I was torn by the news this week about the transwoman who isn't going to be allowed to see her chlidren. As I have written elsewhere, I transitioned over 20 years ago. When I left, my ex took out a restraining order against me which forbade me to make any contact at all with my children until they turned 18. They were 3 and 1 when I left.
It was probably the most painful experience I have ever endured. It felt exquisitely unfair. I remained fully observant while transitioning, which is not the easiest thing in the world even today, let alone in the 1990s. I didn't feel as though I had left the Jewish community. But desiring empathy for myself, I felt it necessary to consider the other side of the equation.
My ex got that restraining order because our divorce agreement allowed me the right to communicate freely with our children. And she wanted to remarry. And she was afraid that the specter of a transsexual ex would keep anyone from being willing to marry her. There are those, almost all of whom are outside of Orthodox Judaism and cannot understand its importance to us, who feel that if she was so afraid of that, she should have found a "more accepting" community. Looking back on these past decades, I am grateful that she didn't do that.
Dealing with issues like this is almost like walking a tightrope. On the one hand, Orthodox Judaism should not and cannot bend to transient social currents. Were that not the case, we would long ago have disappeared. "Jew" would be a term found mostly in history books, like "Goth" or "Saxon" or "Frank". But how can the Orthodox Jewish community know when something very different than what they are used to is a social fad or a genuine condition? It doesn't help that the vast majority of those who publicly identify with the "trans community" are also on the far left when it comes to social and political issues in general.
Would my ex have been unable to remarry had she not taken out a restraining order against me? There's no way of knowing. Her husband seems like someone who would have married her anyway, but would he have been able to stand against the disapproval of his own family had they found out? She did what she felt was necessary to protect herself and her family, and I cannot say that she was wrong, as terribly painful as it was to me at the time.
I know there are some in the Orthodox community who feel that had I taken my own life as a result of the pain of pretending to be male, the children would at least have had closure. And without the "shame" of a parent who did something so outrageous. And that wasn't even an ultra-Orthodox community. And that attitude probably seems utterly outrageous to someone coming from outside of Orthodox Judaism (and even some on the more liberal edge of Orthodoxy).
Today, I have a family of my own, including a beautiful teenage daughter. Though not mine biologically, she could not be more my daughter if she were. We live in an Orthodox community, and she attends an Orthodox Jewish school. We don't advertise my past, which some might see as lying by omission, but which we see as both a matter of simple prudence, and as an act of consideration. There's no reason people should have to have ideas they aren't ready for thrown at them willy nilly.
I am not ashamed to have changed my anatomical sex. It was necessary for me to survive, and while not a majority view, there does exist rabbinic support for me being who I am now. I would love to live in a world where transitioning when necessary (and not as adolescent rebellion against societal gender norms) is accepted by my community. And perhaps that world will one day exist. But it doesn't now.
Which brings me back to the case in the news. I feel nothing but sadness and anger and shared pain for the woman in question. It seems utterly mad that simply acting to save one's self could be viewed as such a horrible crime that even one's own children could be set off limits. And losing a child, whether physically or otherwise, is the most painful experience anyone can go through. But until the community learns, slowly, over the years, that we do not do this to rebel against Judaism, but only to survive, we have to accept separation from our children until they become adults as a possible repercussion of transitioning.
It kills me to say this. Had I known for certain that one of the end results of my transitioning would be forfeiture of any part in my children's lives until they became adults, it might have prevented me from transitioning, and I might not be alive now to type these words. But as my ex said to me not long before I left, "Sometimes love doesn't conquer all". We live in an imperfect world, and all we can do is to try and better it. In the case of the Orthodox Jewish community, that will only happen when they see that we are Orthodox Jews like any other, except for a medical condition. That we are as committed to serving God through his Torah as they are. That their acceptance of us as part of the community will prevent people from leaving Orthodox Judaism. I pray that I will see such changes in my lifetime.