Twilight Journeys: Love thy neighbour…

Twilight Journeys: Love thy neighbour…

Being a Transgender Jew does not always make you feel out of harm’s way, so it is vital for the wider community to step up, writes Surat Shaan Knan, in the sixth instalment of The Ponderings of a Transgender Jewsurat-300x1991

Surat Shaan Knan is a female-to-male (ftm) transgender person on a transitioning journey.

Click HERE for previous instalments, and get in touch with the Jewish News if you can contribute to our J LGBT section.

I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent” – Rabbi A.Y. Kook

‘Ticket, please, Sir!’ While the inspector checks my train ticket, I check out my face in the window reflection.

A whole weekend without being misgendered. Phew. It’s hard to pin-point what’s different, but these past six months on HRT*(Hormone replacement therapy) must have surely brought on some physical changes.

In fact, during my last session, my endocrinologist pointed out the budding fluff on my upper lip, and gingerly recommended a shave.

The other week, I was stopped at Heathrow’s border control because, according to the ePassport scanner, my photo wasn’t matching the data.

Members of the Gay, Lesbian and TransgenThe officer did scrutinise me in a rather puzzled way. When I explained my situation, she was very understanding and even wished me best of luck with everything. Walking through customs with a big smile on my face, I felt very grateful to live in a country where being transgender is not a crime and gender reassignment a protected characteristic by law.

At the same time, I felt quite downhearted to think what some trans people in less progressive countries might have had to experience in a similar situation. Yes, the law is on our side, but are we really safe?

Last month, on 20 November, the global community observed the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), (which you can read about HERE) somewhat sombre event to commemorate the victims of transphobic violence.

Throughout November, I was busy co-ordinating London’s first ever TDoR interfaith service, which brought together over 40 people from the diverse faith strands.

In the candlelit Metropolitan Community Church in Camden,  Christians, Jews, Muslims and Pagans said kaddish, meditated and chanted together, and read out and honour the names of the over 200 people who were murdered in the past 12 months.

trans killingThey were murdered or driven to suicide for trying to be themselves.

Many of them would have had a faith and some of them would have been killed for religious beliefs  – murdered by a random fanatic, or even by a friend or family member.

It makes me really sad when religion is used to justify bigotry and hatred.

Just today, national newspapers released a shocking report by The Metropolitan police that saw offences against transgender people soar by 44% in 2014. Hate crimes were still underreported and only a few hundred transphobic crimes got recorded by the police each year – it would seem a tiny fraction of the true number.

There are no official records of transphobic hate crimes in the UK’s Jewish community.  However, I have come across some very heart-breaking personal stories within the oral history project Rainbow Jews (

These testimonies indicate that people here have suffered severely from being ostracised, disrespected and rejected by friends, family and rabbis because their gender identity did not fit neatly into the categories of male and female.

I believe we need to do more in our wider Jewish community to be accepting and supportive toward difference.

Isn’t LGBT inclusion part of broader Jewish values such as hachnasat orchim (hospitality) and ahavat Yisrael (literally “love for one’s fellow Jews”)? Judaism teaches that the value of ahavat Yisrael refers to love and respect that exists from the depth of one’s heart. As many scholars have noted that this ‘love’ cannot be selective:

The three loves — love of G-d, love of Torah and love of one’s fellow — are one. One cannot differentiate between them, for they are of a single essence… And since they are of a single essence, each one embodies all three. When we will have the three loves together, we will achieve the Redemption (Holocaust survivor Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1951)

In Judaism, redemption refers to G-d redeeming the Israelites from their various exiles. This includes the final redemption from the present exile. On this note, I believe it’s time to stop exiling transgender people from our families, communities and sanctuaries.

Let’s be true to our values and principles and make Judaism a welcoming home for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

A trans experience at the Kotel
A trans experience at the Kotel


So, I’m on this nightly train journey back home from Brighton, mulling over the past few weeks since my last blog just after High Holy Days. A lot has been on my mind indeed. So much has been going on. 

At Limmud Conference 2014, I discussed LGBT issues on panels and in text study sessions, showed the Rainbow Jews exhibition, and last but not least launch my new oral history project Twilight People: Stories of Faith and Gender Beyond the Binary (Click here)

I hope many more Jewish, Muslim and Christian transgender people will come forward and recount their ‘twilight journeys’.

I invite you to let those voices in and make them part of your own radical journey of transformation and empowerment.

In the meantime, I can’t wait for shops to open again so I can go and buy a decent shaver. I still feel apprehensive though walking into a shop and asking for ‘men’s things’; no, I don’t always feel safe in the twilight zone.

*Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for transgender or gender variant individuals is a form of medical intervention in which sex hormones (namely androgens for trans men) are administered for the purpose of bringing one’s secondary sexual characteristics more in line with their gender identity.

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