There’s No Wrong Way to Have a Body

The title words of this blog are from my colleague Rabbi Elliot Kukla, the first openly transgender person to be ordained by the Reform Jewish seminary, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. He is a rabbi at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center. I heard him speak at a convening of T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

Rabbi Kukla’s presentation, teaching really, was so powerful to me because I realized as i listened to him, how blind I’ve been to the realities of a person being part of the LGBT community,  how insensitive my heart, how far I need to go. His emphasis was on personhood and, I recall saying to myself “Well, of course!”, as he spoke about the personhood of every person, no matter how they see and feel their bodies as part of the way they articulate themselves into the universe.  I began to relate the identity journey of a trans person to some of my own journeys: moving from a child into adulthood, the craziness of early adolescence, becoming a husband, a father and certainly being a rabbi. I realized that none of my journeys could compare to the spiritual journey of a transgender person considering that there is (and has been) a dissonance between his/her/their sense of self and his/her/their gender reality. As I said, I have a long way to go, but thanks to Rabbi Kukla’s excellent teaching, I think I’ve taken a few more steps. There’s no wrong way to have a body.

And that is why I need to say to my LGBT relatives, friends and colleagues, I am so sorry for the pain that the President inflicted on you today when he signed a directive banning transgender troops from serving in our nation’s military. It is such an insult, to all of our personhoods because there’s no wrong way to have a body. It is such an insult to all of our personhoods because we are all guaranteed life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and equality. No person, even the President, has the right to invalidate another person’s sense of self. No person, even the President, has the right to limit the participation of some in our society from full participation in that society. No person, even the President, has the right to even infer that someone else’s sense of body is wrong.

Thus far, our military, which has integrated all of us into its ranks and has often been the pioneers of such integration, has held strong and refused to implement the President’s declaration , now turned directive. I will lobby, and I hope you do, to make sure they keep doing that because there’s no wrong way to have a body. In the meantime, a bit of Torah:

And God said, “Let US create a human in OUR image, after OUR likeness” Gen. 1:26. Need we say more? Well there is more. We should also remember that in the second creation story, the first human being was created as a hermaphrodite, both male and female. At least according to that version of humanity, that was OUR original form, all of us, every one. There is no wrong way to have a body.

Charlottesville

I often relay teachings of my favorite Chasidic rabbi, Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, also known as the Kotzker Rebbe. Once, the Kotzker asked his students, “Where is God.” “Simple!” they exclaimed. “God lives everywhere!”. “No,” the Kotzker replied. “God lives where people let God in.” From what I know of the Kotzker, he didn’t mean his response to be taken literally. It’s not as if there is some magical portal, a spiritual membrane, through which we can invite God into our lives or shut up tightly with a series of locks and bolts so that God cannot enter.

Charlottesville? I’ll get there.

What the Kotzker is talking about is our attitude. If we perceive God as present in a situation, then God is there. If we don’t, then God isn’t. God is all probability and possibility. God is all there is and all there isn’t. God, as the Jewish mystics refer to God, is the Ein Sof, that which has no end. In other words, limitless, boundless. Every thing and no thing. God is.

Charlottesville? In a minute.

God doesn’t decide. God doesn’t judge. God didn’t decide that Heather Heyer would die on Saturday or the other people wouldn’t. It didn’t have anything to do with who let God in and who did not, in the literal sense. Many who were there felt that God was “in” and “on” their side. God doesn’t take sides.

Charlottesville? Now.

So, no presumptions about where God is or God isn’t, whether God is “in” or “out”, whether God was in Charlottesville on Saturday or whether God’s there now.

I can be in! We must be in! We are tiny pieces of God, of Everything, and we must choose to be “in”. In all that I do and say, I will choose to work against racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and violence. I will petition. I will email. I will make phone calls. I will march. I will demand that the leaders of this country act like adults. With all my heart, with all my soul, and with everything I have I will strive to bring justice where it is absent. I do not pretend to love everyone. I don’t love neo-Nazis or White Supremacists. I don’t pity them. And…I can’t become them in trying to counter them. I will not be filled with hate, but I won’t necessarily be filled with love.

I will be filled with hope. I will give myself no other choice but to hope. I will be filled with courage, even when I am most afraid. I will give myself no other choice but to believe that the world can be, must be, better. I will believe that I play a vital role in that change. I am in.