“While the Jewish mainstream still argues about homosexuality, transgender and gender-variant people have emerged as a distinct Jewish population and as a new chorus of voices. Inspired and nurtured by the successes of the feminist and LGBT movements in the Jewish world, Jews who identify with the “T” now sit in the congregation, marry under the chuppah, and create Jewish families. Balancing on the Mechitza offers a multifaceted portrait of this increasingly visible community.
The contributors—activists, theologians, scholars, and other transgender Jews—share for the first time in a printed volume their theoretical contemplations as well as rite-of-passage and other transformative stories. Balancing on the Mechitza introduces readers to a secular transwoman who interviews her Israeli and Palestinian peers and provides cutting-edge theory about the construction of Jewish personhood in Israel; a transman who serves as legal witness for a man (a role not typically open to persons designated female at birth) during a conversion ritual; a man deprived of testosterone by an illness who comes to identify himself with passion and pride as a Biblical eunuch; and a gender-variant person who explores how to adapt the masculine and feminine pronouns in Hebrew to reflect a non-binary gender reality.”
I had one major issue with this entire book, that is the issue of conflating the issues of intersex people and transgender people. The editor of the book does not define what transgender is, but instead uses a few different labels that are not commonly associated with transgender people such as bear (a big hairy gay man). Bears may be transgender, but saying that all bears are or using it as a transgender label is not correct. Also the issue of saying that all intersex people are transgender because of their birth sex. WRONG! There are many groups of intersex people that hate transsexuals and vilify them (not all intersex people vilify transgender or transsexual people, but enough do to create these groups).
Once I was able to get beyond the intersex issue (though almost every author in the last section confuses the two), the book was an interesting look into a religion I knew very little about. The authors help the reader understand what they are talking about by explaining the different practices and the editor does a great job of introducing the pieces in a way that gives them context to people who aren’t Jewish. Overall the book was fascinating, though some pieces were really dry or uninteresting.
I had one particular author I had a problem with (outside of the editor who I had a problem with throughout the book). This author said that sex and gender were the same thing (actually they said that there is no distinction between the two) thus invalidating many identities. I appreciated their arguments, but I could not stand behind someone that does not see sex (biological indicators of maleness or femaleness) and gender (psychological, expression, identity) as different. The group of people the author was discussing were people who did not have a sex and gender that aligned, but they refused to acknowledge that this was an issue (then why would transpeople have any issues if sex and gender were the same thing?). Sort of a sore spot of mine, if you couldn’t tell.
The last bit I will talk about is the way that the authors were able to blend their lives and their views of a very binary gender religion and their own identities was fascinating and I really did appreciate the views of all of the authors (even the ones I did not support or found dry). This book took me days to read as it was not a simple read, but it was one that I am glad I managed to get through.
3 out of 5 stars. I would recommend this book, but only to people who understood what intersex and transgender meant.
You can buy this book here.