Pioneering trans Hasidic Jew and former rabbi reveals the heartbreaking prayer she wrote to God, pleading to be a girl

Abby Stein: This is what it's like growing up both trans and a Hasidic Jew

Abby Stein, a trans woman who was destined from birth to be a rabbi, has described what it was like growing up trans in a New York ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community.

Stein is a direct descendant of Hasidic Judaism‘s founder, The Baal Shem Tov, and was considered by her family to be a future rabbi. But ever since she can remember, she told the BBC, she knew she was a girl.

“My dad is a rabbi, and having a son was a big deal,” she said. “He would always tell me that after five girls he had almost given up on having a boy, and how much it meant to him… I didn’t know there were other people like me, but I knew what I felt – I just saw myself as a girl.”

Having never seen anyone else naked, she said she had no idea that people had different genitals. Still, she said: “When I was four years old I had this intense feeling of anger towards my own private parts. They didn’t feel like part of me. It was an extremely strong feeling that I cannot explain to this day.”

Stein said that growing up in her Hasidic Jewish community she had no idea that trans people even existed but, taught that God could do anything, she prayed to become a girl.

At age nine she wrote a prayer that she said every night: “Holy creator, I’m going to sleep now and I look like a boy. I am begging you, when I wake up in the morning I want to be a girl. I know that you can do anything and nothing is too hard for you…

“If you do that, I promise that I will be a good girl. I will dress in the most modest clothes. I will keep all the commandments girls have to keep.

“When I get older, I will be the best wife. I will help my husband study the Torah all day and all night. I will cook the best foods for him and my kids. Oh God, help me.”
As she grew up, she threw herself into her religion, hoping to either better understand her community’s perspective on gender or to make her feelings “go away”.

Abby Stein continued: “When I was 16, I immersed myself in Jewish mysticism, called Kabbalah. That was where I first came across a religious text that justified my existence.

“In a 16th century study of human souls called The Door of Reincarnation, I read: ‘At times, a male will reincarnate in the body of a female, and a female will be in a male body.’

“It gave me hope that maybe I wasn’t crazy.”
At 18, Stein entered into an arranged marriage and her wife soon became pregnant.

Around the time of her son’s birth, she borrowed a friend’s tablet and Googled “whether a boy could turn into a girl”.

It was the first time she had accessed any information about trans people, and she added: “Another amazing discovery was that there was a community of people online who had left ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities and had not just survived, but thrived.”

Stein eventually decided to leave the community, and while her parents accepted this decision, when she told them she was trans they cut off contact.

She said she still texts her parents every week in the hope that one day they will be ready to speak to her, and keeps in touch with two of her 12 siblings.

She said: “Life is actually better than I could have ever imagined. I used to struggle with depression almost non-stop.

“Since I came out, I haven’t had a day of waking up and feeling that there’s no reason for me to wake up… I was the first person in the Hasidic community to come out as trans, but there have been quite a few people since, and obviously, I’m being blamed for that.

“I definitely think I can take some credit for it – the Hasidic community is never going to be the same again.”

Abby Stein recently released her autobiography, titled Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman.