Amit Gefner who was born as a girl to a religious family, tells his story of becoming a man and tries not to fall into the heterosexual couple stereotype with his girlfriend.
I was born as a daughter to a religious family (knitted Yarmulke). The meaning of life in a religious home is the clear separation between men and women, especially in clothing. I was a well-behaved girl like all the other girls. I wore skirts, stockings and leather shoes. I had no choice. Buying clothes with my mother was a traumatic experience for me. I never felt comfortable and didn’t understand why.
In eighth grade, I saw the movie “Yentl” in which the main character is the daughter who was born to a religious Jewish family in Europe. She secretly longed to study Torah, which was not allowed for women. After her father and brother die, she cut off her long hair, put on her late brother’s clothes, changed her name to Anchel and went out to the world as a boy, entered a yeshiva, studying Torah and connecting with all the other boys. I vividly remember the day I watched this movie. It was the eve of Passover. After the movie, I stared at the ceiling for hours and realized how amazing it was and how much I connected to it emotionally. But soon enough I suppressed this thought, believing that such things could happen only in the movies.
I cut my hair short at the age of 12, something that wasn’t at all common in the society in which I was raised. Later, as my hair grew back, I always wore it in a tight bun. After about a year, I started having many questions about religion and life, I went into a kind of depression that my family and professionals didn’t understand and didn’t how to help. Even I myself couldn’t explain what was happening to me – none of us had never thought of gender differences as an option. At 16, I started thinking about sexual orientation. I felt that my best friend was a little beyond me, but just a few years later I started meeting women, having relationships and began identifying myself as a lesbian. After school I did a year of service and left religion, I clearly remember the excitement of my first time wearing pants.
At 25, I studied for my master’s degree in computer science and worked part time. That same year the drag king performances scene started at the Shushan (Jerusalem’s gay community pub) which attracted me and became a turning point in my life. After seeing a few performances it occurred to me that I also wanted to do it. I surprised myself with this thought and finally decided to do this even though I was shy.
The performance was an exciting experience, so I continued doing it. My stage name was “Anchel” (inspired by the movie “Yentl”) – I would come already dressed like a male so people started referring to me as male, and slowly I began to feel what it means to be a boy. I slowly created around me a small and comfortable circle in which I didn’t have to define myself, and naturally I can speak and be referred to as male without hesitation.
When I saw a transgender guy for the first time at Shushan I was shocked, I was amazed by the prospect. I became interested, I investigated and started reading a lot about it. I was in a period of self-examination and didn’t know if I could actually do it (sex change sounded to me like something so far away). At that time I met Hagar, my current partner, with whom I shared from the beginning my inner feelings and emotions about my gender.
Slowly I started to buy more masculine clothes. It was important for me to emphasize my masculinity and the society accepted me and thought I was just a butch lesbian. I started going to meetings that support transgender people, hosted by Dr. Ilana Berger, where I saw that I was not alone, that such a thing exists and it is possible. I met men and women of various ages before and after the change. I especially noticed elderly transgender men, I saw how happy they were, that it was not something I couldn’t handle, and I began to understand that I wanted to do it.
The first thing I did was cut my hair short, and when I saw my grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s disease, she referred to me as a man and asked me, “Why aren’t you wearing a Yarmulke?” I didn’t know how to react to that. On the one hand I was happy that she considered me a man, but on the other hand I was afraid that someone from the family would hear, since I had not shared with them my feelings. My relationship with my family was open, they knew about my sexual orientation and drag shows, but still I was very scared to share the gender dysphoria I was feeling, I didn’t know how to tell them. This delayed me for a few months that felt like an eternity.
Finally, and despite all the concerns, I come out as trans to my family. I explained everything to them and connected them to where I come from. I shared with them all my research and the tests I did and it helped them understand that I am not the only one in the world. After about two months, we told my brothers. It took them a while to understand what I was saying, since it’s immensely far from their world, and after we told them a huge stone fell from my heart. It was a crazy feeling that allowed me to start the desired change, beginning with hormone therapy.
In addition to physical changes in the body due to hormone replacement therapy, I also decided to have surgery to remove the breasts. After several inquiries, I found that at the time there were no surgeons in Israel who specialized in this kind of surgery, so I used my savings to have the surgery abroad. I had it in Maryland, and Hagar accompanied me and supported me all the way. It was a positive experience – a feeling of a new life. After the recovery period I began to enjoy the results and did things that I hadn’t done before; I began to really love seeing myself in the mirror. I started standing up tall and running freely.
As a result of my physical changes Hager started to question her own sexual orientation, because when we met we were lesbians and now I’m a man. Today she identifies as bisexual. We look like a typical straight couple, so we try not to adhere to masculine and feminine stereotypes. We try to be a different model. In addition to that, now I’m looking at things a little differently. I understand my masculine side a little more, and I’m pleased to have such a unique point of view.
I feel the need to work for the transgender community. It makes me feel good and important to remain part of the community. I never forget where I came from. The transgender community is weakened in this society , and even in the LGBT community. I’ve volunteered for nearly two years in Hoshen (Tolerance education center of the LGBT community in Israel), and I’m happy about all the activities I’ve participated in. I lecture to students and professionals, tell my story, and emphasize that I am just one example of a diverse and broad community. I want to emphasize my personality and explain that transgender people are people like everyone else, to raise as much awareness and blur the boundaries between genders.
Today I live in a moshav with Hagar, have a master’s degree, worked for years in high-tech, but at the moment I’ve decided to take a break from work to find out a little bit more about myself, do things I might’ve avoided in earlier years because I was not in a peaceful place with myself.
I wasn’t brave to make this change, I simply didn’t have another choice.