This week’s Torah portion is Shemini. Shemini is the Hebrew word for “eighth,” but the Talmud (written about 300 c.e. through 500 c.e.) discusses a variety of subjects concerning the number eight. The topic in this column is unrelated to the Torah portion, but it is timely.
Liz Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania swimmer, started out as a male. For three years, she competed as a male, swimming with the men’s team. At the end of the third year, she underwent testosterone suppression treatment, and the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association, the body governs collegiate sports) requires testosterone suppression treatment for a whole year in case a male athlete transitions to a woman athlete.
Thomas swam in the 500-yard freestyle in the NCAA indoor swimming championships and won. Ronald DeSantis, the governor of Florida, proclaimed the winner of the race to be a Florida resident, from the University of Virginia. Governor DeSantis’ proclamation said, transgender athletes (male to female) “robb[ed] women and girls of achievements, awards, and scholarships.” The statement of Governor DeSantis encapsulates the debate we are having about transgender individuals.
You may remember the bathroom debate in North Carolina. In Texas recently, the Attorney General issued a legal opinion defining certain gender-affirming health care for transgender kids as child abuse. (One of the state’s courts blocked the legal opinion; the Attorney General has appealed.)
It may surprise you that the Talmud noted eight varieties of sex. Many of us will continue to be male and female, the sex that we were born with. In addition, the Talmud lists another six varieties of sex:
Androgynos, having both male and female sex characteristics.
Tumtum, lacking sexual characteristics.
Aylonit Hamah, identified female at birth but later naturally developing male sexual characteristics.
Aylonit Adam, identified female at birth but later developing male sexual characteristics through human intervention.
Saris Hamah, identified male at birth but later naturally developing female sexual characteristics.
Saris Adam, identified male at birth but later developing female sexual characteristics through human intervention.
Our ancestors saw the world in shades of grey, and they were more progressive than we are now.