Author Abby Stein discusses experience as a trans woman, leaving Hasidic Jewish community
Shayla O'Connor | Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Abby Stein, an accomplished author and LGBTQ+ advocate, gave a live Zoom lecture where she discussed her newest book “Becoming Eve,” her life growing up in a Hasidic Jewish community and her thoughts and experiences with the LGBTQ+ community as a trans woman.
Stein is the sixth child out of 13 in her family. In her talk, she discussed how important marriage and family are to the Hasidic Jewish community. Stein explained that her family comes from a long dynasty of Hasidic Rebbes from all sides of her family and that she is a direct descendent of the founder of the Hasidic movement, Baal Shem Tov.
In the Hasidic Jewish community, Stein said, the genders are very separate. She said that those socialized as boys and girls don’t interact with each other, not even if they are first cousins in most families. Weddings are usually arranged and at times, forced. The entire community revolves around the ideals of family and marriage.
When asked the question, “If you always knew you were a girl, why did you get married?” Stein said that when asked, she would respond with an explanation that marriage isn’t presented as a choice within the community. Those in the community are raised from birth with the knowledge, expectation and absolute certainty that they will get married and so to not do so wasn’t feasible.
As far as education went, Stein said she and the rest of the children were given almost exclusively religious teaching. She said at best they were given a second or third grade level of English and that after eighth grade, none of her or her classmates could speak conversational English. There were no general education classes of classes such as math or science and the focus was entirely on religion.
Stein said she did not have any knowledge of the LGBTQ+ community growing up as in a Hasidic Jewish household.
“I wish I would’ve had a transphobic or homophobic teacher in my life, because at least then I’d know about the existence of that community,” she said.
Stein then went on to explain that being religious does not necessarily equate to being more homophobic or transphobic, as she has seen.
“Many people use religion to justify their hate,” she said. “When it comes to LGBTQ issues, if you really care, your religion is not going to get in your way. Hateful people who are religious exist. Hateful people who aren’t religious exist. Religion isn’t the cause. Hate, homophobia and injustice is the enemy.”
Stein talked about religious evidence that shows that people believed in six to 10 genders long ago. Stein’s own ancestor, her great-grandfather Rabbi Yechiel Michael, said, “At times, a female would be in a male body, because in the reasons of gilgal the soul of a female would come to be in a male” Stein used this quote to come out to her father.
However, Stein said those in the LGBTQ+ community take pride in their identities regardless.
“We don’t need religious texts or anyone else to tell us who we are,” Stein said.
Although Stein herself no longer considers herself to be religious, she is ordained as a Rabbi. She describes herself as “more cultural and spiritual.” She went on to say that she believes more in the practices of Judaism than in God.
While she spoke on Zoom, participants were invited to send questions through the chat. One student asked, “How can we be allies to the trans community?”
Stein replied that simply asking thought-out questions is an easy way to be an ally.
“You already are just by asking that question,” she said. “And I know that’s the bare minimum, but it isn’t a given. When you meet trans people, or anyone from a different community, a simple thing to keep in mind before asking questions is: Don’t ask trans people a question you wouldn’t ask a cis-gendered person.”
Stein encouraged allies to speak up and take even small actions that may seem performative. She said before she came out, one way she used to figure out she could feel comfortable around friends would be to check if they put a rainbow filter over their Facebook profile picture. This was during the time after the supreme court ruling on gay marriage. The simple act of putting a temporary filter over a profile picture let her know which people would be accepting of her when she would come out, she said.
Stein wrapped up her talk by stressing the importance of storytelling in order for people to connect through compassion and said she is trying to leave her mark by sharing her story.
“One of the most effective tools in making people more tolerant and more celebratory is the sharing of personal stories,” she said.