Orthodox Judaism slow to accept transgender girl

For one Orthodox Jewish transgender girl, being her true self has come at the expense of her comfort and safety in synagogue. Miryam, a 14-year-old, has had the support of her mother, but not the rabbi of the synagogue she grew up in, during her transition.

According to the mother, Miyram was very depressed and withdrawn in the months leading up to her Bar Mitzvah, the rite of passage Jewish teens make upon turning thirteen and moving from boy to man in the Jewish community. Around this time the teen came out and received the unconditional love and support of her mother, who took her to the doctor to receive a testosterone-blocking implant before beginning hormone therapy.

Miryam was taken out of the Jewish day school she had previously attended and moved to a public school where she could start over fresh with new peers who had never known her before her transition. Miryam was extremely happy, and made new girlfriends with whom she enjoyed spending time.

However, Miryam's religion and the Orthodox Jewish community were important parts of her life and she missed being able to participate. When Miryam's mother first spoke to the rabbi, he said he needed time to learn more about what it means to be transgender before he welcomed Miryam back into the community. However, the rabbi continues to discourage the girl's mother from taking Miryam with the family to religious services. If Miryam wants to attend, she has to wear men's suits and sit on the men's side of the mechitzah, the divider that separates men and women in Orthodox services. 

According to Miryam's mother the last time she attended services at the synagogue she "forced herself into a suit and we went and she looked like she would cry the whole time." Despite the obstacles Miryam is facing, she believes that the future is looking brighter for transgender kids and that with each successive generation people will be more open and accepting.

Orthodoxy, the most traditional sect of Judaism, has the strictest notions of gender roles. However, the other movements of Judaism have been slowly but surely opening their doors to LGBT congregants. In the Reform and Reconstructionist traditions of Judaism, rabbis are welcoming LGBT inclusion, and even performing same-sex weddings. The Conservative movement is discussing more open policies but is slower to progress.

Miryam declared, "By the time I have kids, when I'm an adult, more people will just not make such a big deal out of it." Only time will tell if Miryam's dreams for the Orthodox community come true.

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