Post submitted by Andrea Zekis, HRC Consultant

“Speaking with an authentic voice and living an authentic life, I became a stronger, more resilient person.”

And with that voice, I had a conversation this June with my fellow congregants at the Temple B’Nai Israel in Little Rock, Arkansas about two very personal parts about myself--my personal identity and my religious identity.

Titled “Becoming a Jew While Becoming a Woman,”  I shared the journey I took to find a faith community and conversion to Judaism, while building my life in Arkansas as a transgender woman. The presentation was part of the Human Rights Campaign’s Summer of Conversations campaign. My personal talk is one of many happening around the state between friends, neighbors and in my case, people within my faith community.

I can say if you asked me three years ago, when I first attended the temple, if I could ever imagine having such a frank, personal discussion about being a transgender woman, I would have been unsure.  I did not know another transgender person who attended the temple and at the time, I was advised to keep quiet about parts of my past. But over the years, the uncertainty over how people would react to my gender identity changed.

At the same time, I became more comfortable about being open about myself. Those I spent time with on Fridays and Saturdays became my champions, including me in their activities and their lives. When Rabbi Barry Block asked me to speak to the congregation about becoming a Jewish woman, I felt I wanted to let everyone who saw me grow as a person to know how much they meant to me.

Telling my story that Friday night had to be one of the toughest I had ever done. Even though I came out five years ago as a transgender woman, I wrote my remarks afraid the emotion would get to me even though they came from the heart. I still felt nervous even though I proudly say I’m transgender often in public. That’s because the people at Temple B’Nai Israel were there at a time when I really needed a community of caring people in my life, and those conversations I had with them has led to a place of inclusion and belonging that feels like home.

The response was overwhelmingly supportive. The people I knew supported and greeted me alongside folks I knew, but didn’t know they supported my journey and equality for LGBT people. People found my talk entertaining, even funny at times-- but most importantly touching and moving. Those who wanted to share the experience with their friends requested copies of my talk, while others wanted to share stories about the transgender people they’ve met in their personal and professional lives and the difficulties they face. I had another friend remark, “You should speak again around the holiday season.”   

Transgender people can experience a lot of loss in life--from losing a job or home due to discrimination, to being abandoned by unsupportive family, friends and loved ones. I have experienced similar pains in my life.   However, without having the conversation and those special moments afterwards, I wouldn’t have known how much I truly have gained.

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