding.

We met many new friends, and we hope to meet some of them again in November, during A Wider Bridge’s LGBT mission to Israel.

Ever since we started Ma’avarim, despite our low funding, we put a great emphasis on networking and building connections – and including non-trans people in all our activities, first of all because we believe non-trans people can be a great help to the trans community, and second, some non-trans people come out as trans, and finally, more and more people are understanding that strengthening transgender activism will not only help trans people, but also every boy who was ever told that boys don’t cry and he cannot show any emotions apart from anger, and every girl who was not allowed to play sports, or be an astronaut. And this, for us, is one of the most important bridges to create.