If you are transgender and considering conversion to Judaism, the following guidelines might assist you in thinking through the process. [SCROLL DOWN to the comments section for the guidelines, or read them below.] It is an outline of areas that are important for you to consider. It is an initial foray, and not the final word.
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This an attempt to collect various halachic and non-halachic approaches into one response. The goal is compassionate and humane concern for individuals. Careful attention is paid to the operative status of the transsexual, [transgender or intersex person] and to differentiating the terms “transsexual” (a person who changes sex and intends to have Sex Reassignment Surgery) from “transgender” (a person who may or may not change sex, but whose gender identity is different from the gender usually attributed to a body’s birth sex, i.e, a man who expresses a female gender identity, a woman who expresses a male gender identity, a woman who expresses an ambiguous or shifting gender identity that might be sometimes masculine and sometimes feminine, etc.)
Outside of the halachic Jewish world, given a sensitive, educated and aware rabbi or ritual leader, transgender persons may convert in the gender that feels most comfortable to them, in responsible and ethical negotiation with their community, including genders outside the male/female binary. The rabbi and the person converting should converse very carefully about the gender issues involved, and negotiate various sensitivities, options and positions, as each transgender person might come to a different conclusion about gender identity, and (in some cases) fluctuation of gender identity over the course of a lifetime might be written into the convert’s life plan. Especially, of course, the procedures of the conversion and of future lifecycle events (adult b’nei mitzvah, single life, marriage, partnership or other family constellation, and traditional burial considerations) should be discussed as part of the study period before conversion.
In that time, consideration is made for dealing with various gendered obstacles in the conversion process:
Orthodox Post-op transsexual. Majority opinion. Strict interpretation:
A transsexual should convert in the birth sex because Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) does not change the sex of the body. Of course, the Torah prohibits cross-dressing, rendering oneself sterile, and mutilating one’s genitals; today such desires are viewed by the Orthodox world as a sign of mental illness, and corrective therapy would be advised. While I can envision a person undergoing conversion under this scenario, it seems quite challenging to think of living this person’s life as an Orthodox Jew, prohibited from transitioning, prohibited even as a last resort, to save a life. Luckily, there is a minority opinion that provides an alternative for life.
Orthodox Post-op transsexual. Minority opinion.
Based on the minority opinion of R Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer), who claims that a post operative transsexual belongs to the sex into which s/he transitioned, the person should convert as the “new” sex. E.g., a post-op Female To Male (FTM) Transsexual should convert as a man; a post-op Male To Female (MTF) should convert as a woman. However, post op means the whole megillah: all surgeries and hormone therapies must be complete.
Mayer Rabinowitz (2003) agrees that SRS does change a person’s sex, and claims that halacha is based on the appearance (and not the functionality) of the external genitalia. He also claims that conversion and transition both change God’s creation: “Those who claim that we can not change God’s creation are closing their eyes to conversion, and to transplants as well as many other medical procedures which in fact do change God’s creation. If we were to claim that sex change is prohibited on these grounds, we would have to prohibit many medical procedures as well.”
So for Conservative/Masorti transsexuals, after SRS one may convert as the “new” sex. Before SRS, unfortunately, halacha is silent.
Sadly, neither Orthodox nor Conservative halacha concern themselves with the status of persons who have not had SRS, and who are unable or unwilling to undergo SRS for any number of reasons (including prohibitive cost, availability of qualified surgeons, surgical risk, surgical failure, loss of sexual functioning, post-operative complications, appearance and functionality of the post-surgical neo-phallus or vagnioplasty.)
Nor does halacha consider the status of persons who are male or female but whose gender identity is incongruent with their sex. A case could be made based to support bodies that have the appearance of dual-sex or ambiguous-sex, based on an extrapolation of legal texts concerning the dual-sex Androgynos and of the unknown-but-ultimately-knowable sex of the tumtum.