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An Orthodox Trans Woman from Kentucky Finds Acceptance (and a Shul) in Chicago

My reality as I knew it ended in early November 2015. Even though I was assigned male at birth, I came to terms with things I started to realize in middle school, if not elementary school: I’m a woman.

Accepting all of this wasn’t easy and when you live in a very small Orthodox community in Kentucky, transitioning would not be a realistic option so it meant finally moving back to Chicago. Outside of a very small group of friends who I knew at shul from when I lived here in 2008-09, nobody else in the community knew I was transgender or that would be transitioning with exception of the rabbi, as I came out to him when I said that I would be moving back in February 2016.

I knew the day would eventually come in which I would be switching to the other side of the mechitza. I didn’t know what day that would be. I also didn’t expect to be repressing my feelings for all of two weeks just after moving. I had hoped to freeze sperm but financially, it was impossible. Once dysphoria became crippling in April, I pushed myself to stay alive through Pesach. The main testosterone blocker is spironolactone and because it’s a diuretic, I knew I couldn’t start HRT until after the holiday had ended so I started my medical transition on May 1, 2016.

I made the decision early on to avoid the daily minyan as I knew things would become awkward once the physical changes started to appear. I started laser right after I moved and once I started HRT, my face would slowly begin to feminize.

As September started, it was beginning to get very hard to keep presenting as male, not only emotionally but physically, too. While I set a tentative goal of Rosh Hashanah as presenting as a woman full time, I had a cousin’s bar mitzvah coming up in Skokie and was doing my best to try to present male for that.

I began presenting as a woman all the time on September 18th with the exception of work. On Friday, I got laid off from work so full time started that day. I had gone out a few times during the week to improv shows but truth be told, I was more scared and nervous to walk into shul that Friday. My closest friends knew and I came out on Facebook over Memorial Day weekend as a result of all the bathroom bills so anyone who checked Facebook regularly knew even if they didn’t say anything. The day was going to come at some point.

As nervous and scared as I was, it was very helpful to be surrounded by friends on that first Shabbat in which I was full time. There were some people at dinner that didn’t know that I was trans but they had known me since my last time living in Chicago.

Anshe Sholom in Chicago is one of the few Orthodox communities that is welcoming and accepting of transgender Jews. When I saw the shul’s former rabbi at the end of October, I told him that I was so happy that he addressed the situation during his years in Chicago because it would have been even scarier to be the first transgender Jew to come out at shul.

I’m one of the lucky ones that are still allowed to walk into an Orthodox shul and feel welcome in the community. There are so many other transgender Jews out there who come from an Orthodox background. Some leave Orthodoxy because of the community rejection and stop being religious altogether. Others don’t lessen their observance of Judaism even as their community rejects them and they aren’t allowed at shul.

I can never go home again so I am thankful to have a community in Chicago that accepts me for the woman that I am.

Danielle Solzman is an aspiring comedy writer in Chicago. She can be found watching movies or improv shows.

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