As a proud parent of a trans, genderqueer adult, I strongly believe the Church of England has done a brave and excellent thing this week in promoting acceptance of transgender identities.
Their guidance for schools seeks to tackle bullying and promote celebration of diversity. It reflects how religion must be intertwined with our evolving society — as it always has been. I would love these suggestions by the Church of England to be embraced by the Jewish community.
The kind of acceptance our community and society as a whole need to adopt wholeheartedly is deeply embedded within Jewish tradition.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury himself noted, we are all made b’tzelem Elohim, in the likeness of God, making every single person’s identity a reflection of the Divine. Even the notion of God as described by our texts and our sages is called by some “genderqueer”. ~
Our one God is described with different gender identities, sometimes in male terms and other times, such as the Shechinah — the Divine Presence — with female vocabulary. It is this gender fluidity, these diverse descriptions, that draws us towards the Divine as it reflects the gender diversity of creation. The move from “Lord” to “Eternal” in many modern translations reflects this evolving view of gender and its accompanying theology.~
To talk about acceptance and about valuing diversity means nothing without finding concrete ways to make these sentiments real. Of course, we all want to say our communities welcome everyone, but are we truly proactive in ensuring this? Or do we wait, thinking an issue such as transgender inclusion isn’t relevant to us?
I know from listening to trans Jews that too often our communities fail those who we claim to want to welcome. We often can’t see trans people as they are too anxious about how they’ll be received, so they stay marginalised, outside, self-excluding, self-silencing. They stay in the closet, which is certainly no aron kodesh, no holy Ark.
What we need is the most proactive step of all — education. Our communities need to be places where we educate ourselves, and our children, about the beautiful, interesting, enriching diversity of identities within our own Jewish circles. When we fail to understand this, we marginalise and exclude people, even if we don’t realise that is what we are doing. Organisations such as Keshet UK who educate about trans Jews can help. We must ensure our communities are truly the welcoming spaces we all intend them to be.
Laura Janner-Klausner is Senior Rabbi of the Movement for Reform Judaism
WHAT THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND SAID
The Church of England’s updated guidance for its schools calls for an “inclusive vision” with clear policies to prevent homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.
Relationships and sex education should “take LGBT people into account” and include sexual orientation.
Same sex-relationships and transgender issues may be mentioned as “a fact in some people’s lives”.
Schools should avoid an “ inflexible uniform policy that creates a particular difficulty for trans pupils”.
Adolescence is “a time when the school culture needs to offer a compassionate acceptance,” the guidance states, “that... allows young people to ‘try on identities for size’, and explore who they are.”
At primary age, teachers should avoid labelling behaviour irregular because it does not conform to gender stereotypes. Children should be free to “play with the many cloaks of identity”. When dressing up, for example, “a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the firefighter’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment”.