Gender Immigrants

My dad was born in the U.S. and served in the Army in Europe, where he met my mother. They met and fell in love and wanted to move back to the U.S. to start their lives together. There was more to it than packing bags and buying plane tickets. There was a mountain of paperwork to plow through, and no guarantee that there would be acceptance at the end. But they persevered, and she was invited to come to the U.S. and work here. Three years later, I came along.

And some time after that, she started the process of becoming a citizen. It took years and patience. I remember someone from Immigration coming to our house when I was in second or third grade, and how he tried to suss out whether their relationship was real or not. He asked me if mommy and daddy both lived in the same house together, that sort of thing. I remember it because of the pressure I felt not to screw it up somehow. But I must have done OK, because when I was in the third grade, my mom became a U.S. citizen.

Years later, after I grew up, I wanted to convert to Judaism. There’s a lot more to it than simply showing up at temple one night and saying you’re a Jew. By tradition, a rabbi is supposed to turn you down three times before accepting you as a potential convert. And then comes at least a year of study, including learning the basics of the faith, some of the traditions, participating in a year of holiday observances and mentorship by a family. And that was just to get up to the point where you’re questioned before the beit din, a panel of three ‘judges’ who decide whether you’re ready to convert. And then there’s the mikveh, or ceremonial bath, and for men, a circumcision or ceremonial drop of blood from the penis. And then you can say you’re a Jew.

I started on this long process without knowing if I would make it through or whether I’d be accepted as one at the end. And, truthfully, I’m not a Jew to all people. I am accepted in the Reform congregations, somewhat accepted in by the Conservative, but to the Orthodox – not to mention the Ultra-Orthodox – I’m as much of a gentile as I was the day I was born.

That’s how it is for immigrants. You leave one shore with no guarantee that the one on which you arrive will welcome you. And even if they do, there may be a lot of hurdles and roadblocks in the way. And even if you navigate all of them, there still is no guarantee of being truly welcomed. Sometimes they don’t want you, and sometimes you’re turned back. It’s the risk an immigrant takes.

I sometimes think of immigrants when I think of transgender people who demand inclusion in the group of their choice. Some who transition from male to female, for example, insist on a right to have access to places set aside for women, such as bathrooms, changing rooms and all-women events. Perhaps some female-to-male people do this, too, but I haven’t heard of it. And in any case, I think it’s important to note that not all transgendered people feel this way.

But those who do insist on that right, I think they’re wrong. You can’t just enter someone else’s house, take a seat on the couch and declare yourself home. The people living there have a culture of their own. They have habits and traditions that grew out of generations of shared experiences. It is there home, and they have the right to decide who can enter either as a guest or as a member of the family.

Women are the same. We have our own culture and our own understanding. We have our own way of seeing the world around us and a common language. We’ve faced the same biases and shared the same benefits. We share many experiences that men may understand, but never truly know.

My life is different because I was born a girl and not a boy. I had different expectations put on me and was hemmed in by different limitations. Like most girls, I looked forward to puberty with a mixture of anticipation and dread. I can share the story of my first period and tell you exactly how that monthly cycle has complicated my life. I’ve fought my own battles trying to control and use my fertility. And now I look forward to menopause with the same anticipation and dread I once awaited puberty.

In these ways, I am an ordinary woman. Not every woman encounters all of these same experiences and milestones, but each of us knows most of them. To those who insist that they are a woman because they feel like a woman, I ask, how do you know? How can you be sure you know what it feels like to be a woman if you don’t understand even a few of the things I listed above?

I’m tired of some transwomen who say that this argument is invalid because a small minority of women have a medical condition that keeps them from menstruating, or that because not every woman wants to have a child, you can’t include women’s reproductive abilities and all the issues surrounding them in the definition of womanhood. They seek exceptions to try to disprove a rule.

But it doesn’t work like that. My mother couldn’t fly to the United States and declare she felt like an American, so they had to let her in. I couldn’t go to temple one night and tell everyone I was now a Jew. And someone can’t become a woman by declaration.

I don’t say this out of malice. I have some conflicting feelings about it, especially when it comes to things like the ability to safely use a restroom, because that’s a biological need we all have – men, women, all of the above, none of the above or other. But when it comes to the insistence that some women have a penis? I’m sorry, no.

If male-to-female transgendered people are one day considered to be women, it will be because women have decided to allow them in. And that decision isn’t up to me, but to the consensus of women.


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