“The Good Son tells the poignant story of a young Israeli man … who takes the radical step of changing his gender: without telling his family first.” – International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, 2013.
This is the incredible story of Or, a 22-year-old Israeli man who plans to secretly have sex reassignment surgery. Or’s own home videos make up the first part of the film – the emotionally gruelling lead-up to the procedure, lying to his family about his acceptance to university abroad and stealing from them to pay for the operation in Thailand. Then he teams up with filmmaker Shirly Berkovitz, who not only documents the remainder of Or’s lonely and guilt-ridden journey through recovery and personal reinvention, but also acts as friend and confidant. Berkovitz captures Or’s first steps in her new life as a woman, talking with fellow transgender people and finally, confronting her family and the price of seeking her true identity. This is an extraordinary tale about overcoming self-doubt, conflicted loyalty and being true to one’s self.
To mark the end of Mental Health Week and yesterday’s National Coming Out Day, Marco Fink pens a piece in which she comes out as trans, after realising she is not alone and that support is always available. Marco Fink — October 12, 2014
YESTERDAY, I told the world that I’m a girl.
First, through a conversation with my parents, second by a Facebook post, and now via this article.
I’ve been thinking for a long time about the right way to talk to everyone about something so big. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of figuring out, but I’m ready and I want to be open and honest.
Growing up, everyone always said to “be a man” and others always told me I was a boy. Even though I didn’t always feel as though it really fit or felt right, I went along with it anyway.
As I got older I started to figure things out more. I was probably about 10 or 11 when I discovered the idea of a “transgender” person.
I was pretty freaked out. All the transphobia and horrible stereotypes I saw on TV and in movies had given me a pretty warped idea of what it meant to be trans*, and as an 11-year-old kid it was overwhelming. I hated it.
I buried my feelings and tried to make myself forget. It was the only way I could cope. I figured denial was easier, pretending I was fine and just forcing myself to power through. My logic was maybe if I ignored it and tried to force myself to “be a man”, maybe eventually I’d just “learn” to be like everyone else.
That didn’t work. Maybe for a few months, even sometimes a year or two, I’d be okay, but it would always come back. I’ve never been able to shake it.
When I was younger, I struggled with depression for many years, and like anyone battling mental health problems, I had some dark and low moments. Then one day one of my friends came out as a trans man. I’d met him through Minus18 a few years back at one of their summer social events. He was a year older than me and a close friend, I really looked up to him.
It was the first time I’d actually knowingly met another trans* person.
All the misconceptions I had about what it meant to be trans started melting away. My friend was still the same nice, kind, funny person as always. The only thing that changed was the name and pronouns we used when talking about him.
Up until that moment I hadn’t been able to accept myself. I had refused to accept myself because that meant admitting I was “different”. I thought it meant being alone. I thought it meant being excluded and mocked. But watching people love and accept my friend for who he was changed everything. It showed me how wrong I was about it all.
It hadn’t even occurred to me that my friends wouldn’t reject me, that society wouldn’t despise me, that my family would maybe even be able to accept me, just like his family did.
For LGBT youth it seems that that’s always the hardest part; feeling alone and isolated. So many people aren’t even aware of just how many other people are out there that can relate and share similar stories.
I found these stories by joining Minus18. It changed my life, and suddenly I was exposed to hundreds of other young people who “just got it”, who could help me through everything, and who would rebuild my confidence.
I finally worked up the courage to come out this week. I’d been waiting eagerly for National Coming Out Day.
My parents were shocked for sure, but they told me they loved me no matter what. The reactions on Facebook have been just as incredible. It’s been so freeing to finally be able to be myself and tell the world this is the girl I’m meant to be.
The sense of community and support Minus18 has given me has been enormous, and has provided that for thousands of other LGBT young people all over Victoria and Australia.
Sadly, the incredible support and love I’ve received by coming out as trans* isn’t the norm for Australian youth. With 66 per cent of gender-diverse and trans* young people experiencing transphobic abuse, there’s still such a long way to go before we can say they’re safe.
Minus18’s next big step, the Atrium, is a safe space where young people can meet other LGBT youth. It’s a space where young people come from all over Melbourne can come and be themselves. If I can provide just one more trans* young person with the amazing, supportive space that I was given, it’ll be the most incredible thing in the world.
MEDIA RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE PUBLICATION – 28/07/2014 ALEPH MELBOURNE WELCOMES STATEMENT FROM JCCV REGARDING WORLD CONGRESS OF FAMILIES CONFERENCE
Aleph Melbourne welcomes a statement from David Marlow, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) this morning in response to the news that some politicians from Victoria are attending a conference organised by the World Congress of Families:
“Any spreading of homophobia, homophobic hate speech or the virulent type of dangerous and disgraceful views on homosexuality spread by the likes of Pastor Scott Lively are completely unacceptable in Victoria and Australia. These sorts of views have led to bullying, violence and murder of gay people across the world, who just want to live their lives in peace and equality.”
Aleph Melbourne convenor Michael Barnett said “Kudos to the JCCV for speaking out against homophobia. No Victorian politician should be attending a conference organised by a hate group. The Jewish community works very hard to stamp out hate in all its forms and I’m grateful that the JCCV has recognised any association with this conference is unacceptable.”
Aleph Melbourne calls on Premier Denis Napthine and Prime Minister Tony Abbott to speak out against Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark and Federal MP Kevin Andrews attending this conference.
Further comment available from Michael Barnett on 0417-595-541 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Young adult fiction and complex themes go hand in hand – not least in one of the most recent entries to this field.
Melbourne-based writer Eli Glasman’s debut novel The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew opens a window on growing up Jewish and the ramifications this has for the development of an individual’s sexuality; protagonist, 17-year-old Yossi Speilman, is working out how to be gay in a strictly orthodox family.
Glasman’s book is a breath of fresh air, and fascinating culturally. Having lived in Melbourne’s Caulfield and St Kilda I’m familiar with the sight of Jewish families in the streets on Saturday and the men and boys in long coats with their sideburns and hats.
I’m guilty of reading this visual display of religiosity as a one-dimensional indicator of a life committed to religion with no room for fun or personal choice. Glasman’s novel has opened my eyes and reminded me (yet again) of the danger of cultural stereotypes.
Being serious about one’s religion does not, of course, mean being devoid of a sense of humour or of not having fun with your mates. Religion may provide some certainty and rules for living but it does not preclude the need for individual self-discovery that all adolescents experience.
Yossi is a young man committed to his religion, culture and community but also a typical teenager exploring his sexual feelings. I found him a delightful character and was relieved Glasman didn’t portray Yossi’s homosexuality as a torturous burden that blights his life.
Earlier young adult novels about gay and lesbian characters such as John Donovan’s I’ll Get There. It Better be Worth the Trip (1969) or more recently Julie Ann Peters’ Keeping You a Secret (2003) frequently did take this path – the sexuality of the character being the defining quality of their lives and a problem that had to be solved.
Refreshingly, Yossi does not find his homosexuality an insurmountable – the challenge is how to express it within the laws of Judaism and how to tell his friends, family and wider community. Yossi knows he is gay, he has always known; he isn’t embarrassed and he knows he can’t change.
Yossi does initially seek help from Rabbi Pilcer via an internet chat site, who advises him to wear a rubber band on his wrist and snap it whenever Yossi has a sexual thought about another male. This, Pilcer claims, will “cure” him. It doesn’t.
The Jewish teachings on sexual behaviour are complicated and, to an outsider, peculiar. It is OK to have a wet dream but masturbating is forbidden; having homosexual thoughts is all right but acting on them isn’t. Yossi’s friendship with a new kid at school, Josh, is pivotal in his coming-out process.
Josh does not have an orthodox Jewish background and challenges many of Yossi’s religious beliefs. Glasman uses these conversations between Yossi and Josh to explain various Jewish teachings, not just those on sexuality.
Josh takes Yossi to his first gay synagogue and through this Yossi begins to understand that he can be gay and religious – he meets other gay Jews and begins to see a way forward for himself.
Yossi has his first sexual experience with Josh and, for once in a young adult novel, the sex did not make me cringe. It is natural, simple, affectionate and just slightly uncomfortable. It isn’t overly graphic, nor is it coy.
The morning after, Yossi isn’t embarrassed or filled with remorse but quietly and with humour discusses the reasons for the religious prohibitions against anal sex and condoms with Josh.
As Yossi says, preempting the reader’s possible response, some of this may seem silly but it is still interesting.
Coming out isn’t easy for Yossi; his father, sister and friends don’t accept immediately that he is gay; they learn as Yossi does to integrate their idea of homosexuality into their orthodox worldview. Glasman does a great job of presenting a balanced account of Yossi’s experience.
For every challenge he faces coming out to his Jewish community he also finds support and kindness from strangers, friends and family.
Glasman has avoided the trap of producing a novel about teenage sexuality; he has written a story about an interesting, intelligent and loving young man who happens to be Jewish and gay. Yossi never feels like an afterthought, created to populate an issue based or “problem” novel.
Australian writing for young adults has moved on as has our thinking about what it means to be gay.
Yossi’s life is not defined by his gayness or his Jewishness and neither is Glasman’s novel. Sure this novel could be a real comfort and support to young people facing coming out in a potentially hostile environment but it is also a joyful book that would inspire all readers to question the rules and to use creativity and love to find their path in life.
Shavuot is a celebration of the revelation of knowledge.
I experienced a revelation this Shavuot by attending a forum held by the Young Jewish Professionals at the home of Rabbi Moshe Kahn, director of Chabad Youth. To find members of the Orthodox Community constructively discussing the issue of homosexuality in our community was indeed a refreshing revelation.
More than 100 mainly young and Orthodox members of the community listened intently and respectfully to the three man panel discussing the issue of being Jewish and homosexual.
Philip Searle discussed his experience of coming out in the Jewish community. His gratitude to his family, friends, and Rabbi for their support and concern was strongly evident in the moving words of this eloquent young communal leader.
Former JCCV president and family law expert Michael Lipshutz highlighted the legal changes that have transpired in Australia, and felt that he has seen the attitudes of the Jewish community mature in parallel. As an example, he felt that the barriers that once prevented a Jewish gay support group from joining the JCCV probably no longer exist.
Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, the Vice President of Orthodox Rabbis Australia, talked of his practice of offering Aliyot to the Torah to gay people, and of his fervent defence of this practice when challenged by congregants who are less tolerant of diversity. He highlighted his inability to reconcile God’s love for His people, with the plight of Jewish gay people who are forbidden by the Torah from acting on their biological inclinations. When pushed, however, he conceded that it is often said that “where there is a Rabbinic will, there is a Halachic way”, and that he could not rule out the possibility that in the future rabbinic leaders might find a way to overcome the problem of such prohibitions, whilst still maintaining the paramount integrity of the Torah as they see it.
As a board member of Keshet Australia, working to build sensitivity, acceptance and care in all sectors of our community, it was extremely gratifying for me to see the leadership that Rabbis Kahn, Glasman have taken in facilitating such a forums. All involved are to be congratulated.
Future discussions may gain additional perspectives by including mental health professionals who might give insights into the serious risks including youth suicide that GLBTI Jews still face due to family and communal attitudes.
As a community we are taking steps in the right direction, but there is still much to be done.
Keshet is committed to educating the Australian Jewish community about GLBTIQ Jews. We look forward to seeing more events promoting the Jewish value of Ve’ahvta L’riecha Kamocha in the future.
Disclaimer: In posting this event Aleph Melbourne does not necessarily endorse the views of the organisation hosting this event or that of the speakers presenting at it. Aleph Melbourne also advises that there are multiple ‘Torah perspectives’ on homosexuality, such as that of Masorti and Progressive Judaism, which offer a more inclusive and accepting perspective to that of Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism.
It is a little known fact that a group of gay Jewish promoters had a substantial influence on the development of pop music in the late 50s and early 60s in Britain. In this session we will investigate the reasons for this phenomenon and also look in depth at the hidden Jewish promoters and songwriters behind such popular British pop and rock acts of the 60s and 70s as Cliff Richard, the Beatles, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Freddie & the Dreamers, Herman’s Hermits, The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, Fleetwood Mac, The Hollies, 10cc, Procol Harum, T-Rex and many others. Viewing vintage film & video clips, analysing song lyrics and listening to a lot of great music are all part of this entertaining session.
One of the most challenging issues of our time within the Orthodox community is how to deal with homosexuality. How to reconcile the Biblical texts with modern science’s understanding of sexuality? How has Orthodoxy responded to homosexuals within the community? This is surely a defining issue for Orthodoxy in the modern era. Come join us for a presentation and respectful and open discussion on this important topic.
J-Wire posted a story “Mardi Gras rocks” about Sydney’s GLBTIQ group Dayenu‘s participation in the Mardi Gras Parade. The following comment by Gil Solomon was approved by the J-Wire editor:
I don’t see a “Sydney Catholic GLBT Group” float (or any other denomination for that matter) so why do Jews have to overtly see the need to show to the world that they are both gay and Jewish?
The Jewish world has enough problems to contend with and I, being politically incorrect, categorically state I couldn’t care less what you people do behind closed doors but why do you see the need to hit us in the face that you’re a bunch of Jews. Go join some other float, as it nauseates me to think that you lot seem to think the Jewish community as a whole supports your blatant display of your sexual orientation.
I repeat, I couldn’t care less what you people do, but I am offended by the fact that you give your sexual preference a Jewish dimension.
Jo Silver from the JCCV posted this comment in response:
The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is proud to host a GLBTI Reference Group and support the No to Homophobia Campaign.
It’s wonderful to see that people feel ‘safe’ enough to openly participate in the Mardi Gras and express their unique Jewish identity as well. Well done!
The Reference Group is focused on raising awareness in our community that hurtful comments and nasty jibes can cause depression, anxiety and other well being issues for our GLBTI members. We are all people with feelings and emotions and we all have the right to open our door every day and face the world without feeling harassed.
A futher tweet from Aleph Melbourne reiterated the request for the ECAJ and NSW JBD to speak out:
If members of the Jewish community wish to participate in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, that is their right. If they wish to do so while openly identifying as Jews, that too is their right. Your comment that “[their] blatant displays of sexual orientation” should “remain behind closed doors” is an attack on their human dignity. It was not so long ago that Jews were being told that their ‘blatant displays’ of religious and national identity should ‘remain behind closed doors’. As neither you nor those you criticise act in any representative capacity, you and they are free to express yourselves as you wish. Australia as a nation has committed itself to mutual respect for the human dignity of all members of the community, despite any strongly held differences; recognition that disagreement is possible in ways that do not vilify other persons or their views; and avoidance of any public or private conduct that incites hatred, ridicule or contempt of another person or class of persons on the ground of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These are values that benefit all of us.”
It’s good to see these three organisations speaking out, to varying degrees, against homophobia and intolerance of homosexuality. They must continue to set a strong and positive example, to the entire Jewish community and to other faith communities, that all discrimination and intolerance is unacceptable.
Finally, take a few minutes to read the comment stream on the J-Wire story. The author of the contentious post unconvincingly attempted to clarify/justify his initial message in follow-up comments. Make of it what you will.
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Aleph in brief
Aleph Melbourne is a friendly, secular, social and support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people (and non-GLBTIQ allies) who have a Jewish heritage, living in and around Melbourne, Australia.