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Max: Interview Transcript

Levi  00:05

Do you know what day it is? 


Max  00:06

It is the 28th. 


Levi  00:08

Okay, July 28 2022. Here with [REDACTED] in [REDACTED]. 3-2-1. *Clap* Okay. We can also keep doing easy questions now that we're recording if that would make you feel more comfortable. 


Max  00:28

No, I'm good. 


Levi  00:29



Max  00:29



Levi  00:30

Cool. Okay, so first question is just like, if you can describe your childhood, and yeah.


Max  00:38

Yeah. So I was born in Jerusalem, in Israel Palestine, and my family moved here, when I was a toddler. I don't remember it. I've been there to visit, but I don't remember living there. I'm the oldest of nine kids. So I was parentified at a very young age, because my mom had a baby every two years. And I was the oldest, and the oldest girl as well. So a lot of the responsibility fell on me. So for the first few years of my life, when it was just me, and my sister and my brother. It was, I would say, I got you know, attention, and my needs were met on a basic level. But then as more kids come in, there's always a baby, the older you get, and the more kids there are, the less your needs are prioritized, because you can take care of yourself and your siblings. I was not an easy child. I was very rambunctious and creative. I have ADHD. I was always getting in trouble in school, but really, I was just very creative and very misunderstood. Looking back, I can see that. But at the time, it just felt like, there was just something wrong with me. And I was crazy. And I was just always being berated for one thing or another, or getting in trouble for things when really I had really the best of intentions. And I was just a very independent child. Yeah, early childhood, my therapist once said to me, she said, whenever you talk about your childhood, it sounds like you lived alone on an island. And I kind of did, you know, it really feels like I did. I had eight siblings and two parents and we all lived in the same home but I always felt very isolated. emotionally. I have these things that I call emotional memories, where I don't necessarily remember what happened but I remember the emotion surrounding it. And then every time that emotion is repeated throughout your life, it just reinforces it. So I can remember my emotions, all the way back to very early childhood, you know, three years old and how I felt. I don't remember what happened, but I remember how I felt. I remember being made to feel like I was too much, like there was something wrong with me, like my parents were having a difficult time raising me, and that it was my fault. Remembering feelings of abandonment, when people come and go in my life, because then I have these moments where I'm like, did that really happen? Was it as dramatic as I remember it to be? Or were my feelings just really big, and no one ever talked to me about them or explained things to me because I was a child, so then they would kind of just grow inside of me and I would like build up these like resentments. Yeah.


Levi  03:31

When did you move from Jerusalem?


Max  03:33

I was two. I was two years old. I was only one of my siblings who was born there.


Levi  03:43

And what did life look like once you came to New York?


Max  03:49

We lived in, at first we lived with my dad's parents for a little bit. I don't remember that. And then we moved into the house that my parents still live in, a small two family house in a low income area. We didn't have any money. We always had our basic needs met, but resources were definitely sparse. And we lived in an ultra orthodox community. But when we moved in, it was still a newly blossoming community. So I kind of watched the gentrification of the neighborhood that I grew up in, when we moved in it was a very high crime, low income area. And today, the area where my parents live, you're gonna see like big multimillion dollar houses, private schools, nothing is affordable. So we were, you know, even when money's okay, when you have nine kids, there isn't much to go around. And we went to Jewish private school, which we got, my parents got tuition breaks because they couldn't afford full tuition for nine kids. So the schools do provide like scholarships. And my mom also worked in the school for a little bit so that they can afford to pay for it. I'm losing my train of thought. I, so we lived in a small house. There wasn't a lot of room, there wasn't a lot of personal space. Yeah, my mom was very religious, very high standards, when it comes to religion. And that seemed to be the only thing that they cared about. Like they weren't super hard on me about my grades in school. As long as I wasn't getting kicked out, and I wasn't getting in trouble they didn't really care, which I almost wish they did give me a little bit of guidance or pressure. But there wasn't really any kind of supervision in that regard. But as far as religion went, and basically being respectful and obedient, that was like number one, in the home.


Levi  06:09

And how would you say like gender roles, what were gender roles like your childhood?


Max  06:15

Very typical. Very typical of, you know, my parents generation of those standard gender roles, the male and the female, and the male being my dad was the breadwinner and my mom stayed home with us. And even within religion, and within school, we went to separate boys and girls schools, we weren't allowed to talk to boys after the age of like nine. Boys and girls were treated so so so differently. I think that was where I first started conceptualizing this idea of, I'm not a girl. But I didn't know what that meant. I didn't know what the word queer meant, I didn't know what gay was, I didn't know what a lesbian was, I didn't know what a trans person was, I sure didn't know what the fuck non binary was. I didn't know any of this stuff. So here it was knowing all these things about myself, I knew I wasn't a girl. But I didn't know that was possible. And I knew that I wasn't straight, but I didn't have words to describe it. So here you – I'm a child, and I have these concepts in my head, without the words to express it, and also lacking an understanding of it, so I just thought there was something wrong with me, I just thought I was crazy. The way that gender roles were enforced, for example, from the age of nine, we had to dress – or even younger – we had to dress very modestly. We had to wear skirts, cover our legs, our elbows, our knees, our collarbones. Can't wear clothing that's too tight. And something else that was considered to be immodest was singing in front of men that were not immediate family. And my family were all singers. My dad is a cantor. And my brothers would go to synagogue, and when he would lead the Friday night services they would sing with him and they would harmonize. And when my dad would come home at the table, we would all sing together and harmonize and one of my favorite childhood memories is singing with my dad. But then I would go to synagogue, and if I would sing too loud – the women sat in the back behind a curtain, we weren't allowed to be in the main sanctuary with the men because it wasn't modest. And if I sang too loud from my position in the back, then I would get shushed or kicked out. And I felt excluded from my own religion because that was how I felt connected to my father, to God. That was how I wanted to feel connected to Judaism, and I wasn't being allowed to. I was only allowed to within certain spaces where there were only women. And even if we were in the house, if we had male guests over for Shabbat, I couldn't sing. On Sukkot, when we sit outside, in like the little hut situation, I couldn't sing because somebody walking by might hear me singing. And I remember feeling – that was where I think that is the foundation of my pain and resentment against the gender binary. I think that is something that I can point to and be like this is where I remember it first starting. That really, really highlights it for me. And I get emotional every time we talk about it. Like I was tearing up talking about, thinking about my brothers, who were younger than me, and I taught them, I taught my brothers how to harmonize. I taught them. And then they got to go to synagogue with my dad and sing with him. And everyone always talked about how everyone in my family has such beautiful voices. But everybody meant my dad and my brothers and not me when I was, not to toot my own horn but I was more musically – I have a natural gift for music. More than my brothers. Like I said, I taught them, and then they got to go and do it and they had their musical talent encouraged and I was kind of like, you can do it in school, you can do it in summer camp, you can do it when no one's around. But like, you're not actually ever going to do anything with it in your life in a professional sense, or anything beyond being in your school play, because there's no place for you as a woman to use your voice in a public setting.


Levi  10:19

How did you like what did it feel like or look like for you to know that you weren't a girl at such a young age?


Max  10:28

Looking back, I know that I wasn't a girl. But at the time I didn't, I don't think I understood what that meant. It was more of like this really big resentment and "I don't want to be a girl. I don't want to be a girl. I want to be able to sing." And it was other things too, "I want to be able to go play sports," we were allowed to play sports, but only with other girls and not professionally in any way. If you wanted to go swimming, and there were other people around, we had to wear a t-shirt, sometimes a skirt too, if we were going to the beach. Imagine trying to swim in the ocean in a skirt. And just being sexualized at a really young age by being told that our bodies and our voices would, you know, give men inappropriate thoughts. I'm like, I don't want to be a girl. I am not a girl. I don't like this. This doesn't feel right to me. I don't want to be a part of this system. But I also knew that it wasn't a boy. I knew that I wasn't a girl, but I knew that it wasn't a boy, but I didn't know that was real. You know, I just thought, oh, I just don't want to be a girl. But I am a girl. Because I didn't know that it was possible. I didn't know that I, you know, because now I know I – that I am not binary. I'm not a girl and I am not a boy, and it's not like it's a choice. But when you just don't have the words for it, when you're a child, it's just really confusing.


Levi  12:00

Can you describe a little bit about like past childhood into your, like, teenage and young adult life? 


Max  12:11

Yeah, I. The older we got, the more emphasis was placed on being modest. I remember high school principal standing in front of the class and telling us, "Girls, when you get dressed in the morning, look at the mirror and turn sideways. And if you can see the letter P or the letter B, then your shirt is too tight." That is a memory that just sticks in my brain because that really sums up the whole attitude of it is your responsibility not to lead men astray with your body by wearing clothing that's too tight. And I was a curvy person. I was always in a little bit of a bigger body, but I thought that I was so fat. I don't mean this in a fatphobic way. I was just very dysmorphic. And my mom was always putting me on diets and trying to get me to lose weight. And I could wear the same shirt as another girl in my class, but for me it wasn't modest because I had big boobs and she didn't so because she was thin it was fine. And that just fed into the, so much shame around bodies and weight and size and modest - this concept, this made up concept of what modesty is. Because modesty can be a real thing, right? But I don't think modesty is what we wear. And it's also a choice. So that really summed – that story about my principal really sums up the whole attitude. It was such a focus, I got – would get in trouble with my parents for not wearing stockings, even if my skirt was long enough. I remember getting trouble in school because my knee socks weren't up to code because the code was they had to be solid black and I think they had like dots on them or something, like stupid shit. Like, I remember a teacher who was like seven months pregnant getting down on the floor to measure a girl's skirt with a ruler, because your skirt had to be four inches past her knee. And the girl said it is and the teacher said no, it's not. So this teacher got down on the floor with a ruler to measure the girl's skirt. And that gave me the feeling, I'm like, I am not a skirt. I'm a person, I'm not a skirt. But that's that really sums up how they treated us, how we were taught. And whenever I talk about it now, people who are still in it or think they have a positive experience, they're like "oh, it's not like that. It's beautiful, blah, blah" and I'm like you're lying to yourself. I mean, if you're happy, great, good for you. But if you think that wasn't sexualization, objectification and inappropriate, you're lying to yourself because there's no way, no world in which that's okay, and what the point of any of this is. You know. We had no sex ed, they didn't teach abstinence, we shouldn't talk about it at all, absolutely nothing. We didn't talk about periods, or we talked about periods for the first time in seventh grade in science class, and we didn't even really talk about it. And everyone was like, what, some girls knew some girls didn't. It was this really big taboo subject. And then we didn't learn about sex, we don't learn about safe sex, we don't learn about abstinence, like I said, absolutely nothing. But of course, you're gonna have people who are going to go outside of what's acceptable, considered acceptable, and start messing around. And then what you have is kids who have no concept of safety, whether it comes to the internet – because we didn't have internet. So whether it comes to internet safety, safe sex, you know, any of that. So then you have the kids who are going to go outside of that, and the system doesn't account for those people. Because they're just expecting everyone to stay within the boundaries and if you go outside of the boundaries, that's your problem. You are no longer our concern. So we're not going to teach you that because you're expected to not do that. So I definitely found myself, in my later teens, in compromising situations that I didn't even know how bad they were until looking back at them as an adult. Because I was that person, I went outside what was considered acceptable by the powers that be, because that's not – all these things don't come from God, this is not. And this is not even my opinion. In the Torah, it does not say that your skirt needs to be four inches below your knee. It does not say that a nine year old girl cannot sing in front of a man. It does not say that any of this shit, it's not there. This is like man made stuff that was added on later on. And granted, there are rabbis who maybe do have wisdom. But I also think that's a choice of whether people want to take that on or not. And I think that saying it in the name of God, in the name of religion is, in my opinion, is heretical. Because you're speaking for God. So I definitely experienced my, what most people experience in their early teens, much later in my teens, because of the system that I grew up in. Because we were so sheltered, we didn't have a TV, we didn't have internet, we didn't have magazines, we only listened to Jewish music, we didn't listen to secular music. So you're growing up in this bubble. So where I was at about 14, most people are, I would say at about like age eight or nine, in terms of my knowledge of the outside world. And then where I was at about 17/18 is where most people are, at I would say about 13/14. So I was getting into these really unsafe situations, with men with other people with strangers, with boys just messing around. Because I just didn't know anything. And we just literally weren't taught anything. So even though yes, I was maybe 17 or 18, I had zero knowledge and zero experience with any of this stuff. And that did lead me to – I was sexually assaulted multiple times. Once when I was a very young child, and several times in my teenage years, and I didn't even know what that was, I didn't know that there was something wrong with that. So much so that it was not acceptable to display excessive amounts of affection, even with people who are married. I never saw my parents do anything more than a kiss on the cheek or a hug. That's it. Never anything more than that. And some people, like my partner tells me he didn't see his parents do that. They were never physically affectionate at all in front of the kids. So there was this concept of like, sex and intimacy being really, really taboo, which is interesting, because within Judaism, it's encouraged. They want you to reproduce, it's encouraged to have sex, sex is supposed to be a mitzvah, which is something that's good. But then you have it being really taboo to the point where when it talks about things like that in the Torah, when we're learning it in school they kind of just skipped over it. And they don't teach you about sex or about niddah, which is a whole other thing about a woman getting her period or a person getting their period until you're already engaged to be married.


Levi  19:26

Wow. Yeah, I feel like I never saw that. Like I saw a lot of aspects of Judaism but in such a different way. 


Max  19:38



Levi  19:38

Because, being reform is so, is so different from what you're describing, like obviously, we had enforced gender roles. And, but I think everything was a lot more like implicit and sort of like rhetoric that was being fed to you, as opposed to, like, explicitly, like enforced in that way, if that makes sense. 


Max 20:02

100% And all of the community leaders were men, all the rabbis were men. Everyone who – so Halakha is Jewish law. When you have a question about a Halakha, you know, in a specific situation, you go to a rabbi, the rabbis were all men. So even if it was about something related to, you know, because there are laws about involving people who have a uterus specifically, and that would be answered by a man. 


Lily 20:33
Right. Can you talk like, I'm curious more about, like your marriage and how that like, played into, like gender identity and roles or like, how that impacted you?  

Max 20:46
Yeah, so I got married when I was 19. My partner and I are actually still together. We went on 10 dates. Over the course of five weeks, we wanted two dates per week. We were then engaged for seven weeks, and then we got married. And we were not allowed to touch each other the whole time. We had – did not make any kind of physical contact with each other until the night of our wedding. And at the time, you know, they teach you "Oh, you're not going to love your husband, because you can't love someone that you don't know. But then after you get married, you're gonna learn to love him and you're gonna grow to love each other in your relationship and your relationship to God and you're just going to be so close and everything's just gonna be fucking hunky dory," you know. And I believed it, I – how could I not I was essentially groomed my whole life to get married young and dumb. And looking back on it, I realized that because as young as 10/12 years old people know, "oh, I can't do this because it's gonna look bad on my shidduch resume." Shidduch means a match, and the way that Jewish Orthodox dating works is that you have a resume with your siblings, their ages, their schools, their occupations, their spouses, your parents, your grandparents, your parents' synagogue and references. So you have friend references, you have, like school or like, figures of authority references your rabbi, and like family references, who will then know your family. And this is another thing in which boys receive preferential treatment in that the boy's mom would get sent your resume, sometimes with a picture, and she would look into you, she would call your references, she would call around your neighborhood trying to see who knows you. "Is this girl a good girl? Is she religious enough? Is she sweet? Is she outgoing? Is she too loud? Does she dress modestly? Was she good in school? Is she intelligent? What do her parents do? Does her family have money? Can they support, you know, if my son wants to study to be rabbi, he needs inlaws who are gonna support him, pay for them to live so that he can do that. So, you know, we want somebody with money. We want somebody who the family is really nice, the family has a good name." And it's this really intense. Almost like when you had women with like fucking dowries, where you give seven cows, you know, for them to take your daughter. And that's kind of what it felt like, but at the time, we were all sold on it because from a young age, you're – "You can't do that. Because it's going to look bad for you when you're in shidduch and it's going to look bad for you when you're looking for a match because people are going to hear that you were not a good girl and that you made trouble and that you were too difficult and no one's gonna want to marry you." Or th – it really comes down to the boys moms. It's not even about the boys right? It's about the boys moms and how fucking picky and disgusting they are. I've had people call me about my friends and ask me really horrible questions, like about their bodies, about their size, about what they wear. It's it's crazy. Like it sounds wild. But at the time, it seemed so normal because our whole lives that was how things were. That's how we did things. That was how our parents did things. Our grandparents, maybe not – my grandparents been in college, they didn't do that. But like... so we were – I tell people I was groomed by my community to get married really young and dumb before I started asking questions before I went into the outside world and discovered myself and was like, "Hey, this is not what I want." So we got married. My partner is a really nice guy. I'm really lucky. He is an amazing person. I love him very much. But our relationship has not been easy because, you know, we got married. Now the way that it works with sex and intimacy is that, like I said, they don't teach you anything. So when you're engaged, you sit down with a woman, and you have lessons about sex and intimacy, and about the rules around it, because of course, there are rules. So they teach you about the physical aspect of sex, because a lot of girls don't even know what sex is, and how it works like in a physical aspect, which is wild, because you're 18, 19 20, 21 and 22. They sit down with you, they teach you about it. They teach you the rules around it, which I can expound on if you want me to just around like periods, and I'll get into that later, it's irrelevant. And then you get married, and they're like, here, do it. So when we first got married, this was the first time that I was being told not only is sex, okay, but you should do it and you should want it. And then you have the whole concept of niddah, which basically is this concept that when a woman is on her period, she's not allowed to sleep with her husband. That's the basic rough grounds of it, but what it's been expanded to, is while you're on your period, you can't sleep with your husband. And then for a full week after, every day for seven days you have to take a little white cloth, stick it up your vagina, and if there's any kind of red or pink on it, you have to start counting your seven days over. And you have to do that twice a day. And over this week plus the duration of your period, which has to be a minimum of five days, not only are not allowed sleep with your husband, you can't touch him, we can't make skin to skin contact. So you cannot, kiss you cannot hold hands, you cannot hug, you're not allowed to pass each other things because you might touch each other by mistake. And all of this is to prevent sex. So that you shouldn't accidentally start, you know, getting into it, you know, because like passing the salt might lead to sex, you know. And we're just not gonna tell you any of this until you're engaged. See, they kind of like blindside you with it. And then so essentially, for two weeks out of the month, you're not allowed to have any kind of physical contact in any way. And what happened for us is that I craved physical touch, I wanted affection and so did my husband. But for him, his primary love language was physical touch. So he would kind of withdraw over those two weeks and then come back over the second two weeks and expect me to just be back into it and for me, it was very hard to flip flop between these cycles of two weeks of nothing and then two weeks of really intense sexual desire, and physical affection and spending time together. And at the end of the seven days, you have to go to a mikvah, which is like a body of water indoors, and you go you take a bath – when people talk about it they try to make it sound like it's a luxury spa, they're like, "Oh, you get to go to the spa once a month," okay, it's not a fucking spa. You go, you have to strip your body of anything that will separate your body from the water, nail polish makeup, contacts, jewelry, wash yourself, you have to go in a bath for 30 minutes. And it's just a regular old bathtub, okay. It's not a spa, you sit in bathtub you soak. When you're ready, you press a button, and this lady comes to your room. And in some places, they will examine you. Like, they'll be like, "Oh, you still have a little bit of black makeup on your eyes. Um, your nail polish isn't fully off, oh, you have a hair on your back." And they'll take it off of you. They'll touch you. And then you're wearing this like bathrobe you walk to this room, she takes off your robe and holds it in front of her, she's supposed to hold it in front of her, you are naked, you walk down into this pool of water and you basically dunk three times in the water. And each time that you dunk, she watches you and she has to tell you if you did it properly or not. And if you did not do it properly, you have to do it over and you say a blessing in between and then you come out and then you can sleep with her husband. And this really contributed to this – my mental health went to shit. And I had had a history of having mental health issues. And this really caused my mental health to go to shit because there's so many like things wrong with this, right? Because first you have the flip flopping back and forth of the two weeks of everything and two weeks of nothing. Then you have the whole thing with the fucking water and the old lady watching you naked dunk in a pool of water. Then you have the, oh we don't even, if if on the seven days if you stick the white cloth – it's just the bedikah cloth, which means the check. If you stick that up and it comes out with pink and you're not sure if it's your period blood or not, you put it in a bag and you send it to the rabbi. And the rabbi will call you and tell you if you have to start counting your days over or not. And this whole system just – I felt so objectified and not in control of my own fucking body and what I wanted to do with my body, and it made me feel like my period made me impure because that basically is the concept of it that getting your period makes you impure because your body is shedding the lining of its uterus. And it just blows my fucking mind how many people how many women are just like, "Okay, we're gonna do this, this is cool. I'm gonna stick with this." And the word for it is called taharat hamishpacha, which means sanctity of the family. How, how is that sanctity of the family – that's sanctity of male control over people who have uteri uteruses I can ever feel comfortable with which one to say, neither of them feels right. That's what it is, in my opinion. And that –


Levi 30:30 

So it’s like your whole life, like for your entire life?

Max 30:32

Yeah, because you have to think about it constantly. And if you get your period at the same time every month, then you have to assume that you're in Niddah on that day, every month, even if you haven't gotten it. Now, obviously, during pregnancy, you don't get your period. And people use birth control to not get their periods. But it's exhausting. So from when you get married until you hit menopause, you're dealing with that constantly. So much so – and it's considered to be a very private thing that we don't talk about. And so a lot of people have never heard of it, to the point that you're not supposed to let people know whether you're niddah or not. So around the Shabbat table, when your husband is passing you, you know, wine or Challah, he's not supposed to pass it to you directly hand to hand ever, so that way people won't know if you're niddah or not, because that's supposed to be private people shouldn't know if you're niddah or not. And that's another reason why parents and people would not show physical affection in front of other people. So that you should never know whether they're niddah are not because it was considered so private. But I think that in keeping it so private, you're really – it's very problematic, because people make – it causes a lot of shame and a really big cycle of shame that men and women continue to perpetuate against themselves. So that set a really difficult tone for my marriage. Because I'm coming into this marriage with someone I didn't know, with rules I'm hearing for the first time in my fucking life. I mean, I knew it existed, but I didn't know the intricacies of it because it's so much more complex than I can ever explain to you. And I'm expected to just be like, "Yay, this is amazing. I love this." And I do love my husband. But it was really hard. That transition was hard, not to mention that I had moved away from my family. Living in a new place as new people. And I at the time was secretly not observant. I did not observe Shabbat. I would use my phone hiding in my room. And it was hard at the start of my marriage. We – I thought it – we – in – in the moment we were like, "Yeah, this is okay." But looking back, it wasn't, it wasn't great. 


Levi  32:44

And you were only 19.


Max  32:45

I was 19. My husband was, how old was he, he was 22. And we were both each other's first. We were each other's first shidduch date. So we were each other's first suggested match. So I call it a semi arranged marriage, because it's not an arranged marriage in the sense that "Here's a man you have to marry him." It was an arranged marriage in the sense that I didn't have control over who I got to date. And there – you can't have consent without informed consent. I was not informed. I didn't know shit. Right? They don't tell you anything. You don't know anything. You're not informed. So yes, I did consent to it. I was an adult. But I don't consider that to be informed consent. So I call it a semi arranged marriage because it was really done mostly in part by our families and by our parents. And we were told, yes, you have a choice. But within the on – these are your choices. Not your choices are endless. This is your choice. And after the, usually after the third or fourth date, you have to decide if you want to get married or not. And you can only continue dating, if there's a possibility of marriage. You can't just continue to date just to see if you like each other. After a certain amount of dates, you either need to get engaged or stop dating because it's not appropriate to just see each other.


Levi  34:10

Taking a sip.


Max  34:12

Yeah, it's a lot. Um.


Levi  34:18

Do you feel like you want to take a break? Are you okay?


Max  34:20

I'm good, yeah.


Levi  34:21

Okay. I don't want to just like pound you with questions. 


Max  34:26

I'm good. 


Levi  34:28

It seems like you have a good grasp on talking about this stuff.


Max  34:32

Yeah, I've definitely talked about it before. I've never done an interview like this, but I definitely have talked about it with people. 


Levi  34:37



Max  34:39

Share my story with people. And it's a lot and I actually don't share it that often because it's hard to talk about it without talking about all of it. 


Levi  34:46



Max  34:47

And it's a lot and I didn't want to trauma dump on people and not everyone wants to sit for three hours and listen to me talk about my life story. So when people are interested, I have no problem talking about it as long as I feel comfortable with them. 


Levi  34:59



Max  34:59

But I don't often find myself in situations where I can sit and talk about it. And I can't just talk about like, it's hard to just give like little – I do, I do talk about little. But it's hard to provide context.


Levi  35:10

Without people being like, what? 


Max  35:12

Yeah, like, how do I start explaining nidah to someone in two sentences?


Levi  35:16

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Yeah, that's why oral history is interesting. Because it is like a kind of open space to just share, you know? And it's like it's like people have access to it if they want to, but it's not necessarily the most, like public facing, like, you know, platform, I suppose. 


Max  35:30

Yeah. Yeah. 


Levi  35:44

Okay, so curious, like when you like, kind of self actualized that you were like queer or like gender non conforming.


Max  35:54

As far as my queerness I knew that I was queer as soon as I learned what it was. I shouldn't say that. Not as soon but in my teenage years, I heard about it, but it was considered like "Ew gross, lesbians are girls who kiss each other. That's disgusting." And we would hear like stories about girls in summer camp who had like, and it was like, "That's crazy." I mean what's gonna happen when you go to all girls schools and summer camps. But then, in my later teen years, I was like mm I kind of like girls, I'm attracted to girls. I will never admit that out loud to anybody, but I identified as bisexual. They always say bisexuality is the road to being trans, like a lot of trans people that I meet, talk about how their road to that started with, "Oh I'm bisexual." When I was in my later teens, early 20s, is when I really started being comfortable with a label of being bi, but I never shared it with anyone within the community. I did have friends outside the community that I shared with, but no one within the Jewish community and definitely not my husband. And I kind of just sat with that for a while. I just was basically in the closet. And then I changed my label, I was like I'm pansexual. But still, I didn't talk about it. Where would I talk about it? It wasn't relevant. I was married. I am married. And there was no space for that in the community. They say that homosexuality is a sin for men not for women. They say oh, it says in the Torah, man shall not lie with man. But I've seen many, a lot of discourse about this. And you see a lot of rabbis who are more progressive that will say actually, in the Torah, it says man shall not live with boy, and it's referring to pedophilia, it's not referring to homosexuality. Which makes a lot of sense to me. Because if you read the original texts, which I speak fluent Hebrew, so it does use two different words doesn't say, "Man shall not live with man" it uses two different words for "Man shall not lie with boy." And they even say within Judaism that there are different interpretations of the Torah. But the fact that they just hold on really tightly to that one. Also, as if everyone observes every single thing and never commits a sin because there are 613 rules. So you're telling me you never break a single one, but this is the one that we're gonna die on. And then as far as being trans, the Talmud mentioned six genders, which what they say about them is neither here nor there, they don't really. Some of them they don't, you know, approve of, but they acknowledge them. The Talmud acknowledges six genders, and possibly more than that they vaguely allude to. And when I heard about that, I was like, Why did I never hear about this growing up? Why did we never learn about this? And it also there's something in the Torah, in the – it's not the Torah, it's in one of the later books but for example, David and Jonathan, David and Jonathan, it talks about the love that they had between them. And in my view, it really, really sounds like they were lovers. It does because they talked about how that was one of the greatest loves of all time. And I'm like, Yes, gay icons. But that's not how we were taught it. So later in my adulthood, I came to acknowledge and be comfortable with I am queer. I struggled with the label, I struggled with the label of my sexuality. And I never really thought about gender. I knew I had a lot of resentment towards gender and towards gender roles and towards the binary concept of gender, but I never really thought about it. Because I was like, I'm in this community, I'm in it for life, I'm stuck, I have kids. I'm not going anywhere. So it doesn't really make a difference what I do or say or whatever, because I'm here. I think that's the whole concept of getting you married young is that you have kids and then you're stuck. I, in my mid 20s relapsed with one of my mental health issues, and it was not good. And that was pretty bad. I ended up going to residential treatment, leaving my kids, one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. And it was there in treatment that I really came into myself because it was the first time that I had a community that wasn't the Jewish community. And I remember the first time – was the first – it was there that was the first time that somebody ever asked me what my pronouns are. And I had to think about it because no one had ever asked me that before. And here I was, I was how old I was in my mid 20s. And no one had ever asked me what my pronouns were. And I said my pronouns are she/they and it felt really good. And the first time somebody used they/them pronouns for me, because you know what they say, when people use she/they people tend to default to she/her because it's easier for them. The first time somebody used they/them pronouns for me, I – you ever watch Hotel Transylvania. Okay, so it's this kid's movie of these vampires. And there's something called a "zing." And it's kind of this feeling like when something feels really right. And like, they use it like in terms of like, usually around like love, like, once you – they fall in love and they "zing," their hearts like zinged. So it zinged – like someone used they them pronouns for me. Someone referred to me as they/them and it zinged, like, it just felt so right, it felt good, it was gender euphoria, you know. And I used she/they pronouns – she/they pronouns for a while, but then I met so many interesting people in treatment, so many trans people, so many queer people, so many non binary people. I've never been in a space that wasn't exclusively trans or queer or Jewish, and met as many queer trans Jewish people, it was very funny to meet people who've checked off all those boxes, and also have the same mental health issue as I did, you know, so it was interesting to meet people like that. And that really helped me explore my own gender identity. And what maladaptive coping mechanisms are, are ways of coping with things that we feel we have no control over and the denial of self. And for me, it was denial of self around my gender identity and my sexuality and repressing that my whole life and being repressed. And a big part of recovery for me has been inhabiting that part of myself and being open about it and allowing myself to be. As far as sexuality goes, I became really comfortable with the label queer, and like, I don't have to define my sexuality in a way for someone else to understand because I understand it. I understand my sexuality. And I'm just queer. I – That's it, that I feel comfortable with that I don't need to define it in a way that you need to understand. I'm just not straight. Maybe one day, you know, we'll come to something that's more, I guess, easier for other people to understand. But that's where I'm at right now. And then as far as gender it was like a slow like progression away from she they to they she because people started asking me, "Well, what do you prefer?: And then I would say I prefer they/them but I'm okay with she/her. And then I had this moment where I realized, you know, I'm only using she/her pronouns to make other people feel comfortable. Because when I talk to people who are more like, conservative or maybe a little transphobic whether they like to acknowledge it or not, I want to be like, "you know, my pronouns are they/them, but it's okay, you can use she/her, like don't worry about it. You don't have to inconvenience yourself for me, you know, you don't have to start changing the way that you do things. Don't – don't let me inconvenience you. So I'm going to still use she/her to make you feel better." And when I realized that, I was like, fuck this, I don't like she/her pronouns. They bother me, I don't like them. I prefer they/them pronouns. And I would – and I started telling people that. And I'm still not out to my family, and my community because I would essentially be shunned, even if there are individuals who may still maintain contact with me, as a whole, I would lose that. And it's really hard because I feel very held by this community – as much as I feel, I have felt othered by it my whole entire life and I still do – pariah, some sort – but at the end of the day, they come through, they provide, they take care of their own, and if I didn't have kids, I think I would be like fuck it, I don't need this. But because I do have kids I need something of a support system. And I've been working on building community outside of it. But it's it's a process and then. So treatment was the first place that I felt community and love and the ability to just be myself and inhabit my whole self. And one of the biggest things that I realized was that the same traits that I felt othered for and judged for my whole life were the same ones that my friends now loved me for. So that there was nothing wrong with me, it was the people around me, and the way that they viewed me and the way that they viewed things. And that was a really healing moment for me. And something that I hold close to my heart when I feel – because my strongest negative core belief is that I'm too much. I'm too much, but at the same time, I'm not enough. So I really hold on to that when I when I start feeling those thoughts of like, I'm too much, it's like, I'm not I am. Great. I'm a lot, but I'm not too much.


Levi  45:46

It's so great that you found that community in treatment, because I feel like so many people I know find like the opposite. You know, when they're, Yeah  Placed in those situations. Yeah.  With the medical industry, and like the treatment industry is I feel like can be so harsh. But I don't know, that's just really cool. That, 


Max  46:09



Levi  46:09

That you did find that there.


Max  46:11

Yeah. And I think –


Levi  46:12

Like that's an an unexpected place.


Max  46:13

It was really unexpected. But I had an amazing therapist. And I stuck through with the program, I went from essential to PHP to IOP five to IOP three, and then I graduated the pro – an alum – and then I graduated the program. And there were obviously people who came and went, because that's what happens when you go to this kind of treatment. There are people will come because they were forced to and then they leave as soon as they can. But the people who stuck with it, that were in at the same time as me, we were there together, you know, I – we were there for a while together. And even if I don't talk to them that often I know they're still in my corner like I have made so many like lifelong friends there. And it's really been a blessing. And then even outside of treatment, just people that I've made through like 12 Step programs, friends that I've made through 12 Step programs, have also been getting involved in service to them has also helped me build community. And then through those people I build community, you know, through their friends and friends' friends, and that's how I've been starting to build this and one of the ways that I've started to build community for myself outside of the Jewish community, and not even outside of the Jewish community, I found Jewish friends, just outside of the Orthodox community. One of my friends from a 12 step program took me to a reform Friday night service. And it was very informal it was in someone's living room. It was a girl on a guitar and a guy on a cello and a guy on a little drum situation. And it was just people singing. And I think that was the most connected I've ever felt to Judaism. It was – I was fucking balling, okay. Because the way – instead of just sitting down and running through a couple, an hour and a half's worth of Hebrew texts that no one – like even if you understand it, how much attention are you paying to it? They selected a few verses and had been translated and before we sang everything we talked about, what is this? Why are we singing it? What does it mean? And then we all sang. Everyone in the room, gender had nothing to do with anything, everyone in the room sang. And that was the first time I got to participate in something like that within a religious setting. And not only that, but afterwards they said "Does anybody want to say – does anybody need to say the mourners Kaddish?" Which is we celebrate and commemorate people on the anniversary of their death. And there's a special prayer that you say, but only men are allowed to say it in synagogue because only men can come up to the altar to the front and speak out loud and whatever. So someone can say it on your behalf, but you're not allowed to say it. And it was happened to have been the anniversary of the death of someone that I loved very dearly. And I didn't know what to do with myself. I kind of like made something up about who it was and like why and when because I – it was my first time meeting these people and I was so lost. I was stumbling over my words. I didn't know what the fuck to do with myself. No one in my life, no one in how many years 27 years had ever asked me if I wanted to say the mourners Kaddish, which is this prayer that you just say to remember people and it's supposed to help their soul. It's supposed to give their soul like merit and like, like in heaven, well not heaven But you know, in the world to come. It was so powerful. I still get chills like thinking about it talking about it. And I haven't been again since because it's not like a regular thing. It's like a once a month in the winter or whatever. I would love to go again. But that was such a stark contrast for me between the way – the Judaism that I was raised with and the Judaism that exists out there. So I have made so many Jewish friends that practice in their own ways, and it's really, really beautiful. It's been so special, to see how other Jews practice in a way that feels good to them in a way that feels connected and practicing Judaism out of love and desire and intention. I suppose that this is what I'm supposed to do. This is what I am told to do. It's like, what, what? And whenever you talk about that people are like, "Oh, so you're just gonna do whatever you want now," like, "Oh, you're gonna start killing people?" And it's like, what? Like, I've heard that argument way more times when people say, "Oh, you're not following the rules anymore. Oh, so you're gonna, everything's gonna go to shit now." And it's like, no, I'm just following my inner value, my moral compass, my interpretation and understanding of God, and ethics and doing what feels right is not always what is easy. It's not about doing what's easy, it's not about doing, you know, things that – it's not always about indulging in whatever the fuck because that's how they like to make it sound like "oh, you're giving into your temptations, blah, blah, blah." It's not it's what's right is not always what's easy. I think it's really just about listening to your listening to yourself to your soul, getting connected with that. I think if you're not connected with that, then that can be hard. But I think that if you can at least open up that pathway and allow for the potential for that to come through to be connected to yourself, to your spirituality, to your ancestors to just the universe. You know, because I love Judaism. I love God, I feel very connected to it. It's just not the Judaism that I grew up with.  


Levi 51:42

Yeah. [PAUSE] I’m looking. [PAUSE] I'm curious like more about. Well, I don't know, because you talked a lot about seeking community. I suppose. I'm curious, like what that looks like now for you, like seeking community and care. Like in your


Max 52:39

Yeah. I've been. Yeah, I've been disconnecting somewhat from my community, because I still live in a pretty religious area. I still have friends, but I've been disconnecting from them somewhat. And I think they feel that I was already pretty disconnected, but now more so. I have found it's not easy to find queer friends in a red town. It's really not. They exist. But it's hard to like, you know, I have made some queer friends a couple of queer friends locally. But I also got involved with an organization called Eshel, which is queer Jewish organization. And I felt really connected through that meeting other queer Jews, some of them are religious, some of them are not, everyone just does their own thing. And that community is the first time – treatment was the first time that I felt community outside of the Jewish community. And this community is the first time I felt community outside of treatment because treatment community doesn't last forever. It's temporary. People are passing through. I still have friends, but the community is not like, we're not. So this is the first time that I felt community outside of that, because I have friends, I have queer friends. But it's not community. And then I have this other friend that I'm very close with who I became friends with like her friend group through her. So I kind of have that friend, little friend group that's really nice to have. It's nice to feel like I have people. I think the hardest part about it is most of these people that I meet and that I know either don't have kids, or specifically within this organization, the people that I've met, most of the people who have kids, their kids are older. And I don't have any friends who are still married to their original partners. So they got married through this system, too that also have kids I do have friends that are still married. I do have friends that have kids. I don't think I have any friends who are still married and have kids if that makes any sense.


Levi  54:37

Like queer friends or just friends?


Max  54:38

Queer friends.


Levi  54:39



Max  54:39

Queer friends within this organization or within this community that are still married to the people that they had their children with, and have – you know and that they have kids, you know, around my kids ages. Because I do have a couple of friends that have kids that are much older, and they're not married anymore. So that's been honestly pretty rough. Because being a parent, you need friends who are also parents, as much as my friends are amazing. There are certain things that sometimes you need a friend who is also a parent. And my kids need to have friends, because I grew up with tons of cousins, tons and tons, because we have really big families, my parents and siblings and their siblings had kids and my partner has also lots of cousins, but I'm not close with any of them. And my friends' kids are like my kids' family. And I do have some friends who I feel very comfortable with who are you know, either not religious or not Jewish, that have kids around my kids ages, but queer friends, not really anything, maybe one or two people, but again, they're not married, and not to say anything about them. It's just a different situation. And parenting, queer parenting has been amazing. But it's also hard. Because the way that I parent – this is not how I always parented, this is in recent years, I try to parent very mindfully very intentionally. And my approach to parenting is I try to be the parent that I needed when I was a child. Like, what would I have wanted when I was six? What did I need to hear? And when I acted this way, when I was six, what was wrong, you know, because children aren't trying to piss you off. They want to communicate something to you, and they don't know how and they may not even know that they need to communicate something. So when children are acting out, it's not because they want to antagonize you. It's because something is wrong. So there's that aspect. And it's been really healing for me to basically essentially reparent myself along with parenting my kids to relearn things do with you know, gender roles, and gender and sexuality. Just everything that society tells you, the way they tell you to think and then seeing how kids come into it with like, a really open, flexible understanding of it, and then we tell them what to think. And then that's why they think the way that we do and not because they're born like that. And watching my kids discover things like gender has helped me really understand my own gender. And the hardest part, one of the hardest things about queer parenting is that – is everything outside of my home. Because within my home, I can control what I tell my kids, the books that we have in our house, whatever they – we don't have – we don't do much screen time, but what they watch, you know, to things that are messages that I approve of, and very diverse and very loving and positive and talk about things that are hard to talk about, like gender and race and sexuality and listening to people who are you know, and you know, even like things like disabilities and listening to people who are people who can talk on that and listening to them and buying books written by those people. And teaching doing different lessons that my kids – even things like about, like environment – the environment, and you know, and then they go out into the world, and they hear all this kind of crap. And especially because they go to they do go to a Jewish school, which not forever. I mean, I do want to s – they probably will stay to Jewish school, I do want to move to a more open minded one. But they do go to school and they hear things that I'm like, I have to come home and then unteach it, you know, and counteract it. And I'll be like, oh, one of my kids will say to me, "Oh, boys can't wear earrings." And I'm like, "Who told you that?" And she'll say, "Oh, so and so whatever." And I'm like "It's not true." And she's like, "Yes, it is." I'm like, "Do they have ears?" And she goes "Yeah." And I'm like, "Okay, well, then they can wear earrings. Like that's the requirement for wearing earrings." And they're also still pretty little. So I think that as they get older, they'll understand it more and that they can, and I tell her "Do you trust me? Like I, do know that I always tell you the truth?" And she says "Yes." And I said "Okay, so why would I lie to you about this?" And just seeing, that's been really hard to have them come home and be like, "Oh my teacher said this, my friend said that." But at the same time, their understanding of gender is so pure. One of my kids – we do like gender of the day, right? Because one of my kids is a different gender every day, which is very cute. Because it depends what she feels like. And one day she says to me, Mom, "I am – my pronouns are they she and I'm a non binary girl." And I said, "Okay, cool. Great." And then my toddler goes "I'm a firetruck." And it's funny because a lot of transphobic people will be like, "Oh, I'm an Apache Attack Helicopter, blah, blah, blah," you know, and they do that. And he goes "I'm a fire truck" and without missing a beat my daughter goes "are your pronouns we oo we oo?" And that was so funny because that like, illustrated for me their understanding of gender, like he went, he was like, gender is fake. I, this is what I want to be, this is what I am, this is what I'm going to be, great, you know. So to see how kids come in with this really unfettered, I should say, understanding of gender. And then we tell them this is what you are, this is what you should do. This is what you should be, this is what you should think. These are your options. Back to like the whole informed consent thing, like you can choose – not not everyone believes in that. But people who say, "Oh, you can choose, but these are your options." Whereas opposed to its all, there are no limits. It's fluid. It's outside of the binary. And I love seeing that in my kids and watching them discover the world. And people tell me "Oh, wow, your kids are so well spoken are so intelligent are so communicative." And I think it's because I just let them be, I let them exist. I let them be as they are. And then I watch them discover the world and encourage their interests and the things that they expressed, you know curiosities about, instead of telling them what to do. And that's not to say I never tell my kids what to do. Like they have a bedtime you know. People think that gentle parenting is like, "oh, please go to bed." Gentle parenting is being in tune with what your kids need, and what they don't need, and not traumatizing them. And letting them have autonomy because they can be small, but they still have bodily autonomy. And explaining things to them. I explain things to my kids, whether they'll understand it or not. Because when I was a kid, I wanted to know something but parents would say "Ask me in 10 years, I'll tell you in 10 years." I tell my kids, "I'll tell you now, you might not understand it, though, but you might understand it in a few years. And you can always ask me again, and I'll explain it to you again." And that makes kids understand like, because something – a big, big difference that I see from previous generation to this generation is that in the previous generation, it was like, parents are almost like, "I'm your God, I created you, I gave you life, I'm your God, you need to obey me, you need to obey everything that I say. Because you owe that to me, because I clothed you and nurtured you and created you." Whereas I think that as far as my parenting goes, and I think I've seen in an – across – I've seen it with many of my friends too, where it's like, you do need to listen to me sometimes. But there's a reason. And it's not because I have complete and total authority and power over you, this is not a power dynamic. This is not, you need to respect me and worship me, this is you should be respectful, because that is, you know, what you're supposed to do to every human being. And but I will also earn your respect by, you know, modeling positive things for you, and taking care of you. And being the best parent that I could be. And it will be a mutual respect. And I will respect you too. And your desires. And there are going to be times when you're not going to like things that I'm going to say like you need to go to bed right now. But I will also explain to you why you need to go to bed. And it's not because I said so. Because I said so is I think where you get into that, like I am an all powerful all knowing being as opposed to you need to go to bed now because you're going to be tired tomorrow, and you are five and you don't have the ability to make that decision. Because if I let you you will stay up all night. And you need encouragement to go to bed and you can stay up in your bed if you want but you have to go be in your bed. Yeah, that's basically like, that is the I would say the mindset of parenting that I tried to practice and it's not perfect, right? I lose my shit sometimes. Kids are hard kids are frustrating kids say annoying things they know how to push your buttons. But I find that the more I've been trying to practice this very mindful, intentional parenting and this more of asking instead of being – you're being bad, why aren't you listening instead of being like what's wrong, that you don't want to cooperate? What is bothering you? What is the problem? And then trying to solve that. I've been been more a lot more patient.


Max  1:04:36

and I think that's something that's hard for me – I have really bad transference with my older child with myself. Because I see myself in her she's that same like rambunctious free, crazy spirit. Like she says the funniest, most uncensored things, everybody's always rolling from her. And that's exactly how I was, except by me it was like, "Sit down in your seat and be quiet. Do what you're supposed to do." And it used to be hard because I am pretty negative and harsh towards my inner self, or at least I used to be pretty judgmental because she was judged by everyone around her. So I judged her too in order to fit in and be accepted. Even towards myself. And then in healing, and being more compassionate to my inner child I've become a better parent. Because I do have that transference with my daughter. And viewing her in that more understanding, compassionate way that I needed to be understood when I was 6/7/8/9/10 years old.


Levi  1:05:36

Do you have any other like moments you remember where you felt like? Like, I don't know, just like a good parenting moment.


Max  1:05:44  

A good parenting moment? I was in the car. And my daughter had a friend in the car and she was counting "Okay, there are three, three girls and one boy in the car." And my daughter says "My mom is not a girl." And her friend says "Yes, she is." And she goes "No, she's not." And then she corrected herself and she said, "No, they're not. They're not a boy or a girl. They're non binary." And her friend was so confused. They were like five at the time. So understandable, afive year old has never heard this concept before. They're going to be confused. And she goes, "but you have earrings." And I was like, "Okay. Anyone with errors can wear earrings." And she's like, "that's true." She's quiet for 10 minutes. And then she goes "but you have boobies." And without missing a beat, my daughter goes, "Yeah, my mom has boobies because when we were babies, they fed us with their boobies. Because we needed milk. And that's why my mom has boobies." And I was like, "yeah... yeah! I never thought of it that way." Like her understanding of that was like, so I was like, huh, because I feel so much dysphoria around my breasts like, and then it was like, yeah, they served a purpose for me. I fed my children with them, and that's not to say I don't – I no longer feel dysphoria around them. But it was really like, I feel like I did a good job at helping my children understand the difference between, like gender, and what our bodies are, and how one does not equal the other. And that was also a really big moment for me where I was like, you know, I like that. I like that perspective. Thank you five year old child. And then another just really good parenting moments for me are just the way that I see my kids interact with other kids. And how they know how to talk about their emotions at the age of three and six. They know how to talk about their emotions, they know how to be kind, they know how to – and they're not perfect. They're kids, you know, like my daughter got sent home from school for like hitting somebody you know. But like, I don't know, it's just even things like their relationship with food. And the lack of judgment and shame around it. Like when I'm having a hard day, I'm like, okay, I'm just gonna eat when my kids eat. And that usually works.


Levi  1:08:30

That so sweet about the gender – I don't know, it makes me like, want to be a parent, even though I like am scared of parenting in this world. But –


Max  1:08:40

[OVERLAPPING] It's hard. 


Levi  1:08:41



Max  1:08:42

I honestly, if I did it over, I don't know that I would have had my kids so young. 


Levi  1:08:47



Max  1:08:48

I think I had them because that was what I was supposed to do. And that's not to say I don't love them. I love my kids with all my heart. But I do call them my ball and chain from heaven. Because they have – I love them with – I – I love them so much. And I'm grateful for them. And I would not trade them for the world. But at the same time, I never – I feel like I never got to experience my early 20s and my late teens because I got married and had kids. And I do have somewhat of a resentment you know that now I'm a parent and I don't get to do that. And I have been finding moments of that. I've been finding little moments of that. But I feel like I never had that time in your life when most people will typically go through the self exploration and come into to themselves. Oops.


But it's also been really healing to be a parent. It's hard. It's a responsibility. You know, I am responsible for these two tiny humans who cannot fend for themselves and I'm responsible for shaping them and for the kind of life that they're going to live and setting them up for success. But two things that really helped me is. The first one is, I always struggled my relationship to God. And I came to a point in my life where I understood that God loved me. I was like, Okay, God loves me. This is not the God that my family speaks of. But this is my God and my God loves me. And one of my kids was sick, and I was really worried about them. And my mom – which just funny that it came from her because she's so religious, she said to me, "Do you understand that God loves them – she said him, God loves him more than you do. And God also loves you more than you love your child." And that just blew my fucking mind. Because I cannot comprehend the love greater than the love that I have for my child. I can't comprehend the love greater than love that I have for my child. And the fact that I understood love, like in that moment, I understood what love is, and how patient and forgiving, and how God doesn't care about all these things that they – we'll go back to like the stuff that I grew up with. Like, that's not what God cares about. Because they teach us to relate to God as a parent, then they tell you that God is punishing, and God is this and God is that and that's not what God is. If God is my parent, then God doesn't care about that. God wants to be a good human. God wants me to take care of myself. God wants me to take care of the people that I love. God wants me to leave a positive impact on this world and just do my part. Because if God loves me that much, they don't care how long my skirt is. And I like I cried from that, like, realization of that love. And I forgot what the other thing was. I was talking about love, and God.I'll come back to it. I don't remember what I was talking about.


Levi  1:11:56

I'm curious like what transness like means to you, like, spiritually.


Max  1:12:04  

I've actually struggled with it, because within Orthodox Judaism, and even within some of ancient Judaism, there is no place for people who are trans or non binary. In more progressive communities like the reform community, the conservative community, the Reconstructionist, you know, there are many different sects of Judaism, egalitarian, they – or even some of the more modern Orthodox communities, they are inclusive of trans people who are male to female or female to male. But then what do you – what do non binary people do? Because if someone who's a trans woman, she will, she's a woman. So she fits into that role of what a woman plays in Judaism, and a trans man is a man. So he fits into the role that a man plays in Judaism. But there is no role for non binary people. So I struggled with that. But now I'm at a point where I'm like, I'm gender fluid. So I can do whatever – I can choose, which parts feel right to me the same way that I do fluctuate between masculinity and femininity, which whatever that means, because that's made up too right. But I've recently been finding myself being like, I want to do this because it feels good to me. And I feel connected, and it feels right. But it's been really hard to find community in which there's space for that. And I think that's why I've been so much moving away from this community, and the Orthodox community, because there's no space for trans people. There's no space for non binary people, there's no space for queer people. I'm not going to be somewhere where there's no space for me. Ultimately, I will come out to my family. But I just have to be prepared, that I may be losing – that I probably will be losing that whole support system, which is why I haven't done it yet. And finding religion with transness and spirituality has been amazing, because I saw this thing somewhere that was like, we believe that everyone has a small piece of God in them. And if I'm queer, if I'm trans, and I have God in me, that means that part of God is queer, and trans. And we also don't believe that God is binary, which is interesting because you find that a lot of religious people refer to God as male, and having human characteristics, but truthfully, the way that Judaism thinks of God, God is not binary. God does not have a gender. God does not have any physical attributes or human attributes. They say that they use human attributes to help us understand God but that God doesn't actually have any. God doesn't have human emotions, God doesn't have human attributes. God is not binary. And I find a lot of comfort and feeling connected to God through that. And that's not to say, you know, I have a god complex or anything. But it's just knowing that my God is not binary and reconnecting with spirituality, because for a while I moved away from it completely, because I had so much resentment built up, had so much religious trauma, right, which we barely skimmed the surface of it, it goes so, so deep for every second of every day for the first how many years of my life and continues to do so. So I just for a minute just moved away from it, I'm like, I don't want any part of that. But then in coming into my trans identity, non binary identity, queer identity, I've also come into my religious identity, because I'm not ultra orthodox, but I am spiritual, I'm connected. I feel connected to my roots, to Judaism, to God, to tradition. And it's been really special.


Levi  1:16:04

I'm curious, like, what? I don't know, I guess there's a lot of topics, but you were talking about how like, there's like the idea in Judaism, to – okay, well, some Jewish communities can accept like trans man or trans woman, but not like non binary. And I'm curious like your thoughts on just like, identity terms, and like how you conceptualize those for yourself and like, because it is complicated, right, when, like, gender doesn't exist, but it also like has impacts. And –


Max  1:16:37  

Right. My relationship with labels is that I only use labels to help other people know how to relate to me. My understanding of my gender, I understand my gender, I understand my sexuality on a very deep level. But there isn't necessarily good wor – there aren't words, like, I only tell you my gender as being non binary, and my pronouns being they/them, to help you understand my gender. Because really, I don't believe that gender is real. So if we don't believe that gender is real, then technically, it shouldn't really matter. But it does matter because it impacts us and then impacts the way that society interacts with us and interacts with the way that you treat me and the way that society treats me. So therefore, I use definitive terms to help you understand how to relate to me and how really, how not to relate to me, because it isn't about how you do relate to me, it's how I don't want you to relate to me, right? For example, some – an interesting phenomenon, I should say, interesting dynamic that I've noticed recently is that it doesn't bother me, when people who are not cis het men or I should say not cis men, she/her me. When people refer to me as female, and they're not cis men, it doesn't really bother me. But within the context of cis men, do not she/her me. I do not want to be a female to you. Not that pronouns equal gender, but I don't want you to perceive me as female. Because for people who I think don't have a real understanding of pronouns, they do think that pronouns equal gender. Um, so when a cis man is using she/her pronouns for me, it's because he's perceiving me as female. And I don't like that. And I don't want to be female in your male gaze, brain world situation. But everything else, I tell people I'm – I prefer – I like they/them, because I think it's a very good representative of how I relate to gender. But I'm fine with any pronouns, aside from "it". I know some people have been reclaiming that. Personally, I'm like, listen you, great, if that feels good to you, you do that. For me, I don't like how it feels. I don't think it's something that I particularly want to reclaim for myself. Obviously, I use whatever pronouns people want me to use for them. But for myself, I say I'm fine with any pronouns except for "it", because I feel so gender fluid, and really coming into this, really breaking out of the binary concept of gender has been really freeing and healing. And that's why I say I can't explain my gender to you. It's an emotion. It's, it's a feeling. I know who I am. I know exactly who I am. But I don't necessarily have the words to explain that to you. It's more of how I feel internally in my soul. How do I explain my soul to you? If I said to you, please explain. Please write down you know, please write a paragraph and explain your soul to me in a way that I can really fully understand, that's not possible. But I say non binary because I am not binary. I – my gender is not within the binary, it's not male, it's not female. And I identity with the term transgender, which actually took me a minute to come around to, at first I was like, no, I'm not trans. I'm just non binary. But I am transgender because I don't identify with the gender I was assigned at birth. And I know that some people who are non binary don't associate with the term, don't identify with the term trans. But I personally do because I'm not, I'm not female. I'm not male, but I'm also not female. And I think that I am never going to police somebody else's gender identity, but I think that a lot of people who identify with non binary don't always understand the difference between non binary and gender non conforming. Because a cis person can be gender non conforming, because I think gender non conforming is more around the gender roles and norms and enforcing those stereotypes and roles. Whereas non binary is more about your, what your gender is. Does that make sense? So I think that once I understood the difference between that and I started really becoming comfortable understanding my identity as a non binary person, as somebody who did not confine myself to the gender binary, I really felt connected to that part of myself. And even now, when people say, what are your pronouns, and I say they/them, I'm like, If only I could have a pronoun to help you understand what my gender really is, because it's not, it's not something that I can explain. But they/them and non binary is the closest that I'm going to get. So that's what I'm going to use. Almost like how I talked about before how about God doesn't have human attributes, but we use human terms to explain them so that we can, our brains can understand it.


Levi  1:21:29

Is there like a moment or something that you can do that makes you feel like gender affirmed or makes you feel like...


Max  1:21:37

I feel very dysphoric when I'm in spaces where I have to present like an Orthodox Jewish woman, wearing a wig covering my hair in some way, wearing a skirt, dress. It's funny, because when I wear sk – I've recently come around to wearing skirts or dresses outside of that environment, and it feels fine. When I'm with other people who are very accepting, I find that I feel the most affirmed when I'm with people who just don't care, like people who are accepting of me and my non binary and trans identity, but also it doesn't really matter because they love me regardless, and they'll respect whatever, they'll they'll go along with it, and they understand it. And if they don't, they're like, I love you. And I will support you regardless, I don't – what your gender is, has nothing to do with how I feel about you. My relationship with gender dysphoria has also been evolving and changing constantly, you know? Because for a while, I think that I think that society's idea of a non binary person is a skinny white boy, or a skinny white, androgynous what people refer to as androgynous person without much it – just like a, you know, no shape. And I think that's part of what my the one of the ways that my eating disorder served me is that I was in a much smaller body. And I looked like what society viewed as a non binary person, which is really funny, because what is non binary, it means you are not male or female, and it has nothing to do with your body. And whether people choose to transition or not, has no impact on what their gender is. That's your gender regardless. And for me, I was always like, Oh, I'm non binary, but I'm never going to transition, I'm never going to change anything. And then for a while, I was like, you know what, I'm going to have top surgery but I'm not going to do hormones and now I'm like, you know what? I don't know what I want. I don't know cuz when I'm with people who I feel really comfortable around I've been learning to embrace femininity more because for a while I leaned much more masculine because I find that people who are non binary will tend to lean opposite the gender they were assigned at birth. So if someone's non binary and they were assigned male at birth they'll tend to lean a little bit more feminine and people who were assigned female at birth and are non binary will tend to lean more masculine – which feminine and masculine is a whole different rabbit hole, start talking about how fake that is, but society's perception of feminine and masculine. And so that's what I did for a while I definitely presented more androgynous more masc, what they call Transmasc and –  but recently I've been hanging out with people who I feel really comfortable in my femininity around. I will wear a dress and not feel triggered. I will not wear a binder and feel okay. Because in my natural healthy body, I am a curvy person. I – And I think that that's one of the things that triggers me so much when men perceive me as female. I'm like, don't don't, I don't have any pronouns do not refer to me, do not perceive me. I am not here. I don't want to, you know, just I think that comes back to the trauma of being assaulted and abused by men and also the trauma of growing up in a society in a system where men are these all powerful, supposedly, the superior gender, and they say, "oh, it's not like that, women are great, too." It's like, shut the fuck up, okay. And we're like, we basically have to submit to them and their authority. And just that resentment, and also comes back to the expectation of providing sex and marriage with the whole niddah thing, you know, because everything's really connected. I think that gender, sexuality, everything for me, it's all wrapped up in this storyline of what my life is, and continues to be. Yeah.


Levi  1:26:07 

How do you feel like gender is changing? 


Max  1:26:14  

I – 


Levi  1:26:14

In terms of your life and your generation of people?


Max  1:26:21 

It's interesting, because a lot of my friends who I grew up with in my community, the Orthodox Jewish community, are not progressive, they do not understand gender, they are transphobic, homophobic, blah, blah, blah – not all of them, many of them. And it's hard for me because I understand it. I grew up in that community too. So I understand where they're coming from. I understand what it's like to be indoctrinated like that. So it's hard for me, because I don't feel so much anger towards them as I feel pain. Because I know it's out of pure ignorance and indoctrination, not out of hate. And intentional – it's not malicious, but at the end of the day, it still impacts me in a negative way. But outside of that, I love how fluid everything, excuse me, how fluid everything is becoming, especially when I meet people who are younger than me, people in their teens, early 20s. And they're just so openly and unapologetically themselves. And it doesn't matter if – you don't need to understand it, like, I'm just going to exist, I'm going to take up this space. I'm going to talk about it. I'm going to just – I feel like – I'm – I'm millennial, right? So I feel like millennials are kind of like the transition generation, transitioning away from – because first you have the boomers, and then you have what is the Gen Gen X. So the boomers are like, you know, we talk about boomers, and then you have Gen X, which is kind of like Boomer adjacent, like our parents. And then I think the millennials, some people are more towards the Gen X, and some people are more towards the Gen Z. We're kind of this transitional generation in which we kind of laid the groundwork to allow Gen Z and Gen Alpha to start finding their voices and being unapologetically themselves and experiencing gender and sexuality in a very fluid non judgmental way. Because I think even though for example, I still have this internalized homophobia, transphobia, and shame, and gaslight the fuck out of myself, right? And invalidate myself, outwardly, I'm still expressive of that. So I think that speaks, I think that's very indicative of how the generation operates, and that we have all this shit that we – all this baggage. But we're still putting in the work to try and open up the pathway so that following generations don't have to start from like, down here, they can start kind of like from a little bit up here. And I see it, I see it, I see it in kids and I love it. It's amazing. It's so healing to see kids and to see – I went to pride in New York City and the parents of trans kids marching had me fucking crying my eyes out... and most of these parents are millennials, I'm not gonna say all because I don't you know, there's no way for me to know but most of them were my generation and that like, hit me so so hard and it made me really hopeful for the future. Yeah.


Levi  1:29:40



Levi  1:29:58  

I know you said that you have a hard time, like verbally expressing what your gender is. But like if you could use the most like creative of words, or like a feeling or a place to describe like what your gender or being non binary or trans like feels like looks like, tastes like?


Max  1:30:17  

You know what's funny. I tell people that my gender is the ocean. My gender is how I feel when I'm in the ocean. I feel like I can breathe. I feel like I'm floating. But I'm also grounded at the same time and connected to the physical realm. But at the same time, like you know, when you jump in the water and you take that like first deep breath, and it fills you up and you're like [BREATHES]. Like that. Like it's natural, untouched by obviously, the ocean is like untouched by like other people's like ideas and norms and expectations. It's almost like this precious little, like, thing that is just mine, belongs to me. And I get to experience it without other people telling me how to experience it or what to experience or what to think about it or what to do with it. Only mine and no one else even gets to really perceive it and have that impact on it. Because it's – I could choose to share parts of it with you. But really, it's truly mine which I don't think many things in this world ever get to be truly yours because even if it belongs to you, it's still impacted by other people, it still interacts with other people. But this is something that is my little ocean like inside of me where it's endless, it doesn't have – you can't go find it. But at the same time you – it's still tangible and it's still there and it's still real and it still feels like home but it's also so limitless and so – and lacks like physical boundaries, you can't confine it. I think that's how I would explain my gender


Levi  1:32:35

What would you say to yourself as a child if you could say something, now?


Max  1:32:41

I would probably tell myself that I'm not crazy, that – I would tell myself that there's nothing wrong with me, that I am not the problem and to just keep being myself, not let people try and like squish me squash, suppress me, to just stick it out basically, get through childhood – because I can't, you know, I can't control my surroundings, my parents, my school but just to stick it out and then I'll be okay. And I'll find people. I will find my people that love me as I am.


Levi  1:33:28 

What does it feel like to be in the presence of people who you feel accepted by?


Max  1:33:34  

It feels whole. I think until very recently I never had people like that who had I truly felt like I could inhabit my whole self uncensored unapologetically and it just feels so healing and accepting. And it's kind of like how I say I say I don't have an eating disorder in the ocean because I'm you know, a mermaid or whatever. But like I just say I don't have an eating disorder in the ocean because for that moment, it just all goes out the window. So it's kind of the same concept where like when I'm with people who I love and who love me and I don't have to censor myself and I can however I show up... not only is it okay, but it's desired, it's loved. It's accepted, I'm wanted. All of – everything – all the negative like mental health issues, judgments, dysmorphia, dysphoria is sometimes a yes sometimes a no but often even dysphoria will just go out the window. And it's not always for long amounts of time. Because even when I'm in the presence of those people, they're often other outside factors, you know, other people that I'm having to talk to, people on my phone, things I'm thinking about, anxiety, you know, because anxiety lives in the past and the future, it doesn't live in the present. So when I'm able to be present, when I'm able to just be here, to just be here with people who I feel loved and accepted by and not be anywhere else, then I feel whole. And I feel safe. And I feel just okay. I have a tattoo on my sternum, that says the lehiyot, which is Hebrew, and it means just to be, just to exist, to be as you are. And I think that really encompasses that feeling for me, of both being in the presence of people I feel accepted by and also my gender identity, just to exist, to be however I am, in that moment.


Levi  1:35:41  

What do you like, wish for, I guess, trans people in the future?


Max  1:35:52

That's a hard question. You're hitting me with the hard ones. What do I wish, I – I know, you know, I have ideas of what I want, but it's hard to envision them ever happening. It feels so unrealistic. Because of all the shit they see going on in the world. I wish that everyone can just be, just this concept of lehiyot, just to be as you are, show up as – in a way that feels good to you. And we will love you. And not only love, but just like encourage and foster that environment that allows for people to do that. And to just be accepting of people and also just aid them in whatever they need in order to accomplish, you know, actualization, or just whatever will, wherever they need, you know, because different people need different things when it comes to gender and transitioning and things like that. So whatever they need to be able to support that, to basically overturn our entire healthcare system and government to be one that is inclusive and affirming of trans people. And everyone really. But I find that specifically within health, the health care system discriminates against all minorities. And I think that I just I wish that we could just get all those dinosaurs out of all those positions of power – all those old white men and women, mostly old white men, get them out there. And I'm excited to have our generation kind of like, take over and revolutionize the way that society just operates and health care and providing gender affirming care as a part of health care, because that's what it is. And it scares me to see things like how in Texas now they're trying to they're saying it's child abuse to allow a child to transition. They're trying to make it illegal. And there are states where they are making it illegal for children – for parents to allow children or help children transition and they can be prosecuted. I don't know what's passed what's not this is just things that I see you know on the news. I don't know how much of it is manipulated and sensationalized, but that's what I see. That that scares, it me makes me feel like we're going backwards in addition to the whole Roe thing and the's, it scares me but at the same time, I do have confidence in our generation. That even though right now it sucks, I think that moving forward there – it will get better. When? I don't know. Is this okay, what's happening right now? Absolutely fucking not. But eventually I do have confidence that once we get all of those ancient motherfuckers out of government, there will be a point at which we will be able to turn things around. And just waiting for all Gen Z to be able to vote and then it's gonna be like game over.


Levi  1:39:33

What do you wish to see for yourself?


Max  1:39:40 

What I wish or what's realistic because I wish that I could inhabit my whole self and still be accepted and loved by the community that I grew up in, that I – although I have trauma with, I do find a measure of comfort and home and safety with, and family. That's what I wish. Realistically, it's never gonna happen. Never, never never. Like even seeing the way that my parents reacted when I got a nose ring. I'm like, if that's how you're reacting to a nose ring. Which, by the way, Rivka, who's Rebecca in the Bible had a nose ring, but that's a different story. And she was like, considered like the ma – one of the matriarchs of Judaism. That's a different story. But the way that they reacted to that, and I'm like, how can I come out to you, or my dad telling me that gay people caused Sodom and Gomorrah, like it was done because of gay people. And I remember hearing somebody say that like, I know this can be triggering, but like that the Holocaust came about because of people who started movements of Judaism outside of orthodoxy. And hearing shit like that, and then I'm like, how am I supposed to be myself with you? You tell me that you love me regardless. But how is that unconditional love? How am I supposed to be myself with you, and it brings me a lot of pain to know that when I do come out, because I'm not planning on staying this way forever, when I do come out, I'm gonna lose that. So I wish that I – what I see for myself is just finding community that I can truly rely upon. You know, I would love to go start a commune somewhere. I joke with some of my [UNINTELLIGIBLE] friends about starting a gay commune. We joke but I'm also like, half serious, you know, like, I would totally do that. I would love to have like a little polycule to raise my kids in because I think that when they say you need a village, you literally need a village. And I think that the way that things are structured today is that we don't have that anymore. And in the Jewish community, I do have that. But I don't want that I don't want that community, I need a different community that is loving and accepting and open. So what I wish for myself is just to find family, find chosen family, and community to raise my kids in, to raise my kids with, and also foster that environment for other people. Whether or not they have kid,  just to have family – because a lot of people in our generation who have parents and families who are not accepting don't have family. And I think that this concept of friends being your chosen family is something that we really need to hold on to.


Levi  1:42:22

Is there a moment you can remember where you felt like, kind of like, I know, we talked about the negative things going on in the world, and like is there a moment where you felt like hope in like transness or the ability for it to, for a person to persevere? That's a hard question.


Max  1:42:40

That is a hard question. Probably when I – I also go dancing – probably when I go dancing in very queer and trans spaces, and I'm just surrounded by so many trans people. And I just feel so much love and acceptance, and everyone just existing and being themselves and I just – like I always feel alive on the dance floor. 


I have a good friend who always says that they when they're on the dance floor, they say, the morning prayer, which goes modeh ani lefanekha, I am grateful before you. And it's basically thanking God for allowing us to inhabit ourselves every morning, wake up every morning, and go about our day and to be here. I love that. I think about that all the time when I'm dancing. I feel so connected to God on the dance floor, and I'm surrounded by trans people and that makes me so hopeful that the world will that yeah, things are hard right now, but they will get better. It always gets worse before it gets better, right? And I hate when people say that everything happens for a reason. Because I'm like, that's not your place to say you can say that for yourself. You don't get to say that for other people. What I like to say is that we don't know. We don't know if everything happens for a reason. But we can look back on things and make meaning of them. Meaning like after the fact we can look back and connect the dots and make meaning of it for ourselves so that we can help ourselves benefit and grow from it whether they were positive or negative. And that's what I hope that we can do in the future. I think that gives me hope as well. Because yeah, the world is a scary place right now and we talked about it we talked about how you know the negative things but I think there is positivity. There is positive change happening. It may not be happening as fast as we would like, or [UNINTELLIGIBLE] high of a level that we need, but it's there, like the seeds are there. The seeds are planted it's, it's gonna happen.


Levi  1:44:53

I think that's – I think we covered a lot. 


Max  1:44:56

Yeah. Yeah. [LAUGHS]


Levi  1:44:59 

[LAUGHS] How are you feeling? 


Max  1:45:00

I feel good. Yeah, I don't remember the last time I sat down and just like, because like I said, like you have like moments where you interact and like, you could share little bits of it. But how often do you sit down with someone for three hours and just word vomit on them? So it's cathartic. Feels very vulnerable. But also cathartic.


Levi  1:45:27

That's so true. Oh my god. Okay, I'm gonna stop this for now. So this doesn't die on me.

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