Meet Abby Stein, the First From New York’s Hasidic Community to Come Out as Trans
Stein had to leave her community to become herself and wants to make sure “no other child has to go through what I go through.”
As the first person from the Hasidic community to come out as transgender, Abby Stein is a pioneer. Stein recounted her experiences in the book “Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman.”
“Part of my identity was religion,” Stein told Inside Edition Digital in 2019. “Part of me was like, if the same people who are telling me about who I am gender-wise could be so wrong about that, they are also the same people — whether it's my parents or teachers — they were telling me all these things about God and religion and Judaism, what makes me think they are right about that?”
Stein, who grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, says her family only spoke Yiddish and was sheltered.
“We didn't have access to anything of the outside world, TV and radio is purely forbidden,” Stein said. "We had Yiddish community newspapers and magazines and all of them are without pictures of women.”
Stein said that the Hasidic community is the most gender-segregated society in North America.
“If someone could show me a community that is more gender-segregated than the Hasidic community in North America, I will buy you a drink,” she joked.
Stein said growing up, many of the men in her family sat in different rooms than the women and “first cousins are not allowed to play with each other at times.” Stein said that those gender dynamics and segregation made life hard for her.
“I knew I was a girl since I remember myself. However, there was no way to explore that in any way or form,” she said.
Her life also had an added layer because of her family tree. Stein explained that she is a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic movement in five different ways. She said his grandkids have been held to some extent as royalty.
“To my dad, I was his first son. I never was, but that was to him, and he really wanted a son because he had five girls,” Stein explained. “I have five older sisters. And having a son is a big deal for all Hasidic men, and I think for a lot of people in general, but specifically for someone who was going to be a rabbi. You have the synagogue, and usually your son is the one who is going to replace you. And he would tell me my entire life, ‘I was waiting for a son,’ and so on.”
Stein said that at a young age, she learned she could not talk about who she was.
“I got a message from a really young age that it's not something I can even talk about and it's not a normal thing to talk about. I was convinced that I'm the only person in the world that feels like I am, which is something that no one should ever experience. And interestingly enough, my parents did pick up on it,” Stein said.
She said, “for a while my dad was convinced that I was gay, which is not necessarily wrong, but it wasn't a thing that it was about, but he didn't know about trans people.”
Stein said her father “was aware that gay people exist and he would always tell me, ‘I think you're hiding something, you're hiding something big.’”
At one point, Stein said she was set up by a matchmaker to date her first cousin. They went out just once and were engaged, then didn’t see each other for a year.
“I wanted to get married because it also felt like it's going to give me a bit more freedom. There was a small part of me that was hoping that maybe everything that I'm feeling is not that I am a woman, maybe I just want to be with a woman. Turned out that's not what I was,” Stein said. “And then we got married and the night of the wedding you were supposed to do it, so to speak, and that's it.”
Stein said that the sea change occurred when she learned she was going to become a parent and went online, which also was limited due to the religion not finding the Internet favorable. Stein said she went online for the first time to find help by borrowing a friend’s tablet and going into a strip mall to use a unisex bathroom.
“Literally the first thing that I Googled in Hebrew was whether a boy could turn into a girl. And from there I found a Wikipedia page in Hebrew, that’s talking about trans people, that redirected me then to online forums in Hebrew from the trans community and that is how I started learning about it," she explains.
“A journey I think that took about two years. From deciding to leave until actually leaving, was pretty much done,” she said. “The second I got divorced, I was not part of the community anymore. All of my friends from my childhood stopped talking to me when I left the community.”
She says she learned English on her own through YouTube videos and got her high school diploma, and enrolled in college in 2014 at Columbia University when she lived on her own for the first time. She publicly came out in 2015 on social media.
“It wasn't a big deal; I'm just going to share on Facebook, and change my name, and posted a picture where I'm wearing makeup, and said, ‘Call me Abby,’ and whatever, I did the cheesy thing. And I was like, ‘Okay, great! Now, I'm just going to move on with my life, continue with my education.’ I posted that around eleven, at night. I wake up in the morning, and that post, alone, had over 20,000 views, overnight,” she said.
Stein wrote “Becoming Eve” as a way to not just tell her story but the story that others can relate to.
“Because, my life is good, I'm happy where I am in life. I have community, I have friends, I have a chosen family, and I even have biological family, both cousins, and some more extended family, that I'm really close with,” she said. “And, if you can't accept me, I feel like it's your bad. And I wish, that one day, they will come around, and I think they will, but, for now, life continues, and it's very good.”
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