Yeah… I was a hippie way back in the 1960s before many if not most of you were born. Long hair, big old Martin Dreadnaught guitar, sandals in the summer and boots in the winter. I went to demonstrations, saw all the really great bands wandered from a small town through Greenwich Village and out to the coast where I lived in the Haight Ashbury, Berkley and in LA, where I lived on Sunset Blvd near Laurel Canyon.
I had books by Sartre and de Beauvoir along with Hesse, Kerouac and Tolkien in my library. Being a hippie didn’t mean I identified as a hippie so much as it meant I lived as other hippies lived. I mean I could have stayed in the small Adirondack town I grew up in with my books, guitar, posters and records. There is a difference between identifying as and doing. I learned that from Jean Paul and the existentialists.
I didn’t need others lumping me in with a group of young people Herb Caen (SF Chronicle, columnist) dubbed “hippies” to know I was an outsider. I was born transsexual, which meant I was born different, fated by birth to be an outsider, different from the majority of people.
I became a photographer by buying cameras and taking photos, analyzing my mistakes, studying how to improve my skills and develop a way of seeing. Mostly a lot of work.
But back to being born transsexual. When I was a kid I was the only one. I didn’t have a tribe to identify with, a culture, role models. I had to be my own role model and learn about womanhood the same way girls who were assigned female at birth did. I was never part of what Susan Sryker called the “Transgender Community” in San Francisco. What I was part of was a group of my peers who were going through the Stanford Sex Reassignment Program in the early 1970s. We were mostly drawing our own maps and creating our own meaning for what we were going through.
Through actions, medical treatments, living, learning, and sex reassignment surgery I became female and a woman. Many years later I would convert to Judaism. I notice similarities and mentioned them to my friend Aaron Devor, who pointed out to me how Dr Harry Benjamin had described what is now called transition as “conversion”.
Before I started converting to Judaism I read a lot about it, researched and studied, came to the conclusion that after a lifetime of searching it felt right for me. When I started formal conversion I started wearing a Star of David, attending services, celebrating holidays. The pandemic was a roadblock which I overcame. Finally I underwent the Mikvah and blessing rituals. Now I am Jewish, a MOTT or Member of the Tribe. Not because I simply identify as Jewish but because of the commitment I made and the processes I went through. To quote from the Book of Ruth: For whither thou goest, I will go; And where thou lodgest, I will lodge; Thy people are my people, and thy G‑d, my G‑d. Where thou diest, will I die, and there be buried;. A life time commitment.
Well back in the 1970s when I and others went through the Stanford program it was to become women, not trans-women, not post-op transgender people but simply women. I attended my first Pride Day Parade in Los Angeles in 1974. I was coming to realize that I was attracted to women. I became part of the now maligned Second Wave Feminist Movement. My place was with women because I was and am now a woman. In Judaism on Shavuot, the souls of all Jews including converts are said to have stood at Sinai when G-d gave the Jewish people the Covenant.
I have friends who walked the same path as I did. Some of us still struggle for words. I’ve taken to using “post-transsexual” to describe how I feel about how I went about dealing with the problems of having been born transsexual. But the words now used by the “Trans-Community” are alien and ill fitting, like they belong to a different people.
I read so much about communities, often existing mainly on social media. But what is my community? Is it aging hippies, still wearing sandals and listening to 1960s music and musicians? Is it the Feminist Movement? I barely recognize the Feminist Movement of today, or for that matter the LGBT Movement. Some communities sound like SIGs or Special Interest Groups. Like photographers, or jazz fans, or even sports fans.
I struggle with the idea of communities that exist main via the transfer of electronic bytes of information sent via the internet. Some how that as a community feels alienating like a Kafkaesque existence in dark loneliness where one never hugs other members of their community, never dances with joy or celebrates with food and drink, merely with transmitted images of celebration.
My Temple feels like community, the camaraderie of friends and people I work with, of other old people feels like community in a real way that is missing from the virtual world where one goes into a public place and everyone is staring zombie like at their phones instead of talking with each other.