Becoming a Woman at Yeshiva University
It wasn’t easy for Yeshiva University to accept that a male professor to whom it had recently given tenure was returning to work as a female professor. Transsexual transition is problematic for most employers, and Yeshiva’s status as Orthodox Judaism’s flagship educational institution made my transition even more difficult. At first, I was placed on involuntary — and openended — research leave; I continued receiving full salary and benefits, but was not allowed on campus. Though this would be a dream-come-true for most academics, discrimination hurts, and I missed my students and the joy of teaching at Stern. When, after almost a year of leave, I sent a letter demanding to be allowed to return to work, to my surprise — and that of my Lambda Legal attorneys — the school agreed. My return to teaching in Fall 2008 made page 3 of the New York Post and precipitated discussion throughout the Jewish world, but, to my surprise, stirred little controversy among my students and colleagues — suggesting that attitudes toward gender and identity may be more flexible than the official positions of conservative institutions suggest.
The most important consequence of my transition, in terms of students at Stern, was the publication of an issue of the student newspaper, The Observer, devoted to transsexuality and Judaism. This groundbreaking issue included a variety of Jewish views of transsexuality, and, in what is to the best of my knowledge a first, interviews with transgendered Jews living in hiding in Orthodox Jewish communities. I feel proud and lucky to work with the young women at Stern.