Tuesday, January 02, 2018

On Being Transgender

Image from TORA
The plight of being  transgender is a subject that is very difficult for me to discuss. But it has become a hotly debated issue and a recent statement by  TORA (Traditional  Orthodox Rabbis of America – of which I am a member) has motivated me to try and rise to the challenge.

TORA just released a statement strongly endorsing a declaration made recently by ‘a group of Christian and Muslim faith leaders’.  I think it is worth reading because of the sensitive way it handles the issue and the clear Halacha opposing sex reassignment surgery.

The pain of any individual believing he was born the wrong sex and wishing to change is unfathomable to most people, and yet it exists at painful levels among some. So painful that suicide is sometimes considered. That kind of pain is very understandable. Societal rejection of a transsexual human being is still pretty strong. And not very well understood.

I believe that most people that even bother thinking about it believe that it is a psychological disorder that can be corrected with therapy. I’m not sure that’s the case. If that were true, why wouldn’t every transsexual human being opt to be part of the overwhelming mainstream of humanity that is comfortable with the gender they were born with? They well understand the stigma of being born different. It cannot be easy on them to have these feelings.

Like most people I  do not understand it either. We are born either male or female and we grow up in that reality without thinking about it too much. And we are raised culturally to behave in the manner of the sex we are born with.

And yet, transgender people are so unhappy with the gender they were botrn with that they are willing to undergo the pain of sex reassignment surgery.  It can’t be psychologically easy to make that kind of change either - in a world that won’t understand it. A world that knew an individual as a male and now sees them as a female (and vice versa).

While there are organizations that help them try to adjust, I don’t think there is anywhere near enough acceptance in society to give them a sense of being a normal person among other normal people. And yet they still do it!  

As mentioned,  Halacha forbids that kind of change in no uncertain terms. It falls into the category of mutilating the body. Which is clearly forbidden unless it is for Pikuach Nefesh  reasons (preservation of life) or serious  health issues.  

All of this is why the following excerpt published in the TORA is important: 
A person’s discomfort with his or her sex, or the desire to be identified as the other sex, is a complicated reality that needs to be addressed with sensitivity and truth. Each person deserves to be heard and treated with respect; it is our responsibility to respond to their concerns with compassion, mercy and honesty. As religious leaders, we express our commitment to urge the members of our communities to also respond to those wrestling with this challenge with patience and love.
Children especially are harmed when they are told that they can “change” their sex or, further, given hormones that will affect their development and possibly render them infertile as adults. Parents deserve better guidance on these important decisions, and we urge our medical institutions to honor the basic medical principle of “first, do no harm.” Gender ideology harms individuals and societies by sowing confusion and self-doubt. The state itself has a compelling interest, therefore, in maintaining policies that uphold the scientific fact of human biology and supporting the social institutions and norms that surround it.
The movement today to enforce the false idea — that a man can be or become a woman or vice versa — is deeply troubling. It compels people to either go against reason — that is, to agree with something that is not true — or face ridicule, marginalization, and other forms of retaliation.
We desire the health and happiness of all men, women, and children. Therefore, we call for policies that uphold the truth of a person’s sexual identity as male or female, and the privacy and safety of all. We hope for renewed appreciation of the beauty of sexual difference in our culture and for authentic support of those who experience conflict with their God-given sexual identity.  
People that have these issues should indeed be treated with compassion. But at the same time they must be advised about the Halachic prohibition of changing one’s sex. How a human being can function remaining in the gender they were born with while feeling emotionally that they are the other is a problem that I have no solution for. But that does not make it any less forbidden to surgically change one’s sex.

What about changing one’s gender without surgery?  One could do that by using hormone therapy and changing their appearance (e.g. clothing, hair style, and cosmetics) and mannerisms. But that too is forbidden by Halacha as clearly stated by the Torah. And without reassignment surgery they remain biologically the sex into which they were born.

(It is interesting to note, however  a responsum by Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg in his magnum Opus, Tzitz Eliezer (Volume 10 – 26:25) states that the sex of a human being is determined by their existing genitalia. Not what they were born with.

Rabbi Waldenberg is the only Posek that says anything remotely like this. More importantly, however, even according to him it is also clearly forbidden to perform such surgery.)

As an observant Jews, they must follow Halacha, painful though it may be for them in this instance. I have nothing but sympathy for such individuals. And I have no clue about a solution for these human beings that would be Halachic. And still, as a human being, my heart goes out to them. I cannot imagine the pain they must go though struggling with this.