Tag Archives: transgender

My NY Times WomenInTheWorld Profile

Amid a shifting tide of tolerance, transgender Jews search for faith and community

Abby Stein on Columbia University’s campus in New York City (Katie Booth/Women in the World) On a temperate afternoon in late December, Abby Stein sat in a café on the Upper West Side, surveying her glass of water with a mixture of amusement and surprise.

The following is excerpted from the site above. Read three more stories there, this one is mine:


Hannah Simpson, 31: “The only breach in decorum and protocol was that people started applauding.”

Hannah Simpson photographed in New York City. (Katie Booth/Women in the World)

Hannah Simpson photographed in New York City. (Katie Booth/Women in the World)

Hannah Simpson has a winking penchant for wordplay — trans-inspired wordplay included. “I like to joke: there’s a place in religion for you as a transgender person,” she said with a grin. “It just might not be the sect you were assigned at birth.” Later, she noted: “I’ve never had a bat mitzvah before, and when I do, it’s going to be a bat mitzvah with ears, capes, and utility belts optional.”

On a dreary day just after New Years, Hannah was chipper and sunny-eyed, a walking emblem of LGBTQ pride. She wore Star of David earrings painted with rainbow stripes, and in her bag, she carried a rainbow-splashed Israeli flag, which she sometimes dons as a cape. Hannah also brought along two knitted yarmulkes: one stitched with rainbow threads, the other modeled after the transgender flag in pink, white, and blue. She likes to trot these yarmulkes out before journalists and other interested parties, though she doesn’t wear them very often; traditional Judaism dictates that this particular religious garment is only mandated for men. “It’s one of those things where [sometimes] I do feel like I should be wearing a [yarmulke] and I sometimes don’t,” she said. “More often than not, I don’t these days, because I’m not obliged to, and it’s weird for me to make that act that is very traditionally masculine.”

It has been two years since Hannah started living her true self. From the time she was a small child, growing up in suburban New Jersey, Hannah knew that she was a woman. Existing as a male was, as she likes to put it, an experience similar to writing with her non-dominant hand: instantly and instinctively, she knew it didn’t feel right.

During the second year of her studies at Touro College medical school in New York, Hannah decided that she felt ready to begin her physical transition. She has since withdrawn from her studies on a temporary basis; several encounters with administration and staff, the details of which she would prefer to keep private, made her feel uncomfortable and unwelcome on campus. By comparison, Hannah’s post-transition integration into the Jewish world has gone relatively smoothly.

Hannah’s family belongs to a progressive synagogue in New Jersey’s Bergen County. Her parents are active in the congregation — her mother volunteers as a lay cantor, her father as an usher — and Hannah has carried their emphasis on community involvement into her adult life. She works with a support group called Jewish Queer Youth, and is active in Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, an LGBTQ congregation in Manhattan. This past December, she staffed an LGBTQ Birthright trip to Israel. Hannah has also found acceptance beyond LGBTQ Jewish communities. When the cantor of Hannah’s childhood synagogue found out that she had transitioned, he promptly offered to officiate her (as yet non-existent) wedding.

It seems appropriate, then, that the most public proclamation of Hannah’s identity took place in a synagogue. In 2013, while Hannah was still presenting as a male, she was asked by an egalitarian congregation in Boston to give a sermon on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Hannah had already begun the early phases of her transition and decided that this speech — to be delivered on a day that celebrates fresh starts and new beginnings — would present the perfect opportunity to come out.

When the congregation’s leadership saw a draft of Hannah’s speech they balked; there would be elderly members in attendance, they told Hannah, and perhaps she could edit out any parts of her speech that would cause offense. “They eventually changed their mind and came to their senses, and I gave the sermon,” Hannah said. “And to my surprise the only breach in decorum and protocol was that people started applauding.”

Though she is interested in Jewish liturgy, Hannah is not particularly bothered by the fact that sacred texts give virtually no attention to people of non-binary gender identities. “It is not so much that I can find the trans experience in the liturgy. I think it is the opposite: I can find the liturgy reflected in the trans-experience,” Hannah explained. “Gender diversity I really don’t think was on the ancient radar.”

Perhaps the best example of Hannah’s efforts to draw parallels between her own life and the Jewish tradition lies in the name that she chose when she transitioned. The biblical Hannah was a barren woman, who pleaded with God when she could not bear children and ultimately became the mother of the prophet Samuel. “With her fervor and passion she changed God’s mind,” Hannah explained. “I am a transgender woman and … I am actually taking an active step to argue with God, to assert myself. And hopefully I will find my fulfillment through that.”

As our interview drew to a close, Hannah pulled a miniature, electric menorah out of her Poppins-esque bag of knick-knacks. Every year during the Hanukah season, she teaches children and young adults how to make this very 21st-century version of the holiday’s traditional candelabrum. Though Hannah has woven her trans identity into so much of her Jewish life, it is important to her to extend her involvement beyond activism, beyond the LGBTQ community. Or as Hannah puts it: “Being a trans Jewish person is also just being a Jewish person.”

What Being Trans is Really Like

If you haven’t already seen this, it’s my amazing video with Refinery29 from 2015, and here I was on the Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC show:

I was also covered by Everyday Feminism!

How Many Moments of Extraordinary Strength Can You Spot in This Ordinary Day in the Life of a Transgender Woman? – Everyday Feminism

Can you do the simple exercise Hannah’s come up with? It really puts in perspective how you “just know” some things about who you are. With Love, The Editors at Everyday Feminism Closed-captioning are provided. Please click on the CC button to see it.

Thoughts on the National Museum of African American History and Culture

While in Washington DC today,

I visited the new Smithsonian National Museum of American American History and Culture. It only opened this past September 2016, and was the first new museum since the National Museum of the American Indian opened in 2004. All the buzz had said it was EXCELLENT, but that getting in was a challenge due to long lines.

Continue reading Thoughts on the National Museum of African American History and Culture

One World Trade Lit in Transgender Colors!

Governor Cuomo Lights The Night For Trans Visibility, And You Probably Missed It

It was hardly the smoothest of debuts, but if you happen to be transgender, that’s a relatable feeling. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo instructed the Port Authority to light the One World Trade Center spire in the colors of transgender pride (blue, pink, and white) for the very first time on March 31st, 2017.

Standup at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern

I perform standup comedy as a hobby, and sometimes it is fun to challenge myself by taking to an open mic in a totally new foreign city. This was me performing some British-infused transgender jokes at BarWotever, hosted by the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

Find more of my standup comedy (including Jewish “semon comedy”) here:

Learn more about BarWotever here: https://www.facebook.com/BarWotever/?fref=ts

The Big Serbian Day Update Post

Dear Friends, I am sure you are all wondering why I went to Serbia for a single day, and what the hell happened to me there. Well, here we go:

The long story short:

  • Saw a surgeon in Belgrade because I was worried if I didn’t go from Europe and drop a shit ton of money on airfare to see him on short notice, the entire process of getting him to operate on me would never move forward at all. I was right.
  • My doctors in New York had not coordinated with this surgeon AT ALL despite having suggested they had, and even suggesting I was supposed to have had surgery next week by him when he visited New York.
  • The surgeon wants $3500 to operate on me at his office in Belgrade, the soonest this could be is October. There is no guarantee he can fix everything that is wrong, but he will do what he can. This figure does not include other expenses I’d incur, none the least of which the $800 I spent to change all my fights around in a single night to see him at all.
  • I do not have $3500+, and I am applying for jobs right now that would make it impossible to take time off sufficient for a surgery in October. I am stuck delaying getting a job to have surgery (which I can’t afford) or trying to “move on” from my body problems long enough to earn the money and be able to take the time off, which is basically saying that having a fucked-up vagina never mattered in the first place.
  • I am fucked. Goodbye, I’m just done with all this shit.
  • Serbia seemed like a nice place. I was only there for 30hrs or I’d have loved to explore it more.

Continue reading The Big Serbian Day Update Post