The Right to Live as a Transgender Woman

The May Peleg case isn't just a dispute between a secular and religious way of life or a dispute between a person’s wishes and those of his or her family.

May Peleg, a transgender woman from Jerusalem who committed suicide im mid-November 2015.
Ofrit Asaf

About three months after the murder of Shira Banki at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, a death is once again shaking up the LGBT community. One could regard May Peleg’s suicide as something that could happen to anyone. People of all genders suffer from depression and other mental illnesses, experience divorce and tough custody battles and find themselves in legal and financial troubles as a result. Many find themselves trampled under the bulldozer of the pressures created by such burdens. But you don’t have to be familiar with all the details of Peleg’s case to understand that there is an unbreakable connection between her gender identity and her death.

You don’t have to be familiar with the statistics to know that parental alienation due to gender identity is a recipe for mental instability and financial insecurity. You don’t have to be a mental health expert to know that pressure and discrimination are important risk factors, and it’s not hard to understand that being a transgender person can be one of the factors influencing the decisions of various authorities when it comes to child visitation rights. Without detracting from the complex combination of circumstances, which were spelled out in the article by Hilo Glazer in Friday’s Haaretz supplement in Hebrew, it’s hard to separate any factor in Peleg’s story from the question of her gender identity.

We can imagine what would have happened if things had been different: Not if Peleg had not been a transgender woman, but if our society was not busy policing gender roles and if the questioning of gender boundaries was not seen as something threatening, exceptional and for many a source of embarrassment. We can imagine that in such a world May Peleg would have received all the necessary family and environmental support, and would still be alive.

That’s why the story of her death is so upsetting for the gay community. Like the murder of Shira Banki, it reminds us that LGBT-phobia kills.

Therefore, the subject that will be confronting the Supreme Court on Tuesday, when it discusses the appeal against the the Jerusalem District Court’s decision to honor May Peleg’s wishes and allow the cremation of her body, is not only, and not mainly, a dispute between a secular and religious way of life or a dispute between a person’s wishes and those of his or her family. The dispute between Peleg’s biological family and her friends, including those she considered her adoptive family, is a dispute between whether her decision to live as a transgender woman should be ignored or respected.

Peleg’s biological mother, whose name was withheld during the legal proceedings at her request, wants to return Peleg to the closet and bury her as a man. Peleg’s friends are requesting that her wish be fulfilled and are fighting for continued recognition of her as she chose to be, a transgender woman and a public figure who served as the chair of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance – the gay community center in the capital.

The denial of Peleg’s wishes by her biological mother and the dragging of the issue to the Supreme Court – even if the decision of the district court is unlikely to be overturned, given its strong legal basis  – are causing unease not only to many of those who loved her and who are responsible for her body, but also to the LGBT community as a whole, which feels that the attempt to erase the option of living without adhering to social dictates regarding sexuality and gender has not ended – even after the death of May Peleg.