Pardes 360: The Danish Girl

Posted by Nechama Goldman Barash on September 6, 2016
Topics: Pardes 360, Sexuality

In the last few years, I have become increasingly involved as an educator in the challenges encountered by gay and trans Jews who passionately seek Jewish commitment and community. However, having had little direct personal exposure until recently with transgender people, it was with great interest, and some trepidation, that I went to see the Oscar-winning movie, The Danish Girl.

Having been involved in the Jewish gay community but having had little exposure to the trans question, it was with great interest, and some trepidation, that I saw the Oscar-winning movie, The Danish Girl. As the story of the first man to undergo sexual reassignment surgery, it seemed to present an important window into the gender dysphoria experience. And yet, I was apprehensive about being exposed to a sexual and gender narrative so different from my own.

It was very powerful. Beautifully filmed. Credibly acted. It allowed me to be inside the head of a man who wants to be a woman and the growing horror he felt as he acknowledged that reality. It presented the fear and revulsion of those around him. It helped me attempt to understand the desperation to transition, despite the personal and professional costs. What also struck me was the perceived selfishness in the decision: the complete disregard for his loyal loving wife, whose life was unraveling and who nonetheless chose to stay with him as he became she. Strikingly, the change in his personality after he fully became a woman was jarring. He became silly where he had been serious, shallow where he had been deep, selfish where he had been selfless.

The utter disdain of the professional community was brutal viewing. The salvation finally offered by the sympathetic and empathetic professional was a glimmer of light. The first surgery to remove the male sexual organ despite the risks and tremendous suffering in its aftermath seemed an important step towards reconciliation of self. The second, fatal, surgery with even greater risks and greater suffering left the viewer with difficult questions as to what cost one should be allowed to pay for personal redemption.


Pardes360 is a series of responses to world current events by Pardes faculty in 360 words (or sometimes a few more). The views expressed in the articles are those of the author and do not reflect an institutional stance. To read other Pardes360 articles, click here.

About Nechama Goldman Barash

Nechama teaches Rabbinic Literature, Women and Judaism, Medical Ethics, Prophets and Bible at Pardes. She made aliyah from Philadelphia over 20 years ago after graduating from Stern College. She studied for three years in Matan’s Advanced Talmud Institute and finished a master’s degree in Talmud at Bar-Ilan University, with a thesis on the Beautiful Captive Woman in the Eyes of Chazal. She teaches at a variety of Israeli institutions and is also a graduate of Nishmat’s Yoetzet Halacha program. Click here to read more.

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