Posted by: Emily | 16 June 2013

Philly Trans Health Unprocessed

Emily at PTHC, 2013These past few days Alexa and I have been at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, where I led a couple of workshops and gave the d’var Torah at the Friday night Jewish service. I was really nervous about Philly, it being only my second major trans* event since I began to transition last year, but it exceeded my wildest expectations of what such a space could be like. Which isn’t to say it was without its problems, but for me this time the positives definitely outweighed the negatives. I want to write down a few of the memories from this conference before they fly out of my brain (as I write this I’m on the train back home to Boston), but they’re not really in anything like a processed state, so this post will be pretty brain-dump-ful.

The single greatest highlight for me, of course, was the Jewish service on Friday night. Being in a room with seventy other people in the trans* community and our allies, singing together and celebrating together, actually brought me to tears. I will never forget the feeling of starting with Yedid Nefesh, a song which traditionally begins the Shabbat evening service, and being overwhelmed by the feeling of love and community, of having helped to create something this beautiful—and, I am certain, enduring. I gave the d’var Torah, which was about my experiences creating my transgender tallit from the prayer shawl my parents had given me at my bar mitzvah. (I will post the speech soon; I want to give it one more edit before I put it out in general circulation.)

I co-taught two workshops as well. One was about trans* identities in Jewish sacred texts, which as you can imagine is not an easy topic to cover in seventy-five minutes, so we restricted ourselves to b’tzelem Elohim (“in the image of God”) and a text from (second) Isaiah about acceptance of the genderqueer and those in our community whose genders are non-standard (“let not the saris [usually translated ‘eunuch’] say ‘I am a withered tree'”). We had some great discussions about how the notion of “made in God’s image” can be used both to affirm and police. The second workshop was about Jewish rituals and ceremonies to celebrate trans* lives, at which we talked a lot about my mikveh ritual that I’d created more than a year ago and done once right when I began transitioning and once on my one-year anniversary (longer post about this ritual forthcoming).

Keeping on the theme of trans* people immersing in water, the night before the ritual workshop, there was a surprise trans* swimming pool party in our hotel, and it was incredibly wonderful. Lots of trans people being body-positive, body-affirmative even, about those of us who have been ashamed of our bodies and unable to do things like go into a pool for years. I was one of the people there wearing the most clothes into the pool (largely because I did not pack a bathing suit), but at no point did I feel pressured to do anything with regards to my body that I did not wish to do, and to me, that’s doing this kind of thing right. It was actually a really beautiful experience and I am hopeful it can be replicated (with sufficient advance notice that I can bring a bathing suit next time!).

I went to included two workshops on disability, one a general disability session and the other specifically about Deaf culture and the intersection of being Deaf (or deaf) and trans*. It was really good to share experiences with people who are disabled in many different ways, and to start to break down the parallel “Not Trans* Enough”/”Not Deaf Enough”/”Not [Whatever] Enough” intra-community policing we marginalized groups tend to do with one another. The general disability workshop, in particular, was quite powerful, and I am hoping we can continue the discussions we started there.

On the topic of access: I experienced much of the conference through the ASL interpreters, who were universally doing a great job with some very challenging material. There were, sadly, though, not enough interpreters, so most of the time I was reading lips, sometimes across a room, and often this meant I was guessing at what was said, and unable to follow the thread of a discussion. This is a skill I am getting better at over time, but the truth is, lipreading all the time is incredibly spoon-draining, and I am going to need to work out some better methods of participation (combined with figuring out how to help the conference get more interpreters?) so that I can participate in such events in the future.

Another highlight was the asexuality caucus (yes, you may commence snickering now, thank you, that’s quite enough), where we essentially lamented for half an hour the fact that the PTHC space—like so many others in the queer/trans* world—was absolutely brimming with compulsory sexuality. I really want to help make this discussion an actual event next year instead of a harried meeting during the lunch period, because this is a conversation that needs to be held with the larger queer/trans* world.

I will refrain from commenting on some of the negatives right now; I just want to sit with the positive highlights and let myself enjoy them for a while. There’ll be plenty of time for (constructive) criticism later.

I spent a lot of time hanging out with people I only knew from the Internet, and I made a lot of new friends and reconnected with some friends I don’t get to see very often. I am sad I have to be going back to Boston now, but I could really do with some self-care and some alone time after several days of nonstop people. I’ll post some more recollections if I think of any more highlights later, and like I said, I’ll post my d’var Torah once I’ve had the chance to do a final edit so that I can post what I actually ended up saying rather than what I simply had written down.

Can’t wait until next year…



  1. Next year in Philadelphia!

  2. Emily Aviva, your dvar was one of my absolute highlights of the conference, I’ve been kvelling about it left and right, and I’m so happy that you’re going to post it so the whole wide world can see it! It was so great to meet you and learn from you, and I can’t wait for more. Also will be interested in your constructive criticism, so we can keep making PTHC a better and better place. I feel really nourished by both you honoring the positives here, because that makes me more energized for talking about the hard stuff. Thank you!

  3. I think everyone at Shabbat services was deeply moved by your dvar, Aviva. It was great to be a part of that beautiful experience. Also, the Deafhood/Transhood workshop was definitely one of the most interesting and enlightening sessions I attended.

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