What the Torah and Talmud Teach Us About Calling Transgender People by Their Names

From The Tablet:  https://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/263885/what-the-torah-and-talmud-teach-us-about-calling-transgender-people-by-their-names

Renaming ourselves in order to live our lives is a part of our own holy re-creation

By Rabbi Mike Moskowitz and Seth Marnin
June 8, 2018

Words are powerful. How we use words, how we name things, and what we call people matters. This is especially true for transgender people who change their names. Torah and Talmud have much to teach us about our obligation to respect a transgender person’s name change.

Words created the world and still have the ability to change it. The formation of the world began when G-d said “let there be light.” But even before G-d could say “let there be light,” G-d needed letters to form those words. All the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are therefore the building blocks of creation, בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ. In the beginning G-d created א ת.

The mystics explain that the life of a person comes from the letters of their name. They reframe the end of Genesis 2:19 נפש חיה הוא שמו (literally, “whatever the man called each living creature, that would be its name”) as the life of a living thing is its name.

Names also represent the essence of something. Rashi affirms that the world was created with the “Holy Tongue” because the Hebrew word for “woman,” “אשה” isha, is related to the word for “man,” “איש” ish. (Genesis 2:23) Man and woman started as one and then were separated. Their new names, man and woman, reflect that transition in the way new names mirror who we are or who we are becoming.

Just as what we are called reflects who we are, each one of us is a representation of the divine. Our names–the names we are given and the names we claim–influence our purpose in the world. Angels, for example, in Hebrew, are called מלאכים, because they exist exclusively to perform G-d’s work מלאכה.

But we are not only created in the image of G-d, we are also messengers of G-d, each one of us uniquely suited for specific tasks. Sometimes we find that our mission or circumstances evolve. With those new challenges, so too may our name change. When Jacob wrestles with the angel and overcomes the angel, for example, he is told, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel…” (Genesis 32:29).

While sometimes name changes follow an event, a new name may be anticipatory or forward looking. The name change might be empowering or assist in the momentum toward the journey. In this week’s Torah portion, for instance, Moses gives Hoshea a new name, Joshua, to help him achieve a better outcome when he is sent with the spies to Israel (“Those were the names of the men whom Moses sent to scout the land; but Moses changed the name of Hoshea son of Nun to Joshua”) (Numbers 13:16).

How we refer to people, how we respect their names and identities, matters. The Talmud teaches us that it is better to be verbose in order to be sensitive than concise and insensitive. We learn that G-d added extra letters into the Torah just to show us that it is better to be wordy, and even awkward, if it prevents one from uttering something unrefined. (Pesachim 3a).

Recognizing and respecting a name change, one’s capacity to change, and the legitimacy of the changes is essential, an obligation. In Genesis 17:5, G-d renames Abraham, “And you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham.” It is so important to the rabbis that Abraham’s new name is recognized and respected they went so far as to argue over whether, if one calls Abraham by his former name, they fail to fulfill the positive mitzvah of calling Abraham by his new name; transgresses the underlying prohibition implied in the name change of calling Abraham by his former name; or transgresses both at the same time.

R’ Zakkai attributed his long life to having, among other reasons, never called someone by something other than their name (Megillah 27b). R’Zakkai was rewarded with long life because he contributed to the life of others by calling them by their appropriate name.

When a transgender person chooses a new name and discards their deadname, it is an act of creation. Like Abraham and Sarah, Israel and Joshua, it is marker. A moment, among moments, of transition and transformation. A new chapter. Renaming ourselves, claiming our names, in order to live our lives is a part of our own holy re-creation. Calling us by our new, correct names is an opportunity for others to contribute to our lives and participate in the holiness.

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‘Feminists’ Who Exclude Trans Women Aren’t Feminists At All

From Huffington Post:  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-tannehill-terfs-right-wing_us_5b44eeeae4b0c523e2637878

By Brynn Tannehill

London Pride, like Pride celebrations all over the world, is supposed to be about the LGBTQ community coming together to celebrate the ability to be themselves and to openly proclaim who they love. But this weekend the message ended up hijacked by a small group of self-proclaimed lesbian “feminists” who jumped out in front of the parade displaying anti-transgender banners and posters and handing out fliers with transphobic propaganda.

They were booed by the crowd. But because they were in front of the official start of the parade, police did nothing and the group was allowed to walk the entire route. Afterward, London Pride condemned them and their message, saying: “The protest group showed a level of bigotry, ignorance and hate that is unacceptable. We reject what this group stands for. They do not share our values, which are about inclusion and respect and support for the most marginalised parts of our community.”

The people responsible come from a movement whose members sometimes call themselves gender critical feminists, or radical feminists. Most people know them as trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs, a name they originally created for themselves but now reject.

The problem with having the word “feminist” in any of these descriptors is that these individuals and groups are not feminist by any normal definition. Even if you leave aside their positions on transgender people and look at their positions on women’s issues in general, they are extremely retrograde. And while TERFs might have started out as a tiny group of fading second-wave feminists who never quite got over the fact that women can be both heterosexual and feminist, the movement is now essentially a bought-and-paid-for tool of ultra-conservative religious groups in the U.S. opposed to everything that feminism normally stands for.

TERF thought leaders who are widely accepted as representatives of their movement have taken horrifying positions on issues such as rape and bodily autonomy. Germaine Greer, author of The Female Eunuch, was recently brought on a much-publicized panel debate on TV in the U.K. as an opponent of transgender rights. She has also made chilling statements about rape.

Greer has said that rape isn’t that bad, describing it as “something that leaves no sign, no injury, nothing.” In the same interview, she said the penalty for rape should be reduced to “200 hours of community service.” Greer pooh-poohed the Me Too movement, saying, “If you spread your legs because he said ‘Be nice to me and I’ll give you a job in a movie,’ then I’m afraid that’s tantamount to consent, and it’s too late now to start whingeing about that.”

Similarly, Venice Allan, aka @DrRadFem on Twitter, has railed against abortion and birth control being available to women, proclaiming, “Ah… a man arrives to tell us that the only decent feminism we should campaign about is to make careless sex easier for him.” Allan was previously part of the Labour Party’s Women’s Network. After confronting a trans woman at an event by the organization, she was unrepentant for her actions, and subsequently posted anti-transgender memes. As a result, her membership in the Labour Party was suspended.

This sentiment that birth control is just a way of enabling consequence-free sex echoes the position of U.S. conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who popularized the term “feminazi” to describe feminists. In 2012 Limbaugh infamously took the position that women who use birth control are “sluts.”

If it seems like these individuals are drawing from the right-wing playbook and its messaging, it is because they are. There is in fact a very good reason why the anti-transgender messaging in the pamphlets being handed out by the protesters at London Pride was virtually indistinguishable from the anti-transgender messaging in right-wing publications like The Federalist.

There is a deliberate strategy to co-opt or displace mainstream feminists in order to divide, conquer and destroy the LGBTQ community. Meg Kilgannon described it at the Family Research Council’s Values Voters summit in 2017:

For all of its recent success, the LGBT alliance is actually fragile, and the trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimize them. Gender identity on its own is just a bridge too far. If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.

Her solution: Wrap transphobic rhetoric in the language of secular feminism, claiming that gender identity is a concept offensive to women.

This isn’t an idle threat. There is ample evidence that it is being put into action. The Heritage Foundation hosted a panel last year consisting of a mix of “old-school” TERFs and new, religiously motivated ones (such as Kaley Triller Haver) who downplayed the role of religion in their hostility toward trans people.

Continue reading at:   https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-tannehill-terfs-right-wing_us_5b44eeeae4b0c523e2637878

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