There are few people I was more excited to interview than Abby Stein. I first became acquainted with Abby when she was featured in the NY Post–which briefly chronicled her transition as a woman. Stein was assigned male at birth, and raised in an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Hasidic family in New York City. At 20, Abby Stein came out as a woman–she was tired of hiding and not living the life she was meant to lead. Unfortunately, when she opened up to her community, the reaction was largely negative.
Four years later, Stein bravely chronicles her struggles and triumphs on her blog and Twitter, largely focusing on the aftermath of her transition, leaving the Hasidic community she was raised in, reinventing her identity, and being a parent to her son. Currently, she’s a student at Columbia University, where she is pursuing genders studies in hopes of doing policy work relating to LGBT issues.
Below, I asked a few questions to get to know Abby:
1. Who are you, in one sentence?
I am a student, writer, parent, and woman of Trans experience.
2. What TV show have you binge watched?
The first one (and the first TV show I watched in full) was “How I Met Your Mother.” I have also done the same with “Friends” and “Gilmore Girls.” Perhaps in some way I felt the need to catch up [Stein did not watch any TV during her upbringing]. I have also binge watched several sci-fi shows, such as “Heroes and Haven.”
3. Biggest pet peeve:
Imperfect eyeliner, no doubt. Besides that, I couldn’t think of anything really major.
4. What’s your least favorite children’s movie?
I wish I could answer this question. However, the first movie I watched was at age 19, so I never got to watch children’s movies. It is a gap in my pop-culture knowledge that I highly doubt I will ever fill.
5. Favorite Jewish food:
That is a tough question. I think I will go with stuffed cabbage. As a kid, we used to have them at least twice a year, on Purim and on the final days of Sukkot–I could never get enough. Then, during the year, I would always ask my mother whenever she made meat balls, because I would complain about why she wasn’t adding the cabbage.
Other favorite foods are challah, chicken soup, my grandmother’s Jerusalemi noodle kugel, and matzah meal pancakes–although we only got to eat these one day in the year, the eight day of Passover.
6. What was the greatest reaction you received when telling someone about your transition? The worst?
So far, the greatest has been when I came out to the first of my school friends. I was shaking and crying, and her response was simply, “So when are we going shopping?”
The worst was, no doubt, coming out to my father. Besides the fact that he had no idea what I was talking about, he said, “You should know that means I might not to be able to talk to you ever again.” When I told him about the high suicide rate in the Trans community, and explained to him that this is not a casual choice, and that it is impossible for me to continue pretending like I am a guy, he said, “I am not going to respond to that.”
It was no doubt one of the hardest moments in my life.
7. What’s one thing you want to learn this year?
I would love to learn how to play violin. It is my favorite musical instrument. I know it is one of the hardest to learn, but I up for the challenge (if I get the money and time).
8. What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
Besides checking my phone, it is definitely drinking coffee. If I don’t drink coffee within the first hour of waking up, I will have a headache the whole day. Other daily morning activities include journal writing, reading the front page of the New York Times, and quite a bit of time in front of a mirror.
9. What’s the last thing you do at night?
Usually, I read a non-fiction story. The latest books I read in bed were “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union” by Michael Chabon, “The Worlds of Shalom Aleichem” by Jeremy Dauber, “Hidden Cities” by Moses Gates, and “The Spiral Staircase” by Keren Armstrong. Lately I have also been reading “daytime” books in bed, including two books by Jennifer Boylan and Joy Ladin.
10. What personal object could you not live without? (Besides your phone!)
I am not proud of it, but right now, it is my makeup kit. I am still too self-conscious about my looks (blaming society for that one). I have not left my house without makeup in over three months.
Other things are books: If I ever travel without a book I feel empty, although half of the time I wouldn’t even open it. Other than that, I like to think that I am low maintenance.