A highly skilled Producer, Harper Michelle Shecter answers questions about her journey as a pansexual and transgender female, her Jewish role models, and her work advocating for positive representation of transgender people in mainstream media.
Q: What do you love about your Judaism?
A: I can’t imagine growing up in any other culture. I never felt that Judaism was about confessing your sins. I’ve always felt that Judaism is about freedom of self and community. It allows me to be one with my culture and my family as well. Having a non-Jewish wife, we have a combination of traditions at home. For example, we have a Jewmas Tree that we decorate with ornaments and with Stars of David. We’re able to mash our cultures together. It’s completely compatible.
Q: Do you have any beliefs that are influenced by your Judaism?
A: I believe if there is a god or a higher power, they wouldn’t be concerned about how I observe them or how I live my life. In some ways I think my own idea of god or the universe is the inner-reflection of the best qualities in myself that I’d like to be. I don’t want to say it holds me accountable but more so it is what I believe harmony and emotion is like unfiltered.
Q: In what ways have Jewish women been role models for you?
A: I’m so grateful to have had so many shining examples of resilient and strong Jewish women throughout my life. I have an incredible amount of pride in the strength and compassion taught in the Jewish culture and the women I grew up around. They taught me it’s okay to be myself unapologetically. Growing up, it was about your character as a whole and not the expectation of who you were to be.
Q: How would you describe your journey as a trans person?
A: I began my transition publicly on my 23rd birthday in the summer of 2015. I’ve learned that you have two choices: to progress or to regress. There are no other options and it is up to you solely to make that decision. I feel I am more connected to who I am. Overall, I am the image of myself I always wanted to be at this age. Of course there could always be improvements, but to say that and truly mean it is something I thought I’d never be able to say.
Coming out was more than just publicly saying, “I’m transgender,” but allowed me to finally speak up and talk about hidden abuse growing up. During my pre-teens, I was blackmailed by a “neighborhood friend” into stealing, lewd sexual acts and physical violence against other people. This went on for roughly two years mainly in my household without anyone else knowing. It wasn’t until I could come out as transgender that it would allow me to break this hold he had over me. Coming out was about freedom in every sense. It allowed me to finally speak and be transparent with the people in my life. In the end, I feel like a stronger person because of what I have survived and the fact that I have taken control of my life and progressed it to where I want to be as a person internally and externally.
Now, I feel like my mother’s daughter. The person who I was always “meant” to be. When I look in the mirror, I no longer feel disassociated with the person in front of me. I never expected to ever feel this comfortable in my own skin. Being a Shecter woman makes me part of my family’s matriarchy, which I respect and love so much. I represent a part of the lineage of strong Jewish women who taught me to be the best version of myself possible.
Q: What is your most recent project?
A: I recently wrapped up the filming of a movie called “They Scream in Silence.” The film is a drama about a renowned painter and Holocaust survivor, Bereck Kaufman, who is faced with exposing a lifelong friend for his cruel past or accept the changes of a dying man. This was the first time I had worked on a movie that touched on Judaism. For me, it was an honor to be able to finally do that. I enjoyed being able to understand the film through my own unique experiences with Judaism.
Q: What are some passions that you are focusing on right now?
A: I am really passionate about outreach and positive representation. We are taught as trans people victimization is a part of our lives. We only see celebrity role models or we see stories of abuse and neglect done to the trans community, there’s no in between. I want to encourage a new conversation about the strength of the community that isn’t highlighted enough. We need to work to be more than just our labels. It is an important part of who I am, but it is not everything that I am.
My main goal is to put more positive representations of LGBTQ+ people in mainstream media. I want a queer character to exist on camera for more than just a plot device. Sexuality and gender identity is just a small piece of a whole puzzle that makes up a person. I love that people in the community are now working on media focused specifically on trans representation, but I think at the same time it’s incredibly important for people outside our target market to be able to see positive portrayals of transgender and gender non-conforming people in mainstream.