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  • Writer's pictureAriel Tovlev

The Only One

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Sometimes people ask me how things are going for me, with regard to me being a trans rabbinical student. And I really appreciate the question, firstly because it's an important question and it makes me feel visible and valued, but secondly because people tend to be surprised with the way that I respond.

Of course I experience transphobia. I experience overt and covert transphobia in virtually every space I'm in. I have experienced transphobia that people are shocked to hear about, because even to their uneducated ears it is so obviously offensive. But those examples are not what I respond with. They are relatively uncommon, and though they hit me to my core, they are not the worst. When they happen I am able to understand and validate my emotional response, and if I were to tell others about the incident, they would also be able to understand and validate my emotional response. That isn't so bad.

The worst part about being a transgender rabbinical student is, for me, the fact that I'm the only one.

It is so lonely to be the only one. It isn't that I crave socializing; I crave understanding.

Sometimes microaggressions can pile up. They happen constantly. I don't want to get into what anti-trans microaggressions can look like, and the point of this post is not to educate people on anti-trans microaggressions. But when people constantly make statements that exclude me and people like me, that suggests that I either don't exist or I am less valid than those mentioned. And this can happen multiple times in a day, and I can feel very alone by the end of it. And sometimes, the way to make me feel less alone, is to be alone.

The most lonely feeling is when you try and talk to someone about your experience, and they try and tell you that you're wrong. You might say, "Hey, I'm kinda feeling a certain way, because this thing happened. That is actually a microaggression, and it really hurt my feelings." And it is not uncommon for the other person to respond with, "Hmm, I think you're misunderstanding/misinterpreting, I don't see it that way at all. I think it's actually ______, and you shouldn't be upset by it." This is an extremely common response, but it is generally only said by people who do not have many (or any) close friends who are trans and/or nonbinary. Cis people who are around trans/nonbinary people often have generally learned that the trans/nb person understands gender microaggressions more than the cis person. Being around these people can be a relief, because even if they can't personally identify with your experience, they can understand why it was upsetting. The only thing more lonely than being the only one like you, is being the only one who understands people like you.

One thing I really like is when I tell this to people, and they respond with a time when they were the only one of their kind in some situation. I really like this because it is a way that they can understand how I feel and what my experiences may be like, and because it is a way in which I am not alone in my feeling of aloneness. If you were the only lgbq person, or the only Jew, or the only person of color, or the only disabled person, and you were speaking about your experiences, and people tried to argue with you about what you were experiencing, how did that make you feel? Being the only one of your kind, experiencing oppression/discrimination/phobia for said identity, and having your peers "disagree" with your assessment of your experiences feels the same, regardless of the specifics of the experience.

It is hard to deal with transphobia, cissexism, microaggressions, erasure, etc. But having dealt with those problems for 7 years now, and only recently joining a community where I'm the only trans person, I can tell you my take: the transphobia is hard, but the hardest part is the slow, soul-grating ache of isolation.

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