Since I was a child, I dreamed about becoming a father.
My father was emotionally distant, traumatized, and neglectful. He was also the one who taught me about modern art and comedy, existential philosophy, and how to find constellations in the night skies. He spoke to me and my sibling as if we were his students at the university. He took us on dangerous adventures and taught us to respect the vast wonders and inner mysteries of nature.
I was attracted even before I realized I was transgender. My personal solar system revolved around my dad. As a child, being a dad meant embodying all that my father was and also compensating for what he had not given me. I pledged to follow his lead and teach my child about awe & art, while also offering safety, protection, unconditional love.
As a nonbinary adult, and as a father to a 4-year old, I have a more realistic perspective on fatherhood. I’m aware of the misogyny in motherhood that made it look terrible to me. This is why fatherhood appealed to me as a child. However, I haven’t let go of the dad fantasy entirely. Today, I find it appealing to be a nonbinary father for the same reasons I love being a rabbi. I enjoy expanding on traditional roles. I like being a dad who is not a man, in the same way I take pleasure in being a rabbi who doesn’t look or sound like what people expect a rabbi to be.
I go by the title “abba” to my kid, which means “father” in Hebrew. Traditional Judaism does not consider fatherhood patriarchal. However there are many complex images in Jewish sacred texts that show fatherhood. Although the ancient rabbis divided up the world into binaries they also recognized that not all things fit into these categories. Pages and pages of sacred texts are dedicated to exceptional cases, such as foliage between bud or flower, twilight periods between day and night, and genders other than male and female.
The Talmud, a central Jewish holy text, is a key Jewish holy book that was compiled in the 5th Century CE. It reveals that Abraham and Sarah were the original mother and father of the Jewish people. tumtumim. TheTumtumIt is one of six genders that are frequently found in Jewish texts. They are also integrated into all aspects of ancient Jewish civil law. According to legend, our first parents gradually changed to male and female as if they were being eroded by the flowing water.
Another story is told in the TalmudThe tragic story of a poor woman who died in childbirth. Her husband was left without money and with a newborn child. Because of his love for his child, a great miracle was performed on his behalf and he sprouted “two breasts like the breasts of a woman, and he breastfed his child.”
In Jewish tradition, one of the primary names for God is Av HaRachmim, which is a compassionate father. RachamimThe Hebrew word compassion literally means “womb-like”. Hebrews refer to wombs as an image of compassion. Wombs are a symbol for compassion because all our needs are met while we are in utero.
These Jewish images for fathering are powerfully resonant with me. As both a father who grows breasts to feed his child as well as a loving father-God with a womb imagine a dad as someone who provides the unconditional love and protection I longed for as an infant. These stories use vivid imagery and gender-playfulness to show the creativity and humor I inherited from my dad.
These images are particularly relevant in the U.S. in 2022, where kids are “protected” from queerness, health care, masks, sports and books, but not guns or COVID-19. Right now, children are being denied the exploration and curiosity they crave. Their physical safety and their existential security are being sacrificed in exchange for their parents’ so-called individual rights. This deadly equation leaves children without any individual rights.
As a rabbi, I am prone to grieving as well as dying. This is what I see in my work. I have officiated at many funerals for transgender and nonbinary children who committed suicide due to despair and lack of options. My grief groups are filled by mourners who share stories of trans kids’ memorial services, where parents misgenerated their children and used the exact same dead names that caused the anguish that resulted in the death. As a parent I find this incomprehensible; there is nothing I want for Father’s Day more than for my child — and all children — to be alive and happy.
The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and mental health organization for LGBTQ+ youth, found in a 2021 reportA shocking 52 percent of trans youth considered suicide in the last year, according to a new report. The proportion of trans youth who consider suicide falls to levels similar to their cisgender peers, if you only consider those youth who have basic supports like living with family members that respect their pronouns, and having access gender affirming healthcare. The United States is set to witness the 2022 year as the most deadly year for trans and nonbinary children. There are currently 300 pieces anti-trans legislation in place. 140 of these laws directly target the things that support mental health of trans youth.
My child is protected from the harshness of the outside world, at least for now. He covers his fire trucks in glitter and layers four skirts underneath his construction uniform, not realizing that he is mixing gender tropes. He and his friends constantly change their names and pronouns. There is no other way to live. My partner and I only recently introduced him to gendered words for people, like “woman,” “boy” and “nonbinary.” Shortly afterwards, he pointed to a character in his book and asked: “Is that person a binary?” At the moment, it is binary gender that is the exception for him.
It’s my partner’s and my job to protect his innocence as long as possible. I try to give my child as many opportunities as possible to explore the world, while making sure that he feels safe and loved unconditionally. That is what it means for me to be a father.