In this source sheet, we trace the lineage of transness that stretches from our plural and all-encompassing God, through Adam the bi-gendered being, all the way to Rabbi Yochanan the Transfemme of the Talmud, utilizing rabbinic sources, exegetical techniques and faith.
The working definition of transness for this source sheet is that a biblical/rabbinic character has "some kind of gender/sex magic going on." These numerous examples, in an unbroken chain across millenia, fly in the face of the idea that our "patriarchs" and "matriarchs" model the simple and clear line between "men" and "women" ordained by our "male" God. And this is just a taste of the silhouette of queerness and transness in our tradition - a teaser-trailer to give strength to my trans sisters, brothers and siblings. To claim ourselves neither outside the tradition, nor simply included as an afterthought -- but central to the entire faith.
May the children of Yisrael and Ivrim - the strugglers and crossers - always continue to find God in the transition and in-between. And may all those in God's image - the sons, the daughters, and those beyond them - find true safety, community, and love.
The first name for Hashem in TaNaKh is "Elohim" which literally means "Gods," and is written in the plural masculine form. It is paired with the verb "bara" - or 'he created' - in the singular masculine past tense. In Eytz Hayim, the conservative Jewish JPS commentary refers to this as a plural name with a singular verb form - making Elohim the first entity in the universe to use singular they/them pronouns.
The Bi-gendered Being
Our rabbis describe Adam as an "androginos", meaning an androgynous or bigendered being. Since Adam is made "btzelem elohim," in the image of God, and God Themself is first named "Elohim" - a plural name for a singular being - we know that gender-abundance, non-binariness, they/them pronouns, and more, are as old as the first human being, and God Herself.
Our Rabbis come to the same conclusion, drashing on the creation of Adam in chapters 2 and 5 of Breishis.
See also: Genesis 1:27, Genesis 2:22 and the rest of Vayikra Rabbah 14:1 which draws a connection to Gen 2:22
Adam to Avram:
Beyond Son's and Daughters
After Adam, Seth is born in Adam's image - which, as we now know, means gender-abundant and queer.
The generations after and including Seth are all born in this same way: a parent lives a certain number of years and begets one specific child; the parent lives a few more years and begets numerous unnamed "sons and daughters;" and then the parent's years are summed up, and they pass away.
Besides for the generations after Adam, the other place in Tanakh where we see a person set aside from, and compared to, "sons and daughters" is in Isaiah, who says that sarisim are beloved to Hashem, and will be given a "yad va'shem," a hand and a name, better than sons or daughters.
Sarisim are one of the 6 gender/sex categories laid out by our tradition. They are often referred to as "eunuchs;" they have been reclaimed as trans women; and they have the lexical foundation, from the root of the word saris, of being "uprooters," or radical presences in society.
Thus, Torah, when comparing a person to "sons and daughters," indicates that that person is distinct from the 'zachar u'nikeiva,' the male and female binary, and a trans figure themselves. Since Adam is an androginos, and Seth is made in their image and set aside from sons and daughters; and Seth's child Enosh is also set aside from sons and daughters, and so on; we can carry this through from Adam to Noach in chapter 5, and then in Chapter 11, we see the same formula - beget a named child, live a few more years, beget unnamed "sons and daughters" - carry us from Noach all the way to Avram Avinu.
Abraham and Sarah:
Tumtum and Aylonit are two other sex/gender categories from the talmud. A tumtum is a person of an "indeterminate sex." An aylonit is a person assigned female at birth, who then displays "male secondary sex characteristics" later in life. Tumtum has been reclaimed as a nonbinary trans category, and aylonit as a transmasculine one.
Here in Masechet Yevamoys, we see Avram and Sarai described as nonbinary, and the kashe, or rabbinic difficulty, is not whether they are trans, but what type of trans they are, since Rabbi Nahman says Sarai was not a tumtum, but rather an aylonit.
A Feminine Soul
The Sochatchover Rebbe, before the first World War in Poland, said that Isaac was born with a feminine soul. To prove this, he used the phrase from Chapter 18 of Breishis, which says "there will be a son to your wife Sarah," rather than "You [Avraham] will have a son." This idea of "mother's sons" being of a transfeminine character (rather than "father's sons") will return later with Jacob.
The fact that Sarah laughed when she heard the news that Isaac would be born with a feminine soul shows that trans children can and should be a source of joy. Sarah's laughter - the tumtum/aylonit parent of a transfemminine child - carries through the trans lineage of our people to this day. It is part of the "everlasting name" promised to us in Isaiah.
Sarah laughed because she understood that her son would have an unusual soul, based upon the precise language that the angel used. The angel said, "Sarah will have a son," and not, "Abraham will have a son." From this, Sarah understood that her son would have a feminine soul
Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain, the second Sochatchover Rebbe, between the years 1910-1926
In Tanakh, Rivka is described as a "maiden," or na'arah. However, the word for maiden, every time it's used for her, is written without the final "hey," allowing it to be read as "na'ar," or lad.
This is almost-definitely a grammar quirk arising from the fact that the hey-suffix for words that end with "ah" was developed over time as the tanakh was being canonized. But since other places in tanakh do use the hey, and Rivka never has the hey used for "her," we can see a transmasculinity in her "lad"-ness.
Also: Rivka, in Chapter 25, is descibed as "akara," barren, which is the same word connected to the rabbis' argument that Sarai is an aylonit! We further note that Rivka was taken in to Isaac's life after Sara's death. More specifically, she is brought into Sara's tent, and serves as balm for Isaac's loss. So between being an akara, being brought into Sara's tent and serving as a replacement for Sara in the family, we can say that what Isaac and his servant saw in choosing Rivka as a partner, was the chance to bring another aylonit, a transmasculine person, into a family that so desired and missed that presence after the loss of Sara.
Femmey Drag King Momma’s-"Boy"
Jacob, the child of a "father" with a feminine soul, and a "mother" who is a lad, grows up into a physical and social transness alongside his very-cis brother. Unlike Esau, Jacob is physically hairless. Unlike Esau who hunts in the field, Jacob stays at home and is found cooking when Esau returns from the hunt in chapter 25. Jacob is describe as "his" "mother's son," much like Yitzhak is "Sarah's child", and is chosen by Rivka as the favorite.
In order to mimick Esau, Jacob, though supposedly a "man," and no less our "patriach," had to put on drag in order to have enough body hair to pass. And through all this, who does our tradition choose to lead the people? The femmey, momma's boy, "soft man," or the burly, hairy hunter? The gender-outlaw, or the cis one who checks all the boxes?
Next time you're saying the amidah, remember who gets named as Hashem's chosen stewards in the first paragraph:
A tumtum, a transfeminine soul, and a femme drag-king momma's boy!
Complicating "Physical Sex": The Hairless "Man"
Gender Role-Play: The Mild "Man"
Jacob Does Drag: Hair and Cologne
Trans Across Generations: Momma's "Boy"
Jacob's blessing: "Mother's Sons"
Esau's Blessing: Living by the Sword
Ish Tahm Mightier than Ish Sadeh
See also: Genesis 32:25-31 where Jacob gay-wrestles an angel
Beautiful Queer Youth Scorned
Joseph is a gender-bender par-excellence.
In one of the more famous queer instances of Torah, Joseph gets handed a multicolor gay dreamcoat (a 'ktonet pasim') in an intergenerational trans-ference from their 'father' Jacob. The only other time ktonet pasim is used as a phrase in TaNaKh, it is defined as "what virgin girls wear" in Shmuel Bes.
Joseph is then spurned, like in many queer stories we know, by their brothers, and thrown out of their home.
In being described as beautiful, the Torah uses the same phrase for Joseph as they do for their mother Rachel, and Jacob is said to gaze upon Joseph to renew himself because Joseph looks like Rachel so much.
In Breishis Rabba, Joseph is described as doing "girlish things" for their beauty: like donning makeup and doing up his hair and wearing heels.
He's beloved by pharaoh and pharaoh's wife. And as we all know dream-teller was an ancient trans vocation.
Just trans in so many many many ways!
Y'Phat To'ar Vi'Phat Mareh: "His" mother's beauty
Whenever Joseph would walk by Jacob, he would look at Joseph, and his (Jacob’s) soul would be restored, as if he was looking at the mother of Joseph, for the beauty of Joseph was similar to the beauty of Rachel.
Multicolor Intergenerational Femme Dreamcoat
Queer Youth Kicked Out by Siblings
Make Up and Heels
Potiphar and Potiphar's Wife Loved Him
A Women's Beauty, like Pomegranate Seeds
Rabbi Yochanan is transfemminine. And Bava Metzia 84a reveals this in so many ways.
Yohanan is said to have beauty-of-a-woman by their lover/hevruta Reish Lakish, who jumps into a river after "mistaking" them for one. In the description of their beauty, they are a bountiful silver goblet filled with pomegranate seeds and rose petals. Yohanan wasn't on the list of "beautiful men" in the Talmud because, she doesn't have a beard. They are described as sitting at edge of mikveh, in the cusp between a woman's place and the male public domain. When they bring Reish Lakish to the world of Torah, they do so by bring them under wings of Shechina - the feminine aspect of God.
And in the final connection for toldoys trans: When asked why she doesn't invite the evil eye on herself, by describing herself as beautiful so often, she responds that she is immune from the evil eye, because she is from the "seed" of Joseph.
Thus we have an unbroken chain from Elohim to Rabbi Yochanan that carries transness through the Torah to our rabbis.
And this, we know, is no the end. After Rabbi Yochanan comes all the queer and transness of Judaism since - the yeshiva bochurs cavorting on the roofs of their study halls; the trans rabbi of the Betul"a" of Ludmir; the gay love poetry of Sefarad; Magnes Hirschfeld and his archives; Leslie Feinberg; and yes - you <3
May this sheet keep you rooted in the ancient radicality of your transness. And spur us to a gayer world for ourselves and our transcendants to come.
"His" physical beauty: Pomegranates, Red Roses and Rivers
See also, the section right before this that begins "א"ר יוחנן איבריה" where they talk about the size of various rabbinic phalluses, noting that feminine beauty and the presence of a phallus, can be and are combined
Yochanan: So femme, gets own transfeminine beauty list
Sitting at the Edge of the Mikveh
Offspring of Joseph
See also: Yochanan brings Reish Lakish under the "כנפי השכינה", wings of the feminine Shechina. And the deep, queer, star-crossed love story between them that begins with "יומא חד" and goes until the end of the amud.
- Adam is bi-gender and in god's image
- Adam begets Seth in "his [bigender] likeness and image" separate from other 'sons and daughters', a lineage which continues until Avram
- See: difference between "sons and daughters" and sarisim in Isaiah
- Abraham and Sarah are tumtumim, Sarah maybe an aylonit
- Isaac has a feminine soul, Rebecca is a na'ar
- Jacob takes on feminine appearance and gender roles and is chosen by "his" "mother," and the tradition, vs. the masculine ideal in Esau
- Joseph is beautiful like "his" mother and chosen by "his" "father" to carry the femmey dreamcoat, ultimately stripped away by queerphobic brothers
- Yochanan is "in the line of Joseph," and just transfemme on so many levels it's ridiculous
Rabbi Dev Noily
Maggid Jhos Singer
Rabbi Elliot Kukla
Kehilla, Jenna, Queer Torah class
Benay and Svara, always
Keshet, Ariel, Gene
My mom and gammy
The trans Jewish community here in the Bay - full of living-dreams and future-elders
chabad.org (yes, truly)