A transgender woman recounts her evolution from a male-born child in the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community to a thriving independent activist.
In this coming-of-age memoir, Jewish educator and trans activist Stein describes her birth in 1991 as a firstborn son following five older sisters from parents who descended from rabbinic dynasties. She recalls a childhood steeped in staunch Hasidic theology in New York; she was forbidden from indulging in any cultural, historical, artistic, or other “spurned” activities. Throughout her youth, the author internally identified as female—she recalls how, at age 4, she became angry that she had a penis—and this frustration caused behavioral issues and depression in grade school and beyond. Stein gracefully describes an attraction “tingle” for a fellow male classmate when she was a teenager, which led to a nascent forbidden love and a much-awaited departure from her overly protracted childhood. Despite this clandestine interaction, the author still feared the consequences of going against the grain, so she proceeded, as tradition and gender roles dictated, to marry a woman at age 18 and bear a son at 20. Soon after, Stein became overwhelmingly frustrated by the state of her true identity. “It started punching me in the face,” she admits. Consequently, she began the transitional process toward abandoning her Orthodox faith and becoming female, two decisions she knew were considered “deplorable” in the eyes of the Hasidic community. In the final chapter, the author chronicles coming out to her father (and his abrupt rejection) and her plans to become Abby. Unfortunately, these pages skimp on details about her post-transition lifestyle once she left the Hasidic community. Jewish readers focused on Stein’s rabbinic upbringing, Talmudic cultural experiences, and the significance of studying the Torah will find a wealth of emotionally limned anecdotes. However, the author’s life as a woman without familial support or reliance on the Jewish community receives too little attention.
A sometimes-illuminating yet unbalanced journey into true identity and out of the Hasidic faith.