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"I should be able to stand up for my human rights."


"My name is Eliana Rubin. I use they/them and she/her pronouns. I am originally from and currently live in Los Angeles, CA. I'm attending grad school at Hebrew Union College where I'm a second year Masters of Educational Leadership student, so I have a prospective graduation in May of 2022, which is absolutely wild. I really like movie theater popcorn. My goal is to intertwine Jewish theater into LGBTQ+ education. I am an artist. My background is in theater. I went to NYU TISCH for my undergraduate degree, where I received my BFA in drama. And I'm also a singer, songwriter, a playwright, a screenwriter, and an LGBTQ+ education person..? Educator! Oh my gosh, that's the word for it! LQBTQ+ educator and activist.


I felt growing up that my queerness was something I was learning about on my own. It's not that it was hidden in my family and it's not that it was hush hush. My dad wanted me to toss a football around or be on the sports team. I would go into the outfield and pick the flowers instead. I always gravitated towards the arts and music. I wasn't really a big, you know 'guys, guy' whatever that is.


When I was around 12 or so, I started to question my sexuality. When I was 13 or 14, I came out as gay. At this time I was also identifying as a cis-male. From around that age up through when I was 23, I identified as this gay male. And it was good! You know, as I got older I felt more comfortable exploring my sexuality in certain ways. Specifically, thinking about ways that it is socially normal for a cis-gay male to explore his sexuality. When I was 23, in the summer of 2018, I was hired to work at a Jewish creative arts camp to teach theater. While we were at staff training, we had an LGBTQ+ Jewish organization come in and do an LGBTIQ+ 101 training with us. This was where I learned about new terms, including nonbinary. I had heard that word before, but that was the moment when it really sunk in. I processed what that information was and what it meant to be nonbinary from an outsiders perspective. Then, the next day, we were doing a different staff training and we had to write down our names and our pronouns on a name tag to stick onto ourselves so people knew how to refer to us. So, I wrote down my birth name and he/him/his pronouns, and I stuck it on my body. Immediately, something shifted. It was this very strange sensation of not feeling like he/him/his pronouns were mine anymore.

I didn't necessarily know what my pronouns were or what my gender identity was, but in that moment, I went from one point to another point. So, I took off the name tag, I looked at it, and underneath he/him/his in smaller letters I wrote they/them/theirs. Then, I put the name tag back on.


It didn't feel right, but it felt less wrong than just having he/him/his pronouns.


That summer I started to explore my gender identity and gender expression. I started to wear dresses and play around with makeup, which is something that I had done in the past, but never in public. It was always either in the privacy of my own home or with very, very close friends that I felt comfortable doing that around. It was always in an environment where I could take it all off and change back into other clothing, or wipe off the makeup.


When that summer ended, I was really encapsulated by what it meant for me to be nonbinary. Since I didn't have a lot of representation for gender expansiveness in my own life, I didn't necessarily know how I was supposed to be nonbinary. Was I supposed to dress a certain way? Was I supposed to act a certain way? Was I supposed to talk a certain way? As I continued to explore my gender identity, I also started to become more comfortable with my gender expression in public. It took a long time, and it still is taking time.


I remember the first time that I wore a dress out in public. I was going to a movie premiere of a Ke$ha documentary for her album Rainbow. And I was terrified! Because I still looked 'masculine', and people I assumed read me as male. So, I was feeling like a man in a dress, which says a lot about societal norms and why can't men wear dresses? As time went on and I started to become more comfortable within my nonbinary identity, I also started to think if there is anything beyond that for me. Then, one day in May of 2019, I'm walking down 5th Avenue in Midtown in NYC and my brain goes, 'Well, you've been using they/them for a while. Why don't you just add on she/her and see how that feels?'


And I thought, 'Okay *sigh*, we can…we can do that, too.'


That summer, I went back to the summer camp, and I started to identify as trans-feminine. I started to play around with different names for myself. I never really felt like any of the names that I tried fit me, but it was a lot of fun to play around with them. After that summer, I came back to New York City and I was still thinking about my gender identity. In therapy one day, I said that I was a trans-woman out loud for the first time. In that moment, I felt so small. I felt like I was doing something wrong because I was never taught that being trans is okay, because I never saw trans bodies in mainstream media beyond Laverne Cox or Janet Mock. Pose and Glee have good representation, but you don't see that in action movies, you don't see that in romantic comedies, you don't see that on billboards, you don't see that in the award shows. You do now, which is awesome, but at the time I felt like I couldn't do it. But, I also didn't have a choice.


At this time I was starting to explore hormone replacement therapy. I made an appointment with Planned Parenthood in New York, and in January of 2020, I started HRT (hormone replacement therapy). A few months later, I changed my name to Eliana. When I was playing around with my current name, I knew that I wanted it to be something that had a bit of my old name in it, and I also wanted it to be intentionally Jewish. The name Eliana means 'And God answered,' which felt super, phewwwf, this is fitting for so many reasons. I moved back to Los Angeles in July of last year to attend grad school. Moving back was also super weird. I had realized my gender identity in New York, and I felt super safe within my gender identity in New York with the communities that I was in. But coming back to Los Angeles—where I have a very loving family that also sometimes has difficulty with pronouns, is super accepting, but also doesn't always understand what it means to be a trans/non-binary—it felt like I was having to learn a different part of my gender identity, even though my gender identity hadn't really shifted. I now no longer identify as a trans woman. I now identify as nonbinary. It’s just been so interesting for me to see the different twists and turns that my life has taken over the past three years. It's not a long time, but it feels like a lifetime.


Something that really excites me currently is the fact that I don't really know all my identities! I'm in this headspace of acceptance, which is so nice because I'm no longer trying to solve the puzzle that is me. I'm allowing it to remain unfinished, and in a way it is finished right now! And it will continue to shift and morph. One day, it might stop, and then it might stop for 15 years! Then, another thought might pop on while I'm walking down 5th Ave! So, I really like where my identities are sitting right now because I feel super comfortable in them, and because I don't really know what they are. Being able to live in that unknown is really difficult for me, and the fact that I'm able to [be in this process] in a way that feels so correct, is really empowering for me.

 

Before I started questioning my gender identity, it wasn't even a second thought. It was just I would go to the doctor, I would have my physical or my checkup, and then I would leave.

It was just very…standard, I suppose.


When I realized I wasn't cis, I started to notice a lot of little thing like my options for sex and gender on forms, or the way that doctors would refer to me with pronouns. Sometimes, I would explicitly not correct or tell someone my pronouns because I didn't want to be a bother. I had also heard really, really awful stories of trans-nonbinary people being completely mistreated at medical offices because of their gender identity. That is not okay, and it sucks. I was using that as a protective mechanism for myself, and, I hope that one day, [our community] no longer has to use that protective mechanism.


The big shift for me started when I was actively thinking about hormone replacement therapy. I was never educated on where I could look for HRT, it was not something that was ever taught to me. So, when I started to consider it, I think I just googled: HRT New York City. One of the first places that popped up was Planned Parenthood and with a couple of other providers as well. I made an appointment that was about three months in advance. Which was a really long time to wait. It was hard! The only other place that I was able to find only accepted new patients six months from that date. So, I was in a headspace of, 'Okay. This is going to take some time, so let's just continue to present more masculinely and feel like a man in a dress. And not feel comfortable within that. But knowing that I don't really have an option, try and find a way to feel comfortable within that.' I was in therapy at the time and I'm still in therapy—we love therapy—and that was really nice because I was able to start to process my gender identity pre-medical transition, with this I realized that you don't have to have a medical transition in order to be trans/non-binary.


For me, it was something that I really wanted. When I realized that I was trans feminine my body started to not feel like my body anymore. It was, kind of, trapping me inside of myself—which is a very weird way to think about it. The more that I learned about myself, the more that I realized, I needed to change. It’s like the story, when you take the bite from the apple and suddenly you see the world in a very different way. You can't go back and you can only move forward. But, how do you do that in a world that doesn't necessarily allow you to? Or that makes it very difficult for you to move forward?


When I finally started HRT, Planned Parenthood was super awesome. I was expecting to go into that appointment and then get a prescription for like 2 weeks later. And my provider was like, 'Alright, well, we can give you your pills today if you want!' I freaked out. Because, suddenly, this thing that I've been wanting for months and months and months was available to me and my brain went to that headspace of, 'Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you want to do this?'


When stopping HRT there are some things that are reversible, and there are some things that are not reversible. Thinking about the things that are not reversible, if I realize that I actually do not want to medically transition any further, will I be okay with those changes? The answer in that moment was, 'I don't know, but I know that I don't want what I have currently.' I was willing to take that risk, because I knew in that moment that anything would be better than what I currently had. I was doing laser hair removal on my face. I was trying to figure out how to play with makeup to make my face look more feminine. So, having a medical transition for me was a really wonderful opportunity that I know not everyone gets to have, and I didn't take it for granted and I still don't take it for granted.


So, I started HRT in January, and for the first few weeks, I didn't really notice any changes because my body was starting to adapt to the new hormones flowing through my system. And when I did start to notice changes: I felt so elated. They weren't large, but I was noticing them every day. It took me by surprise by how subtle they were at the time—but when looking back, I realize how monumental it was— the way that my emotional body shifted, the way that I started to process feelings was different, the fact that my skin was getting softer, the fact that my body hair was growing in finer, and the fact that my hair was growing longer. The fact that I started to look in the mirror and see myself more—see the person on the inside come out. And that wouldn't have happened if I didn't medically transition.


I know people who don't medically transition, and they feel perfectly comfortable in their bodies. So that's another thing that I'm thinking about, is how not every trans person needs to do this, but that it should be available to everyone that wants to try it.


When I moved out to Los Angeles, Planned Parenthood just worked differently out here, I guess. It started to become a little bit more difficult. Not with getting my hormones as previously prescribed, but I wanted to switch out my regimen and they weren't able to provide what I was looking for. So, I switched providers to the LA LGBT Center, which has been so lovely.


One of the things that I really like about my experience with HRT is I'm able to play around with it. I'm able to explore different dosages, different ways to take the medication, and different types of medications to take. It's been really lovely for me to be able to not feel confined to any one thing. I used to take a much higher dosage than I do now, and I really like the way that my body feels currently, but I liked the way that my body felt when I was taking that higher dosage then.


Knowing that I don't have to stick to any one thing, and knowing that I have the power to stop whenever I want is super calming to me. One of the things that I really like about where I currently am receiving HRT and something that I appreciate about my provider is that there's no judgment ever. They want me to feel comfortable. It's so lovely. It's just really nice to be able to go into the doctor's office and be able to speak freely and openly about how I'm feeling, what changes I want, and what changes I don't want. My doctor is able to make recommendations based on the information I give. I'm really grateful for all of that.


Something I think about often is: 'What if 23-year-old me or 18-year-old me or 12-year-old me could see me currently? How would they react?' And I don't know. What I do believe is that they would be excited by where I am. I think that younger me wanted to be able to do this, but didn't know how, because it wasn't an opportunity for them.

 

My brain [when I interact with difficult physicians] is immediately going into a headspace You need to do this, You have to educate yourself with this, You can't do this, You should do this.


And I'm realizing that that is a defensive response.


I would probably tell them, listen. Make space for gender expansive people. Do not assume anything about anyone. Recognize that, as a provider, it is your job to provide. Things look different for different people. I might suggest looking at the forms and saying, 'What's missing? What could be changed here?' Or perhaps have a training with more inclusive language and practices. How can we refer to our patients, and how can we make that consistent from the doctor to the receptionist. When we send out emails and texts, how do we refer to people? You could even go deeper, and say, 'Why do I have a difficult time using they/them pronouns?' Go beyond the medical practice and into the personal. That is something else that I think is really important, especially in a professional setting, to recognize one's own internal biases. We could have trainings and orientations and seminars till the cows come home, but if the individual person doesn't put in their own work, change isn't going to happen in the way that it could.


We as people, sometimes, don't look into communities that we are not a part of. I think that it's really important that we educate ourselves about those communities because they still exist, we still interact with them every day, even if we don't know it.


So how do we make ourselves the best people that we can be without also compromising our own internal integrity?

 

It’s so funny that we are talking about where I am in my medical experience now, because if you had asked that in the summer, I would have a very different answer than I do now. I received facial feminization surgery (FFS) in very early June. I did it out-of-pocket, because my medical insurance at the time didn't cover it, so it was one of those catch 22 situations.


Ironically, I'm now with an insurance provider that would cover it with certain surgeons. But c’est la vie! The reason why I say it's funny is because before my facial feminization surgery (FFS) I felt so manly. I associated that with uncomfortableness. I knew that people saw me as a man, and I didn't want that. I wanted to be seen as a woman or as feminine. But after my FFS, I started to become so much more comfortable in my masculinity. I can now just completely mess around with my gender expression and presentation. Now that I look in the mirror and I see myself, how others perceive me has become less important.


So, I'm not really looking for anything right now. Before my surgery and even a month or two afterwards, I was considering breast augmentation and gender confirmation surgery. But in this moment, I really like my body and I really like the way that I feel in my body which is SO cool! I don't think that I want to change anything. I do want to talk with my provider about possibly switching up my HRT regimen. But, I feel like I'm in a really sweet spot within myself. And I don't really want to change it… which is cool.

 

Overall, [my career and my faith receiving my gender expression and identity] has been a very positive experience. Being able to explore my gender identity at this Jewish creative arts summer camp was, in my mind, the best place I could have done that, because there was zero judgment from anyone. At one point there was this camper who came up to me at Shabbat dinner, on a Friday night, I was wearing a dress. She came up to me, and she said, 'Why are you wearing a dress? You're a boy.' I went *kindly shaking head* 'No, I'm not.' She replied, 'Yeah, you are!' And I went, *in the same kind tone* 'No, I'm not.'


She looked at me and she rolled her eyes with a big huff, and then she walked away.

That was the most transphobia I received all summer, which is like saying a lot. Honestly, I wouldn't even call that transphobia, because she's a tiny, tiny human. It was so adorable!


I have felt really empowered through my grad school experience so far. I feel completely free to explore my gender identity and expression in class. It doesn't take away from anything that I'm learning. Some days I come to school wearing dresses and makeup, and some days I come to school wearing slacks and a button down. I never feel like I'm getting looks or I never feel like I'm getting talked about behind my back. It's a very professional environment, which I appreciate. I've also been able to have educational experiences because of my grad school program, and because of my gender identity. I recognize that being able to give sermons at synagogues, being invited to work conferences and do LGBTQ+ education there, and how that intertwines with Judaism, being able to work with my classmates on how to make our institutions work, plus diverse, equitable and inclusive. I've been given a lot of opportunities, which has been really, really lovely. There's also been opportunities for education for the places that I am in, which has been both really nice and, also, sometimes a little bit difficult. I am a student and I am also the educator, at times, you know. So how do we walk that line? I have never felt forced into educating anyone while at my grad school, which has been really, really nice.


I've been told it's okay to say no, which I really like. I really like doing this type of education, so I very rarely say no. And there have been moments outside of my grad school where I have felt like I should not be as explicitly queer or trans as I am, implicitly, and it's been harmful. I don't know if the people that have done it have recognized it as harmful and I have had anxiety about telling people that it is harmful because I am a student and an early career person. I don't want to mess up anything about future prospects. So then, where does that line get drawn? That line of I should be able to stand up for my human rights and I also need to put food on my table.


Sometimes there are internal struggles that I face, and at the end of the day, I feel supported by people that I love and love me in my own life and in my professional communities. It just has opened a lot of learning opportunities for me as a queer and trans educator and a student.

 

When explaining nonbinary and gender fluid identities, it depends on how much these people already know, and it depends on what you want them to be able to walk away with. Where my brain is going is making sure that people don't treat non-binary as a third gender option. Recognizing that being non-binary, doesn't only always mean you're not a man or a woman, you're this other thing. I'm thinking about how last week I went to the DMV to renew my license and changed my name and the sex on my drivers license. The three options were M, F, and X. I'm then thinking okay, so X is acting as an all encompassing choice of everything else beyond a man and a woman. But what does that really mean?


And also, for me as a non-binary person who still checked the F on her driver’s license because they're afraid of putting an X, because if I get pulled over and a cop sees an X, what does that mean for me? You know, if a cop pulls me over and sees the F and sees me like what are they going to see? I don't care! That's not my business! But it is also my business because it could be a life or death matter.


I think that when thinking about non-binary, gender fluidity, and gender expansive identities, it's really important to make sure that people know that it's a person by person basis.

If you meet someone who is non-binary and they tell you their definition of what it means to be non-binary, and then you meet a second person who also uses the term non-binary for them self, that second person may not have the same experience or definition of non-binary as the first person.


I think that it's also really important to make sure that cis-gender people do their own research, and that they try and take in as much information as they feel comfortable doing- with there being so much information out there and being able to take time to process it. Making sure that they're doing their own research and they're not only relying on the people from the marginalized communities to tell them about their own life experiences, because that can invoke a lot of trauma. It can be really taxing—emotionally, physically, and mentally—and it can also be really hard and annoying sometimes explaining my own identity to someone over and over and over and over again.


It’s also really important to be okay with messing up and to recognize that. Not everyone gets everyone's pronouns right all the time. I still misgender people by accident and then I just correct myself and I move on. Oh also, this is a small thing. Well, I shouldn't say it's a small thing. It's actually important. Small things can be important. Okay, I'm rambling! When someone misgenders someone else, instead of saying 'I'm sorry for misgendering you' when they are corrected, just thank them and move on. If someone says I'm sorry, then the other person might say, 'Oh, it's okay,' but it's not okay to misgender someone. It is good to recognize the mistake and then just move on.


And I also encourage cis-people to just take 60 seconds one day and just really think, 'Why do I identify with the gender that I do?' Have that conversation with yourself. Not as a way to try and convince oneself that they're non-binary, but just to really understand their own gender identity. We live in a very binary world and so male and female are “the givens”. Anything else outside of that are the outliers. So, making sure that we are understanding ourselves more. I think is important because as a non-binary person, I have had to do a lot of internal conversation. I still have those internal conversations that I never thought about when I was cis because that was just the world that I lived in.

 

When I was five or six, my mom and I would play with her makeup. We would have to take it off before my dad came home. So, I would tell my younger self, that there will be a day where you don't have to take it off. You can wear it on for as long as you want, and sometimes you might even sleep in it and you might get it on your pillow. And how great is it that you get to wear it all night? That's what I would tell my younger self." -Eliana Rubin - Los Angeles, CA (they/she)




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