Learning to be Transgender

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by David Bookbinder. David is an educator and part of the amazing leadership team of Jewrotica. For more of David’s columns, check out Double Mitzvah – Tzav, Double Mitzvah – Shmini, Double Mitzvah – Tazria, Double Mitzvah – Metzora, Double Mitzvah – Acharei Mot, Double Mitzvah – Pesach, Double Mitzvah – Kedoshim, Double Mitzvah – Emor,
Double Mitzvah – Behar
and last week’s column Double Mitzvah – Curses, Blessings, and Nipples.

Rated PG-13

I’m not going to lie, this week’s Torah portion is extremely boring. I do love me some Torah…but an entire parasha about a census with detailed numerical information and about how the tribes were organized around the mishkan is not my idea of a captivating read. So the question becomes, what is sexy about parashat B’midbar?

Just everything, that’s all. After counting all the able-bodied men, the Torah launches into a description of the various roles that the different priestly families play in serving the Mishkan. Able-bodied men? Roles and servitude? What’s not sexy about that?

In all seriousness though, there really is an important discussion to be had from all this: the question of sexual roles. Sexual roles, in my view, are a subset of gender roles, “the social and behavioral norms that are generally considered appropriate for either a man or a woman in a social or interpersonal relationship.” (1) These are the roles which we assign ourselves, or are assigned to us, in the realm of sex alone, i.e., submissive or dominant. While we might feel obligated or compelled to uphold various gender roles in public, we can and should feel free to explore our sexual roles in the bedroom.

But how is all this tied to the parasha? Like I said earlier, the Torah discusses roles. It assigns a particular task to each family of Levi’im: The family of Gershon, transporting the tapestries and curtains of the Mishkan and their accessories; the Kehot family, transporting all the holy vessels; and the Merari family, carrying the beams, panels, and joints of the Mishkan. There was to be no deviation from their roles. In addition, each of the 12 tribes was told specifically where to camp around the Tabernacle and, again, could not deviate in the slightest. In its appropriate context, namely moving a nation through the desert and setting up a religious system, it makes sense to have roles that are clearly defined and unalterable. But from another perspective, God imposes these roles on the people. They do not choose their roles; their roles are chosen for them.

Likewise, today our roles are typically defined for us, whether by our parents, our friends, or society as a whole. We are expected to conform to certain behaviours regardless of our feelings toward them. Even when we begin to break down certain expectations, others keep cropping up. Yes, it is okay for a man not to be “macho,” but is it okay for a gay man to act “straight?” Can a woman wear traditionally male clothing and not be a lesbian? Where I see real freedom is in the transgender community (2), where it is not society’s choice which dictates your gender behaviour, it is yours.

While many of us might not feel ready to embrace this sort of personal freedom, we can all take this lesson with us into the bedroom. When we don’t have the world watching us, we can be free to break down the norms which might hold us back. Even in the Torah, all the “unchangeable roles” which are set up now eventually fall by the wayside when they are no longer necessary. How one serves God becomes a personal choice, even within the confines of a religious system.

How we serve ourselves and each other can also be a singularly personal choice. If you’re normally submissive, experiment with domination or vice versa. Use the bedroom as a place to play and have fun without having to be any particular person. Maybe we can all learn to be a little more transgender.

Shabbat shalom.

Have you drunk the kool-aid or do you think I’m spouting nonsense? Let me know in the comments!!


1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_role
2.The freedom of choice is in regards to gender roles/norms. This is different than gender identity or sexual orientation which is more intrinsic in a person. Gender roles should be a choice, gender identity and sexual orientation are not, just to be clear.

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