Monday, December 30, 2019

on the eighth night of Hanukkah

Instead of lighting the candles quietly at home, I went out to a religious ceremony at our synagogue. (B. would have been with me, but she's feeling under the weather and didn't want to pass it on.) It was a ceremony of an unusual kind, dubbed a service of renaming and rededication.

One of my colleagues at the library has come out as a trans man and decided to mark this with a small ceremony surrounded by invited friends and colleagues. He had been hesitant about coming out, and approached it slowly, for several reasons, among them uncertainty as to how others would react. But everyone at the synagogue was welcoming. (My own practical response to the news, as the person in charge of the catalog, was to take the initiative to use the global change function to update the name in the donor field for all of his past donations.)

As I told L. in response to the invitation, B. and I have a number of trans friends and acquaintances (of both sexes), so we've seen this change of life before. What we hadn't seen before was a religious ceremony for it, and one to be of such thoughtfulness and spiritual significance. It was conducted by our principal rabbi, started with the lighting of five hanukkiyot, and continued with prayers, songs, sermons, and the ubiquitous Jewish blessings. And afterwards, the noshing of jelly donuts.

Throughout, the intertwining of this ceremony with other aspects of Jewish religious tradition was deep and thorough. This is the kind of thing that keeps me at home in my religion, even though I'm not much of a practitioner. Blessings on dedication and on namings were numerous. Some friends gave a Torah lesson in the form of recounting name changes in scripture, ranging from Abraham to Joshua. L. in his sermon compared this ceremony with the private one he held a few years ago to dedicate his apartment, which he'd done to make himself feel more at home in it. Now, he said, he's rededicating his home in another sense for the same reason. He wants to feel at home here too.

So I made a point of saying, when I talked with L. afterwards, that - on this first seeing of him in his new identity - that I thought it fits him, that he looks at home in it. I've noticed this before with trans people whom I knew before transition, that they look more at ease, more themselves, now than they did before. And it's this observation that - I started to say "convinced me," but I needed no convincing - showed to me that transition is a real thing.

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