You know that old comic opening, “I just flew in from L.A. – and boy are my arms tired.” Well, my recent return flight from California, an early college scouting tour, is but a subset of this past year’s remarkable journey. Often I’m teased about “packing heavy” for a trip. My reply is simply, “It‘s not my fault that the elegance of steamer trunks was replaced by soft luggage. “It’s my trip, so I pack to be prepared and comfortable, anticipating that there might be a change of conditions and I want to have what I need.
Before sharing this Elul travelogue with the Jeremiah family, I asked my son for his consent and he said, “Yes!,” so here goes. Two years ago, my son bravely affirmed to our family, and some extended family and friends, that he is transgender. While he had already begun his personal journey to arrive at a point in time where he would — in all vulnerability — share his authentic truth with us, the day that he told me marked the beginning of a new journey in my life. You see, while the gender transition of a family member is his, her, or their specific and individual journey, there is also an accompanying transition process for the family.
As a parent, my first practical steps began with reaching out to find resources — to educate myself, to connect with other parents in the LGBTQ community, and to determine what medical or other professionals to consult. I was told, in no uncertain terms, “It is a marathon, not a sprint.” Indeed. Gender transition typically has three key components: social, legal, and medical. While not all are required, they are often preferred options.
As a Jewish woman and a Jewish mother, I also reached out to our rabbis. While I had many questions regarding gender and Judaism, I simply needed to share this family news and know that my child would be respected and included just as he is, and as he would continue to be and become. I was more than reassured with compassion, love, concern, and discretion. Months later, in November 2015, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) issued a Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People affirming its commitment to the full equality, inclusion and acceptance of people of all gender identities and gender expressions – a resolution rooted in the biblical tradition and teaching that all human beings are created b’tselem Elohim – in the Divine image.
Here are some highlights of “where I’ve been” — and the land that I continue to travel:
- To expand my understanding of gender, I’ve read a vast amount, including medical literature, books, and articles. I also accessed many online sites and videos.
- I’ve met parents of transgender children and I’ve met transgender parents.
- I’ve connected with a diverse range of local, state, and national resources, including an astounding array of parents, professionals, and allies.
- I’ve consulted with medical authorities near and far and I’ve met smart and compassionate doctors, surgeons, nurses, and therapists.
- I’ve learned about the power of hormones and their affect on voice, skin, muscle mass, fat distribution, cholesterol, and other things.
- I’ve learned about legislation for and against equality and about the many organizations that lobby for equality and transgender needs and rights throughout the U.S.
- I’ve rallied for trans rights in Illinois schools and weighed in with Illinois legislators.
- I’ve dealt with the TSA and travel-related issues.
- I’ve learned about gender and Judaism — including the work and words of transgender rabbis and a growing body of thoughtful prayers and thought-provoking rabbinical commentary addressing trans and non-gender conforming individuals.
Bottom line – the MOST IMPORTANT HIGHLIGHT – is celebrating my child’s happiness and growth – seeing him comfortable in his skin, full of fun, full of life, resilient, and moving forward.
Two years ago, I remember thinking and saying, somewhat wistfully, “I thought we were just going to high school.” And now look where we are – traveling to visit potential colleges. While I cannot deny occasional tears and grief or apprehension, I might also attribute these feelings to our current political climate of hate and intolerance, and the fact that we do not yet have full equality in the U.S. when it comes to health care, housing, and employment for the LGBTQ community – as well as the ability to use the restroom of one’s choice.
So, what did I pack in my steamer trunk? Love, compassion, Torah, the ability to ask questions and learn, the ability to reach out and connect to community I had not known before, strength, and endurance. Where has the journey led? To a new “now” that most anyone would call enviable. Throughout the rough moments, I have also experienced gratitude – gratitude for my son, for his life, and for mine. And my gratitude would not be complete without acknowledging the love, support, and deep kindness of my husband Larry.
Recently I visited a college classmate who lives in a neighboring state on a beautiful 50-acre paradise, complete with a river running through it. My friend had been a highly accomplished research scientist, who married, had triplets, and changed professional direction. Today she teaches writing and is a published poet with a particular eye and voice for the natural world and our relationships. Behind an old barn on her property she and her children created a special meditative space with a walking labyrinth dotted with river stones, an assorted collection of diverse bird “tchotchkes” and well-wrought sculptures forged by her son. On the barn’s wall is a metal sign that reads “There’ll never be another now.”
As the transition continues, with occasional turbulence and swift running waters, I am here “now” – and this “now” is good. With gratitude for that, we’ll take the next step forward to the next “now.” I invite anyone in our congregation family (and their friends,) to reach out and connect if you have any questions or wish to share.
- Rabbi Rachel Heaps’ Installation - March 14, 2018
- Singing Our Sacred Roots: The American Journey of Our Reform Musical Inheritance - February 22, 2018
- An Update on the Refugee Sisters You Helped Sponsor - December 21, 2017
- Adult Hebrew Class - December 5, 2017
- Say Yes to Supporting Temple Jeremiah - November 28, 2017
- Moving from Divisions to Dialogue- A Conversation with Laurie Grauer - November 8, 2017
- Announcement from Adam Kahan - November 7, 2017
- Annual Noni Dodge Blood Drive - October 13, 2017
- Will You Say Yes? - September 27, 2017
- Jeremiah Gems- Rabbi Rick Jacobs - September 19, 2017