Wednesday, May 25, 2016

My Great Journey Part 8C

My Great Journey Part 8C

In the previous section, we explored the important of life in Jewish tradition and law.  We saw that to save a life is so important that it actually supersedes observance of Sabbath and other Mitzvot (commandments, or religious obligations). In the next section, we will explore some of the specific Mitzvot that we must transgress, in order to live as transgender people, i.e. to live authentically and to our full potentials.

Recently there have been several doctors and psychologists who have written about or run programs designed to dissuade transgender people from transitioning, and to try to “convert them” to force them to detransition.  These include Paul McHugh, MD, from Johns Hopkins University.[1] McHugh stated that transgender people should not be allowed to access Gender Confirming Surgery (GCS).  His thesis is that because of the very high suicide rates and rates of other mental health issues in the transgender community, allowing GCS is wasting precious medical resources that could better be expended elsewhere.

McHugh’s work has been discredited, because he ignores a very significant factor in his paper.  He fails to take into account all the external stressors that transgender people face.  These include cost and inaccessibility of treatment, stigma, societal hurdles such as North Carolina’s HB2, etc.  It is not, as he asserts, that transgender people are mentally ill, but rather that society drives transgender people to desperation.

The Torah teaches (Lev 19:14):

יד   לֹא-תְקַלֵּל חֵרֵשׁ וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשֹׁל וְיָרֵאתָ מֵּאֱלֹקיךָ אֲנִי ה':

Lo t’kalel heireish, v’lifnei iveir lo titein mikhshol, 
v’yareita mei’elokekha, ani H’.

You shall not curse the deaf, nor shall you put a stumbling block before the blind;   you shall fear your God, I am H’.

Rashi[2] on this verse states:

  לא תתן עצה שאינה הוגנת לו

Lo titein eitzah she’einah hogenet lo.

Do not give advice that is not appropriate for the person.

This is critical here.  McHugh is giving extremely bad advice in his article (and no doubt did in his clinic as well), which can lead to transgender people experiencing significant mental health crises. So, we see from our verse and its interpretation, that it is a huge failing to knowingly give people bad advice; this is especially true if that bad advice will lead to severe emotional trauma, and perhaps even loss of life.

Another provider who has been discredited, who was harmful to transgender people was Kenneth J. Zucker, of Toronto.  He is noteworthy for advocating so-called “conversion therapy”.  Conversion therapy tries to convince a transgender person that they are in fact not transgender, and that they should be able to live in the gender they were assigned at birth. Conversion therapy has been proven to be ineffective and dangerous.  Zucker has been discredited and removed from his position.

Providers such as McHugh and Zucker, as well as past providers such as Money, did irreparable harm to many transgender people, by forcing them to live in genders different from their true gender.  This actually results in the very mental illness these providers claim to be curing.

Torah is very clear, that we must choose life, and that we must not do things to people, in the name of Torah, medicine, or any other authority, that puts them in a greater risk of losing their lives.

The best possible thing that one can do to enhance the life of a transgender person is to support their transition, to the endpoint that they deem appropriate. This is true at every level of society, from birth families, to friends, employers, medical providers, and ultimately to clergy and government at all levels.

It is true that certain religious laws are transgressed when a transgender person transitions.  However, Jewish law is clear.  One must transgress a Mitzvah (Commandment) rather than die, with the exception of murder, sexual immorality or idolatry. In other words, if someone holds a gun to your head and tells you to curse God, commit murder or adultery, you must refuse and sacrifice your life.  For EVERY other Mitzvah in Torah, you are OBLIGATED to transgress them, if to do so means that you will live, but if you follow them you will die.  

This will be a vital consideration as we consider, in the next chapter, the traditional Torah law that creates hurdles for transgender people.

As a side note, regarding saving lives, if you or another transgender person you know, is in a significant crisis, or just needs more information, please contact, or urge them to contact, the Trans Lifeline,

US: (877) 565-8860;        Canada: (877) 330-6366.

[2] 11th Century French commentator on Bible and Talmud.

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