Breaking the Gender Covenant
It's billed as a "photo essay" in On Being (essay originally published by Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Ideas), but Joy Ladin's reflection, "Breaking the Gender Covenant," is a deep reflection on how gender and relationships intertwine (with some lovely photos of Joy besides!).
Joy Ladin is a poet and professor, with tenure at Yeshiva University (an Orthodox Jewish institution in New York City). She made the news by transitioning from male to female while retaining her position in 2008.
Her auto-biography, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey between Gender, tells a nuanced story of how her gender transition and family life emerged. Ladin's former wife has published her own version of the family's transition story.
"Breaking the Gender Covenant" steps into that storyline, drawing on Jewish tradition to provide a powerful way to frame the social ramifications involved in gender transition.
Gender is a covenant, a promise that the maleness or femaleness we present in public represents both our genitalia and our gender identity, our private sense of whether we are male or female. People who visibly fail to keep this covenant, those we call “transgender,” are subject to severe penalties: exile from family and friends, loss of employment, and verbal and physical abuse. Every week, one or two transgender Americans are killed, in a hate crime, for breaking the covenant of gender.
Ladin doesn't flinch from the need to be true to our authentic selves. However, her comments make space for a deeper understanding of the complicated and vulnerable ways that we are all connected.
Not only does she invite us to strive "for a more embracing, nonbinary conception of gender, but for a more embracing, nonbinary moral language — a language that acknowledges suffering, and the need for growth and forgiveness, on all sides."
Kudos to Ladin for doing deep work here, on a very public stage. The work of deepening our gender covenants towards "greater understanding and a deeper mutual relationship" calls us from individual authenticity into the even messier and more profound work of life in relationship and community. May we be strengthened for this journey every day.