November 21, 2017
Yesterday was Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day to mark the violence against the Transgender community. Unfortunately, in one Jewish Facebook group, it was marked by cruelty instead.
Facebook groups have evolved over the last few years from groups of a few dozen people from your high school class to thousands of people with shared interests. They are not just a playground for adults, but full-time jobs for the administrators, as well as a place to make friends, to learn and educate, and of course, to debate hot topics.
The group ‘Jewish Women Talk About Anything’ (JWTAA) currently has 25,745 members. That’s at least one less than it had yesterday, when a Transgender woman was removed. She was removed from the group on the grounds that anyone who was not born female does not come under the title of a woman. By way of explanation, the group’s administrator posted that “the majority of the responders did not feel comfortable with trans members so we deferred to the majority.”
But in any event, the idea that these “responders” upon whom the administrators relied — though no one who posted could remember a vote taking place — should get to speak for 25,000 of us seems ludicrous to me. Maybe that’s just my hope talking, though. While this group is not specifically Orthodox, it is led and moderated by three Orthodox women, and there are often loud Orthodox voices in the mix. As an Orthodox woman myself, I can only speak through that lens. And when it comes to gender, despite the Mishnah itself identifying as many as half a dozen genders between male and female, the message which is coming across loud and clear to me is: We Don’t Accept You.
But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve seen it before, in other ways. And it’s rarely to do with Jewish law. We all know the single woman in her thirties who is “on the shelf” and forgotten. We all know the divorced man in his late 40’s who has fewer and fewer Shabbat invites because “my kids are becoming teens and it’s not so appropriate.” Or the couple who have been married seven years but don’t have kids so “it’s hard to know what to talk to them about.” Or what about the gay couple who identifies as Orthodox and comes to shul but also “literally hold hands in public, like they don’t even care.”
Orthodox Judaism is known to ignore those on the fringes, those who don’t fit the mold. And if you’re paying attention, that means anyone outside of straight married couples with kids.
A Facebook group can of course allow whoever it chooses through its virtual doors. But when the group is called “Jewish Women Talk About Anything”, closing those doors to Transgender women is a powerful statement. It means that according to these 26,000 Jews anyway, a Trans woman is not a woman.