The HyperTexts

Adi Wolfson Interview
with Michael R. Burch

Adi Wolfson is an eco-poetry pioneer. In addition to being a poet, he is also an environmental activist, an expert on sustainability, and a professor of chemical engineering. Adi has published six poetry books and has won several awards, including Israel's prestigious Levi Eshkol Prize for Literature, in 2017. He also writes a regular column on environmental issues at YNET and in 2014 was awarded a "Green Globe" by Life and Environment, an umbrella organization that works with more than a hundred Israeli "green" groups.

But recently Adi has written an entirely different kind of book, a compelling collection of poems called I Am Your Father. THT editor Michael R. Burch helped translate the Hebrew poems into English. Adi explains the book's genesis as follows: "Recently, I have accompanied my daughter on her long and complex journey to find herself. She eventually figured out that she wants to be a boy, and we began the new, challenging path of transgenderism. During this time, I wrote poems as a way of thinking, processing, and speaking with myself."

The book is now being published by Finishing Line Press and can be ordered by clicking the hyperlinked book title: I Am Your Father.

The purpose of this interview is to explore and better understand what it's like for a father who loves his daughter to learn that she intends to be his son. Here is one of the poems from Adi's latest book:


Hebrew poem by Adi Wolfson
English translation by Michael R. Burch

I asked her if she loves women.
Maybe, she replied,
and I implored her to love and love
herself too.

She told me that everyone names her
male. I said what is good for them
is also good for me, as long as it is
good for you too.

She said something about change.
She did not expand and I did
not investigate, but we both knew
I will always be his father.

MRB: Adi, please forgive me if I'm wrong, but as a father when you told me what you, your daughter and your family were experiencing, my first thought was that it must be like landing on the moon. Everything would suddenly be incredibly different. One might easily lose his bearings. Was it like that, or how would you describe your initial reaction?

AW: Indeed it is something that changes your entire life and a daily challenging journey, with a lot of trial and error. It forces you to rethink many things, first and foremost about yourself as a person and as a parent, then about the community and the society you live in, but also about love and happiness as well as fears and worries, and about the meaning of family. But my first reaction when my daughter came to me and said, "I like that my friends speak to me as a boy," was to hug her and to say that it is fine with me also. I immediately realized that she is telling me that she wants to be he, that he is transgender, although there were no signs before, but I also immediately knew, in a primeval parent mind, that no matter what, he is my child and I love him, no more and no less. You know, Hebrew is sexmaniac, every noun, verb and adjective has gender; you cannot say, like in English, I love you both for girl and boy and stay neutral, you have to decide, even to make a commitment. And when she said that everyone names her male, I said that it is good for me if it is good for him, and in one word and one moment I actually told him that I accept him as a boy.

MRB: The book seems to have been written during a storm. Have you paused to think about the exposure?

AW: Yes, the book was written in the eye of the storm, telling the revelations and the misgivings. At the time of writing, I did not think, even for a moment, to publish the poems, although I thought and felt that they were correct, strong and even necessary. I was busy with daily things, and I still am. The decision to publish the poems was not easy and came after much thought. I knew that the exposure would be great, and not just mine. The costs were also clear to me, from people's questions and looks to unpleasant reactions. But it was my son, in his wisdom, who said, "Dad, you have to publish these poems, for another child, for other parents." So after the whole family approved and supported, we set off.

MRB: I can only imagine the process of trial and error, since parent-child relationships can be so difficult under the best of circumstances.

AW: It is trial and error, as we do not really know a lot or understand much about gender change. We usually have some information from things that we read or heard, and it is usually more technical, like something about taking hormones or doing surgeries, but the change starts inside, and you have to clarify many details for yourself. It's not just about body, it is also about soul. Gender is composed of many different identities, beyond binary, and you have to identify who you are and who you want to be. The process is not new just to your child and to you. The language, the outfit, and the name change many times. It is also very new to the family and society. Thus, any step you take requires you to learn and teach and find the exact thing that your boy needs. 

MRB: I agree with your son. Your poems can help other children, other parents, other families. Hopefully the English translations will help the book reach a much wider audience, since English is either a first or second language to billions of people.

AW: Yes, this was the main reason that I turned to you to translate the poems. As a poet, you want your poetry to reach as many readers as possible. Yet here I added another motivation, even more important than the poet I am, which is the father I am. I feel that the poems allowed me to find a unique route to people's hearts, and to open the subject more easily. After all, we use poetry when we have no words ourselves, in very happy or very sad occasions. So I hope that it will reach others, but also help others.

MRB: I suspect your book will help others. What is your advice to a parent whose child comes out as transgender?

AW: I will tell him or her: hug you child, say that you love him, that he is your child no matter what he chooses to be. Then, think about it, ask questions, learn, speak with yourself and with him. You can, you even should, ask you child questions, in order to more precisely understand him. Try to sense him, to feel his body and soul, but also to send him a message that you are both part of the process and should make changes, and that he has to sense and feel you also.

MRB: That seems like very good advice to me. What are you afraid of, if anything?
AW: As much as our society is more open to different people today, transgenders are still a minority, even in the LGTB community, and many times they still suffer from discrimination and exclusion. There are too many people who do not accept my son in the name of religious faith or other beliefs. Transgenders have problems finding jobs, renting houses and many other daily things. So I have to remind myself, and everyone else, that even if we accept, hug and support our child, he will still have to meet and compete with many other people, who are not always supportive and may be violent. I do not want him, or me, to live according to this, but I can not put it aside as if it does not exists.

MRB: Adi, I'm sorry to hear that. I have long thought the most dangerous words ever uttered were "This saith the LORD ..." because so many human beings stop thinking.

AW: Yes, I agree with you. So many religious people put all their trust in god till they sometimes cancel themselves. But it also makes them stop thinking, to put their beliefs not only before them but also before other people. I have no problem with faith, but faith that cancels your thoughts or cancel the thoughts of others is unclear and unacceptable for me. 

MRB: Here in the United States religion is a big part of the problem. So-called "religious liberty" is being used to discriminate against homosexuals and transgenders. The president is leading the charge. Are things better, worse or about the same in Israel?
AW: Unfortunately, the situation here in Israel is similar. Many, but not all, religious people are against the LGTB community, and some of them also protest at pride parades and constantly work to ensure that LGTBs will not receive any recognition or rights. There are also some religious political leaders who speak against the community. Just recently, our new minster of education, rabbi Rafi Peretz, said in an interview that he supports conversion treatments and that as an educator he was even active in such treatments. Although he expressed regret, after massive attacks against his words, that does not really change his attitude. Also our prime minster, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, who always says that he is proud to support the LGTB community, does not promote basic rights, from laws against conversion treatments, to authorization for homosexual couples to adopt children.

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