Transgender activist recounts memories of transitioning, hopes to serve as inspiration to others


Pierson Cepeda

CSUSM students listened to an hour long presentation from Abby Stein as she recounts her childhood struggle with gender identity in the Gender Equity Center.

Pierson Cepeda, Assistant Web and Social Media Manager

As part of Gaypril, Abby Stein spoke with CSUSM students via Skype on April 21 in the Gender Equity Center about her struggles as a trans woman and her transition within the Jewish community.

Gaypril, also known as LGBT Pride Month, celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community and the impact individuals like Stein have on history.

Stein, who writes the blog “The Second Transition” and attends Columbia University, is originally from Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. As the sixth born of 13 children, she was born into an Orthodox Hasidic Jewish tradition which calls for complete devotion to the faith. Although her education was primarily in Yiddish and Jewish studies, Stein looks to study gender studies in the near future.

Stein recounted memories of childhood, sharing that her identity differed from the gender expectations placed upon her at an early age. At four years old, she identified as a girl.

As Stein got older, she became more cognizant about her gender difference, and at the age of 12, she actively sought reasons why her gender was different from how she identified herself. She noted that although she was at odds with her community, she was grateful for some of the lessons they taught her.

“My community ingrained in me the ability to question,” said Stein.

It is because of this belief that she explored her identity. Stein’s faith emphasized traditional family values and she was not immune to these pressures. At the age of 16, she got married, which was an extensive process. Before marriage, both parties underwent matchmaking, ensuring that the couple was fit for marriage. Even after marriage, couples experience pressures, like the need to conceive, which makes sex a scheduled activity.

“Philosophically, religion is man-made,” said Stein.

By viewing religion in this way, she was able to better understand the motives behind religion.

Upon leaving the faith and her community at age 19, Stein experienced a period of exploration that led her to a better understanding of herself and the people around her.

Students in the audience had questions regarding this time of her life.

“Could you talk about your experience of coming out?” asked CSUSM student Dayna Giehl.

There were those who did not understand, but she said she was happy for all the support she received from most of her friends and getting to be herself.

“How did your family feel about you leaving the religion and your transitioning?” asked student Haley Marie Brown.

Because the topic of transgenderism was not discussed in her community, Stein’s family adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the subject. Stein added that she felt like an outsider and had difficulty communicating with her family.

Stein’s primary motivation to share her journey is to provide a voice for others who feel like they are alone in the world.

Brown asked, “Have you made headway in the community?”

Stein said, “I am still demonized.”

There is stigma within the Jewish community toward transgenderism. However, Stein spoke about how people are joining the conversation, rather than ignoring it, and said she is glad to be a part of that change.