Why do we need transgender inclusivity programming?
• By Ariel Ezekiel Zitny
Transgender inclusion is a verb, not an adjective. And for transgender people like myself, it is a crucial component in our feelings of belonging and safety. Many people think to themselves, “We are already inclusive. We would never turn someone away because they are transgender. We even have a sign, ‘All Are Welcome Here.’” That is a great first step, but it is not enough.
When I joined my temple, I was unsure of whether or not I would come out to the people there. I was new to town and new in my transition, and I was afraid of creating waves – it can be scary to advocate for your needs as a trans person. There have been times when people have argued with me over my pronouns, and I carry those memories with me every time someone new misgenders me.
There are also moments of affirmation when you are made to feel respected and included. There was a moment when my rabbi was introducing me to another congregant, and before he went to introduce me, he paused and looked at me. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know what pronouns you use.” Such a simple action reframed my whole perception of the congregation I had joined. This was indeed a safe space. They were aware of the possibility that anyone they meet might be trans, and of how important it is to recognize and affirm people’s gender identities. But the affirmation didn’t end there – the bathrooms had signs stating that the congregation respects gender identity and encouraging people to use the bathroom that they feel most comfortable in. Moreover, they had a single-stall gender-neutral bathroom for those people who may not fit in the binary or may not feel comfortable in gendered spaces. When I came upon my one-year anniversary of hormone replacement therapy, the rabbis were happy to commemorate my transition with a naming ceremony where I received a new Hebrew name to reflect my new identity.
In LGBTQ-specific spaces, being mindful of including trans people is just as important. Often, LGBTQ spaces focus on sexuality and end up forgetting about transgender people. For that reason, trans people sometimes don’t even feel welcome in spaces that are meant for us. When I went to a J-Pride event and was met by a greeter encouraging people to make name tags with their name and pronouns, I felt seen and affirmed. Some people were confused, and asked why they needed to put their pronouns on a name tag, and it was a great opportunity for the greeter to educate the asker on transgender inclusivity and the importance of avoiding potential misgendering. Something as simple as asking people to write their pronouns is a clear message to transgender people that our comfort and safety is being considered, and our identity will be honored.
Transgender inclusivity programming is so important because people may think they are doing what they need to do in order to create a safe environment for us, but if they do not know what a safe space entails, it is hard – if not impossible – to create one. People who have never knowingly met a transgender person might be unaware of how to respectfully communicate with us. People who have never had to think about assumed gender or pronouns might be confused when they meet someone about whom they cannot make assumptions. People who have never had to think about bathroom safety may be unaware of how much a sign stating inclusivity could do for someone like me. It is important for cisgender (non-transgender) people to discuss transgender issues amongst each other, and to listen to and learn from transgender people themselves. Having these conversations, and listening to the needs of transgender people, is crucial in creating a space that is truly transgender-inclusive.
J-Pride is honored to share Ariel’s words to illustrate the need for trans-inclusive spaces in the Jewish community. We also know that there are many stories in our community – some told and some untold – that continue to challenge us to do better, think differently, and to work harder towards authentic inclusive spaces. If you were moved by these words, had questions about the content, or feel energized to learn more – please join us on March 19 for the first ever J-Pride Community Summit. Click here to learn more and register