Abby Stein, a trans-woman who recently discussed her transition, has an interesting story to tell, one she’s hoping will resonate with others who grew up in similar situations and educate those who may not be aware of such challenging circumstances.
Stein was once an ultra-Orthodox rabbi in a Hasidic Brooklyn community. She led the “normal” life of a Hasidic boy – growing up one of numerous children, then marring young and having a child, and of course all the while intensely studying the Torah and other religious texts.
However, while growing up, Stein had questioned her gender identity and asked her parents if she was a boy or girl. Stein recently told CNN:
“It felt like my gender was punching me in the face. Everyone had told me that I was a boy, but it didn’t feel right… As a child, I remember saying, ‘I’m a girl, right?’ but no, everyone said something else. It was a hard experience growing up and not having any outlet. Not having any way to express myself.”
As a preteen, she began to better understand her gender but denied it because of her community’s norms, but Stein finally realized and accepted who she really was after having a child with her then-wife. She did a lot of research online, and was exposed to people who had similar questions on gender identity. This allowed Stein to hear from people outside her own community, and she realized there was a whole world out there that she was not familiar with and would likely need to become a part of once she decided to transition. Stein explained:
“It was a slow process. It doesn’t happen overnight…To some extent, leaving the community was even harder than transitioning. I had no idea what I was getting into…I didn’t know anyone, couldn’t speak the language and didn’t have an education. I didn’t know how to dress. I didn’t know how to talk.”
Stein eventually left the Hasidic community she grew up in as a boy and eventually split with her wife. And while she continues to see her son, she no longer has a relationship with her parents.
She now is writing her story, a memoir of being transgender in a religious community, hoping to share her experience with others who may have similar backgrounds. Stein explained:
“I interacted last week with someone who grew up Amish, people who grew up Mormon, people who grew up fundamentalist Muslim in the Middle East, Jehovah’s witnesses….We’re talking here not just about people or communities that have anti-LGBT sentiment, but communities where this is seen as evil or something that is rarely discussed…”