Torah, From a Transgender Perspective

From The Tablet:  https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/274802/torah-from-a-transgender-perspective

Joy Ladin’s new book, ‘Soul of the Stranger,’ explores her intimate connection with God

By Shoshana Olidort
November 15, 2018

“If I were God, and I wanted to invent religion, and the material I had to work with was a patriarchal society, I would make the religion as patriarchal as I could,” Joy Ladin told me when we spoke by phone recently. This may seem like a surprising comment coming from a transgender Jewish poet and scholar, but Ladin is a person of faith and this stance informs the trans theology at the center of her new book, The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective, in which Ladin offers close readings of key biblical passages to question pervasive assumptions about a religiously mandated gender binary. For Ladin, God is not particularly invested in gender, and the patriarchal language of the Torah reflects a pragmatic rather than an ideological choice, a strategic move motivated by the need to perpetuate religion in a world in which, as she went on to explain, “people won’t transmit texts that deal with gender in ways they don’t understand.” Her statement echoes Maimonides oft-cited assertion that “the Torah speaks in the language of men.”

But while the language of the Torah is fundamentally patriarchal, Ladin’s reading reveals a surprising degree of flexibility and openness in the Torah’s treatment of gender. At the same time, Ladin—who has published 10 books of poetry and a memoir, as well as numerous essays—insists that her reading here does not aim to “queer” the Torah. “My goal isn’t to produce a different Torah,” she said. “I love the Torah as it is, in all of its strangeness, and I strongly feel that the greatness of the Torah is that we don’t have to change it for our perspectives to bring it to life and enable it to grow.”

Ladin’s book is hard to categorize: Neither strictly scholarly, nor purely autobiographical, The Soul of the Stranger defies boundaries as it moves between and across multiple genres, drawing on personal experiences to illuminate sacred texts, and using Torah as a mirror to reflect the complexities of human life. Reading the story of Jonah from a transgender perspective, Ladin suggests that the prophet’s predicament is one that resonates with the experience of transgender individuals who are desperate to “avoid living as the person (in Jonah’s case, as the prophet) they know themselves to be.” But Ladin is careful to point out that the trans experience, for all its particularities, is not something apart from but rather intrinsic to our shared humanity. “Trans experience is human experience,” Ladin said, because “everyone has experiences of not fitting assigned roles and definitions.”

Analyzing the creation narratives in Genesis, Ladin demonstrates that “Adam is human before he is gendered,” and that even when the Torah asserts the gender binary in Genesis 1:26-27, it does so without attaching any meaning, symbolic or otherwise, or assigning specific roles to gender. Ladin’s trans-reading of these texts seeks to foreground what she sees as the Torah’s fundamental ambivalence about the gender binary, a binary she sees “not as a divine decree but as a human invention.” Read through this lens, transgender identities, though they may seem “new and startling,” are in fact, according to Ladin, “direct descendants of the biblical genesis of gender.”

Continue reading at:  https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/274802/torah-from-a-transgender-perspective

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