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A Young Gender-Fluid Lamed-Vavnik:Standing Up for their Uniqueness, Giving Courage to Others

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch

The world is blessed, because there are, at any moment in time, 36 righteous souls who quietly yet efficiently, prevent the world from falling into ruin by bringing wholeness to our world. These individuals are called lamed vav-niks because the number 36 is presented in our sacred literature as Lamed Vav. Here is a story about one of these righteous people.
 
The Torah stresses that because each person in the world is made in the Divine Image, each person deserves the same respect as everyone else. To advocate for this value, and to lead others to understand and integrate it, is the task of this lamed vav-nik. This person is quoted as saying, “One day I will maybe lean towards the masculine side," said Ara Halstead of Tumwater, Washington. "The next day, I’ll lean towards the feminine side. There are some days gender is non-existent.”  So below I will use the pronouns they, them and theirs.
 
Up until their senior year (2018-2019) at Black Hills High School in Olympia, WA, Ara Halstead had never been to a school dance. Having been told by their socially conservative parents that their acknowledged attraction to women meant that they could not be present at such events, Ara had erased from their mind any consideration of attending them.
 
Ara later determined that they were gender fluid, floating between feeling feminine and masculine, and most of the time somewhere in between the two. This was confusing not only to Ara but also to their parents, who eventually ordered Ara to leave their home for their last year of high school.
 
Without the pressure of living with hypercritical parents, Ara’s studies improved; they had the opportunity to further ponder the plight of gender-fluid students at school; and having made the decision to attend the prom on their own terms, they determined that their gender and sartorial selections could be truly their own.
 
For the spring semester, Ara served as a positive role model for the other gender-fluid students at school. Despite the usual gender roles in school, they felt that they could make inroads in making other gender-fluid students more comfortable. And it was their opportunity to declare their own identity, whatever that might mean.
 
Ara’s friends persuaded them to try to serve on the prom court, an idea that would break down the barriers between the world of gender fluidity and gender-binary options. “If I made prom court, I wouldn’t accept the label of either king or queen—maybe I would be something like monarch, or royalty.”
 
They write, “I believe the big fights for equality around L.G.B.T.Q. issues, such as hate violence, homelessness and economic fairness, can’t be won unless we fight the smaller ones along the way: the ones that parents tell you to shrug off and school administrators tell you to live with, including that homecoming courts contain kings and queens, and prom dress codes must involve either dresses or suits. There is so much change to work for.”
 
Ara’s tenacity and courage have contributed to saving the life of those
students searching for their gender identity, and those who simply want to be different in a world that pushes people toward conformity.
 
See more coverage of Ara Halstead at:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/12/opinion/sunday/my-gender-fluid-senior-prom.html https://www.king5.com/article/news/tumwater-students-gender-fluid-prom-makes-the-new-york-times/281-552820871 

August 23, 2019 22 Av 5779