Jewish Journal


May 29, 2013

Becoming Less Normal



I’ve never really considered myself to be “normal.” What I mean by that is I’ve always felt different from most other people. It probably started with my toes. The second and third toe on each of my feet are joined about half way up. (They are not, I must clarify, webbed!) It didn’t take me long to discover my toes are not normal. Somehow, I took this to mean I am not normal.

My mother once told me that, when I was born, the doctors suggested my toes be surgically separated. I’ve always been glad my parents told them to leave my toes alone. Early on, I found I like being different.

It’s not just my toes, though. In recess at elementary school I often found myself to be the only girl playing kickball on a field full of boys. I traded in pants for dresses at school the moment I was allowed to do so (second grade). I’ve been told I give directions like a boy and I run like a boy. I like math. I play video games that are predominantly played by men and boys.

My husband says in High School he thought of me as “adventure girl,” and that’s one of the things that attracted him to me. Unlike the other girls, I played touch football and did other things with the boys that were adventurous and fun.

I started reflecting on all this as I was reading the book, “Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in the Jewish Community,” edited by Noach Dzmura. I find it fascinating that, while some of the transgender writers in this book seem to be heading toward what might be called “normalcy” by choosing a gender expression that matches the gender they know themselves to be inside, others do not subscribe to the male/female binary model. Instead, they see themselves as neither completely male nor completely female.

One writer describes themselves as a “mosaic.” I am encouraged by the bravery and the self-knowledge it must take for such a person to recognize and honor who they are inside and to reflect that in how they present themselves to the world, regardless of what the world may consider to be “normal.”

I feel this way not because I don’t feel wholly female (I do, in fact, feel wholly female), but I recognize the knife’s edge of difference there must be between me, a woman with many male tendencies, and a person born in a female body who knows themselves to be a male person.

I feel this way also because I have been struggling a bit lately with my experience doing taharah (ritually washing a dead person and preparing her for burial) and shmirah (watching over or guarding a person’s body between the time of death and burial). I have found that I am now very comfortable being around dead people, and although I was hoping this would happen, I am also aware that this comfort is not considered “normal” by most people.

This past weekend, I began to wonder whether this comfort I have developed means there is something wrong with me. I have realized that, by doing this work, I am becoming less “normal.”

Thus, I am encouraged and strengthened by others who are successfully declaring that normal for them is different than what may seem normal for others. It’s something I have embraced in the past, and I hope it is something I will continue to embrace in the future.

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