This story comes to us from Keshet, which works for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews in Jewish life. In honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, Keshet will be sharing stories on this topic throughout the month of November. Follow along here.
This article first appeared on Keshet’s blog on MyJewishLearning.
When I arrived in Falls Village, Connecticut with my wife and our two daughters 3 1/2 years ago to become the Executive Director of the Isabella Freedman Center, I had a feeling it would be a transformative experience for us.
At the time, Mikayla was 13 and had just had her Bat Mitzvah months earlier, and Gracie had just turned nine. Our older two daughters, Hannah and Alison, were already out of the home and living in Philadelphia, but excited for future visits of the Berkshires.
I came to Isabella Freedman both committed to carrying on the history and ideals of the center’s wonderful programs…and wanting to bring some of my own ideas to the table. I felt that Isabella Freedman, among other things, should be filling gaps for under-served populations in the Jewish community.
And, I had a hunch that Jewish LGBTQ teens might be one of those communities.
While I had no personal experience with that community, I had certainly read about LGBTQ teens in general facing bullying, depression, and worse. I sensed this was an area where we could make a difference.
I was fortunate early in my tenure to meet Keshet’s founder and Executive Director Idit Klein at the Siach Conference, sponsored by Hazon, and held at Isabella Freedman. I floated the idea to Idit of partnering on Jewish LGBTQ Teen programming, and she was quick to jump on board. And from there, I brought the idea to the Caring Commission at UJA-Federation of New York, who, amazingly, agreed to fund our first Shabbaton in full.
Our first gathering, in the late summer of 2012, was much smaller than we hoped. We came close to cancelling it, but, even with just a dozen participants, it became clear almost immediately the impact of what we had started.
Having my own teen, I suggested to Mikayla that she might want to join in for the retreat. There were rarely other teens at Isabella Freedman, and this was a great chance to participate in something. Mikayla did go. She had a good time; and at the end she commented how she had never met other teens in the LGBTQ community before, and how interesting that had been for her.
When we had our second such gathering, another small Shabbaton in early 2013, it didn’t take any pushing to get Mikayla to attend. Her friends were going to be there. She had a great time, and came out of her shell a bit more.
And a month later, Mikayla sent my wife Jamie and me a text from school. She had something important to talk to us about. And, through the important teen medium of a text message, the teen who had come out of her shell simply “came out.”
We couldn’t have been more proud.
And then came our third and largest Jewish LGBTQ Teen Shabbaton, in April 2014, with 50 teens from around the country, where Mikayla attended an important panel presentation by transgender teens; and afterwards decided to go from “she” to “he,” to transition from “Mikayla” to “Micah,” to go from our daughter to our son.
Micah has never been happier; and we’ve never been prouder.
Over the summer, while Micah was away visiting family, Jamie transformed a more stereotypical girl’s bedroom to suit Micah’s tastes. I’ve relished taking my son out shopping for men’s clothes. He’s even taken a girl to recent school dances, in a public school that’s been not only accepting but accommodating and supportive.
And Isabella Freedman–which is now part of Hazon through our recent merger–couldn’t be a more amazing environment for a transgender teen.
Four years after her Bat Mitzvah, Mikayla is now a proud Jewish male.
Micah, today you are a man. And what a man you are.
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.