The High Holy Days can be such a public time for families- they may be in synagogue when the biggest crowd of the year gathers. Rabbi Ari Moffic, a mom of a transgender child, leads Keshet’s upcoming webinar (September 20, 2016) about inclusion of Jewish transgender, gender nonconforming, and genderqueer children during this time of year.
Rabbi Ari Moffic with her family
“[At this time of year] people tend to comment on what people are wearing and it can just feel very overwhelming and public for gender non-conforming kids,” Rabbi Moffic explains. “Also, it may be a time when extended family gets together and again there are lots of comments about how the children look, what they like to do, how school is going, etc. and gender non-conforming kids (even if they get support from family) may feel shy or self-conscious.
“It’s also the start of the school year and the religious school year and students who come in dressing differently or with a different name or pronoun may have to explain themselves and be confronted with accusations of not using their right name or not being who they say they are. And they have to be on the defensive. All of this adds up to possible extra stress and angst for some young people. The adults in their lives should be extra sensitive and empathetic.”
Rabbi Moffic’s child, assigned male at birth, has been gender non-conforming her whole life, she says. “Before two years old, she loved all traditional girl things like dolls, pink, princesses, ballet, dresses and sparkles,” says the rabbi. “We have an older daughter and everyone thought her behavior was just in order to be like her big sister. Many told us about their sons who loved girl things and ‘grew out of it’ – definitely implying that this was a bad or unnatural thing. Her inclinations and interests continued to be gender non-conforming and by three and four years old she wanted to wear either a princess dress everywhere she went or any other kind of dress.”
Rabbi Ari says she and her husband were hesitant to let their child dress like a girl in public or at preschool, “We did lots of tie-dye and compromises because we weren’t sure ourselves about how much we should be encouraging her to fit in,” she says. “Some people said that you don’t let your children wear a bathing suit to school and how there are societal rules and we have to conform to them to some extent. We sought help and got a lot of bad advice from supposed experts. By the time she was four years old she was dressing in ‘girl clothes’ every day and starting to grow out her hair. Some kids would say ‘she,’ and the teachers and we said ‘he’ and it was very hard. By the end of kindergarten she had been adamant and insistent, persistent and consistently telling us she was a girl and that this was how she felt and how she saw herself and she wished her body was different.”