Laura Weinstein is a trans woman and director of the prominent trans rights group GAAT in Colombia. Translation by Jonathan Falk.
There are those for whom it is easier to deny than to recognize; these words allowed me to connect my life as a Trans woman during a significant period, when I was transitioning in the Jewish community. People asked: “Does that really happen in the community? Doesn’t being Trans happen to others, not among us?” Of course, denying and fearing the unknown is much easier than recognizing and accepting.
At one point, the feeling of being discarded by my family, my friends, and my community made me decide to take my own life. In spite of this, I always felt and lived a strong connection with Judaism. Somehow I found a rabbi who told me: “God does not care how you look, or how you dress, [God] cares what kind of person you are.” Those words were so liberating and healing that they gave me strength to assume that I was what I had always been. This led me to feel that my relationship with God could be transparent and healthy, despite the fact that others did not recognize me and preferred that I be far away. But as God’s thinking does not always match human actions, I felt the possibility of returning and starting anew. Now these broken relationships with the community and with my Jewish self are slowly recovering. Being back in the synagogue and in community settings has given me the opportunity to raise awareness, and to tell my story, which could be the story of many others.
This trip back has allowed me to meet with people who have made the question and the answer change. This was the case at a Shabbat dinner, where I was trying hard to go unnoticed, when suddenly someone said: “Laura, it used to be that when you had an important event, it would be nice if you told us about it!” I was a bit flushed, and I did not know where to start, but I actually told them that I had been in Buenos Aires at the conference of LGBT Jews organized by JAG and the World Congress of GLBT Jews. I told them about my good fortune in having an Aliyah to read from the Torah and being called up by my Hebrew feminine name in front of the congregation. This for me was something to never forget, the feeling that it was my entrance back to the bosom of the Jewish community, not only as a Jew, but as a Trans woman and a woman, my official teshuva [return]. I could see faces of surprise, questions and concerns, so for me this was the time to sensitize others. I decided to explain that I was a Trans person and I spoke about the violence with which we live and which we are exposed to. I say something like: “There are families that have trouble accepting,” and suddenly an older woman stops and says: “Laura, on a previous Shabbat, when you told us that you were working with Trans people and you said something similar, and I told you, it’s not that it’s hard for them to accept, it’s that they do not have enough life experience to understand that there are people as incredible and courageous as you, that God puts us on the road to love and respect others.”
This really was wonderful! Those who were there surely understood that this is the only life we have, so that others like me in my difficult moment do not decide to leave because of the fears they may feel. It is time for the Jewish communities in the world to understand that there is no need to let one of their members leave out of fear of being who they are. On the contrary, everyone should be able to find a warm, friendly and safe place to spend Shabbat together.