Yuval Topper: Full Interview
Interviewed by Ben Taylor
27th July 2019
BT: This is Ben Taylor recording for West Yorkshire Queer Stories. It’s the… 27th of July 2019… We’re at Happy Valley Pride, and… ask you to introduce yourself?
YT: So I’m Yuval… I use [pause] he/him pronouns, although I’m actually… non-binary so I don’t know why I insist on that [laughs]. But yeah, I’m most comfortable with he/him. I’m 31, I live in Hebden Bridge, and I’m originally from Israel. Is that enough of a…? [Laughs]
BT: Yeah, yeah, that’s fine. How long have you lived in Hebden Bridge for?
YT: Two and a half years.
BT: How’re you liking it?
YT: I love it.
BT: What – where were you living before?
YT: Israel [laughs]
BT: Oh, so you came straight from there then?
BT: What made you move to Hebden Bridge?
YT: Well [pause] So… I’m married to a guy, and at the time we had two kids – now we have three. And I knew we were probably also planning a third pregnancy – I was the one who was pregnant. So we needed somewhere quite queer and accepting and open-minded. And actually most people we know that have left Israel and moved abroad had moved to big cities, and we thought on the one hand that would be the easiest choice because there’s kind of big immigrant communities, Israeli communities, if, if we were interested in them which we weren’t really at the time and we’re totally not now. And of course queer communities, but then at the same time we were also dreaming of somewhere with a bit more countryside and rural and – yeah. But were afraid that that sort of – with smaller places might be more conservative and we’d be less comfortable there and then we said, there must be somewhere. So we googled ‘queer-friendly village UK’ [laughs] and landed in Hebden Bridge! [Laughs]
BT: Fair enough!
YT: [Laughs] So Google!
BT: Fair! How long was it you said you’ve been living here? Was it two and a half – ?
YT: Two and a half years, yeah.
BT: [Pause] I guess the main thing we can talk about is… what your experience of being… pregnant was. You said you’d had children?
YT: Yeah. Yeah. So [pause] So my first two pregnancies were in Israel and then… - well, my second two, but only one resulted in a baby – were here and had them. And it was very very different [laughs]. Much much easier.
BT: What was it like being pregnant in Israel?
Y: In Israel it was a big challenge. I was also the first in Israel, I’m actually the second or so, now there’s been a third and fourth… well, second and third people and third and fourth pregnancies. But I was, yeah. So in Israel it was kind of [pause] Yeah, very challenging. [Pause] And here was, yeah, quite different. I mean, it, it still had its challenges, but… it was more on a personal level, like I didn’t feel anybody looked at me – I mean, people in Hebden look all different ways. I mean, there’s a lot of awareness I think… for queerness and difference in general and it kind of, felt pretty non-issue in Hebden itself. I don’t think I came across any… comments or weird looks or anything at all.
BT: Do you mind if we talk about your family?
BT: How did… like… main family sounds strange…
Y: Yeah, we’re talking about, like, my parents?
BT: Yeah, yeah yeah yeah. Yeah.
YT: Okay! [Laughs]
BT: Yeah, I never know, like, your family, and then [unclear] Yeah. So, yeah, how did your like – do you have any siblings or anything?
YT: I have four younger brothers.
BT: And so how did your… family react to you like, coming out?
YT: So there’s a few coming out – comings-out [laughs]
BT: Yeah, there normally is, yeah.
YT: I came out as… lesbian when I was 14. And that was… quite challenging, I come from a, a Jewish Orthodox family. Like, modern Orthodox, but still… do I need to, kind of talk about all the differences?
BT: If you want to, you don’t have to. Maybe –
YT: We’ve only got half an hour, so I don’t think I’ll go into the differences between different Jewish [laughs] extremes [pause]
So that was, yeah, that was hard, and they weren’t very accepting – I mean, they thought it was a phase, it would pass, and all of, you know, that stuff. And then when I was about 17 I came out as trans. And I started – well, socially transitioned probably when I was about 18, and physically transitioning when I was 20. By the time I started physically transitioned they were pretty much – they were actually, they were on board, but up until then it was really hard, and they were very very not accepting. I mean, if they thought kind of that... being a lesbian was kind of [pause] a teen rebellion that went a little bit too far so being trans was kind of going way way way too far. And they just don’t think it was teen rebellion. And [pause] But then they did kind of go through quite an amazing process from then on and they became quite accepting, or very accepting actually. And then by the time I came out as bi, which was when I’d already started transitioning, and, and brought my partner home – my, my partner, my husband, we’ve been together for 11 years. So it’s kind of non-issue, it was like ‘yeah, whatever’ [laughs].
BT: Just, like, ‘what else can you throw at us?’ [laughs]
YT: Yeah [laughs]
BT: How did you meet your husband?
YT: A gay bar [laughs] in Tel Aviv [laughs]
BT: Fair enough.
YT: A drag night, yeah.
BT: Nice. [Pause] What were your family’s responses, like did you tell them you were planning to have children, or?
YT: Yeah, they knew. Yeah, and by that point they were, yeah, like I said, they were on board and they were supportive and quite excited for the idea of grandkids. My kids are the first grandkids. Yeah.
BT: [Pause] [Mumbling] Your... children, how do they… like [pause] not feel, that’s a strange way of saying it…
YT: In a way it’s almost disappointing, how much of a non-issue it is to them [laughs] Kind of I’d like it to be kind of, something that they see as, important, as part of their identity, as [pause] I think difference is good and I, I, I like to kind of, you know, ‘our family is different’, and they’re like, ‘well you aren’t from us, it’s kind of our family, it’s completely normal’, like, you know, sometimes we… we were just in Brighton Pride and we met quite a few other… trans men who had given birth to their kids, and I was like, ‘look, these kids are awesome, their dads gave birth to them!’, and they were kind of like completely, yeah, completely non-issue, not interested [laughs] nothing! I mean some of them, they, kind of, did have things to talk about but it wasn’t that. My two older ones are – I have a seven & a half year old and a five & a half year old and a two & a half month old.
BT: Oh wow.
YT: Yeah [laughs]
BT: That’s a handful!
YT: Yeah! [Laughs]
BT: Do you normally take kids to, like, Pride events?
YT: Yeah, yeah, they’ve been to a lot of Pride events.
BT: They, do you think that they enjoy it?
YT: Yeah, I think they do, but it’s like, they enjoy any day out, it’s not something that they kind of see as… really kind of, important and political, or anything like that, like, in some ways I hope – I mean, it could be that they’re just young, it could be when they’re older they will, but at the moment it’s – yeah, it’s a fun day out, you know, like, we go to any other, we go to [unclear] parades, and we go to –
BT: Lots of crowds and happy people.
YT: Exactly [laughs]. And, you know, we get ice cream [laughs] Things like that, so [laughs]
BT: Are there any, like, specific Prides that have been, like… that you’ve found are, kind of, more family-orientated? Because I know, like, Hebden Bridge Pride is… really different.
YT: Yeah, we didn’t come today, it was too rainy and we decorated the kids’ room instead! [Laughs] Put the stickers up that were sitting around for months [laughs] and things like that. But rainbow stickers, so [laughs]
BT: So yeah, do you think there’s any kind of, more, kind of, family-orientated Prides that you’ve been to, or like?
YT: Brighton Trans Pride was very family-orientated. It was really nice… yeah, and Hebden Bridge, previous years there’s been things on for kids. [Pause] Apart from that the only Pride we’ve been to in the UK as a family was London Pride which wasn’t particularly – but then, yeah.
BT: It is a bit big, that one.
YT: Yeah. Then there’s the ones in Israel that we used to go – we, we stopped taking them. We took them for a year to Pride in Jerusalem – I grew up in Jerusalem – and then there was a stabbing one year. There was actually – it’s kind of crazy, there was a stabbing exactly ten years before… and I was really near that time, but somehow I wasn’t so scared, maybe I think at 16 I didn’t feel I had that much to… lose, in a way. And then… they caught the guy and sent him to prison for ten years, let him out two months before Pride [laughs] Yep.
BT: Oh dear.
YT: And he came back. I mean it’s, it’s kind of crazy, cos, you know, somebody goes wild at a football match, the next football match they’d have to go to the police station and sit there so they can’t go, go crazy. But, you know, somebody stabs people at Pride and then they let him out of prison, so yeah, so he came back ten years later and stabbed again and killed a 16 year old girl that time. And we weren’t quite so near that time, but we were kind of near enough, and kind of to hear the ambulance rushing through and realise that something really bad happened and walking past blood stains in the road, and then we were like, ‘yeah, I’m not going to bring my kids here next year’, and the year after – it was really hard to me cos it’s kind of, Jerusalem kind of means a lot to me, and I grew up there, I wasn’t living there at the time, and, and I was… and, and I kind of feel it’s important politically and if they had probably been older I’d kind of talked to them about the dangers but kind of leave it up to them, but they were… I guess [pause] yeah, they were both I think in the pram, so kind of two and four maybe, something like that… or even less, one and three. They were small. Anyway, we decided not to take them the next year. So I would say that is another thing [laughs] I mean – in one it is very family-orientated, but no, it’s not.
BT: Fair enough [pause] I guess, like… going back to being pregnant and being a trans... man, or sorry, non-binary you said –
YT: I, I do, yeah –
BT: Somewhere between –
YT: I mean, I present as a trans man, so.
BT: Sorry, just didn’t want to get it wrong.
YT: [Laughs] Yeah, no.
BT: How did being pregnant and… how did that kind of… affect your, like, way you saw yourself, like your gender identity?
YT: I think it’s changed a lot throughout the pregnancies. I think the first pregnancy I was kind of very much, ‘I am a man, this is no… contradiction, it’s just me using… the body parts that I have to my best,’ you know – I, I, I want, I – and I kind of said, you know, I wanted kids, this was the easiest, cheapest, most moral way to have them… And it doesn’t change anything about how I ident – like, my identity. And, and, and I also said, kind of, pregnancy isn’t… like, male or female, it’s just a, a function that your body can do or can’t do. And, some… women can’t or don’t want to and it doesn’t make them any less women if that’s how they identify and some men can, and it doesn’t make them any less men if that’s how they identify, and I still stand behind that politically. But I think, the way I see myself has changed a bit. And I think being pregnant has… brought me closer to women. I can, in some strange way, much more identify with women, now, cos I think, like being pregnant and giving birth are kind of, strongest… experiences I’ve had in my life. And most of who can identify with those experiences are women. I, I mean – okay, I have most in common with other trans men that have given birth, but kind of on a day-to-day basis there’s not very many of those in my life. So who, who is in my life who’ve given are usually women and I think that’s kind of… bought me closer to them, so maybe in some ways [pause] changed my – I don’t know if that’s necessarily why I identify as non-binary but it’s probably part of it, and I definitely see things less in, I guess, black and white, on a… yeah. I still think there can be men that completely identify as men, and get pregnant and have babies and that doesn’t change any way, in any way. And then – but for me, I’m not sure that’s the case.
BT: Ok. How –
YT: But look, it’s not that I find – I, I’m kind of scared of saying this cos that, kind of, people said that, ‘oh yeah, you’ll get pregnant and you’ll see how wonderful it is to be a woman and you’ll go back to being a woman’, and you know, ‘there’ll be everything right and you’ll realise you’ve made a horrible mistake’, and I’m, I’m, completely not there. So, I… I just feel the need to make that clear. I don’t feel like a woman, I don’t identify as a woman.
BT: There’s kind of an empathy there now.
BT: OK. [Pause] I’ve forgotten what I was going to ask now…
BT: [Unclear – recording cuts out]
BT: OK. What I was going to ask is… how did you find… cis women’s… reaction to you being pregnant, like going to… I’m assuming you went to, like doctor’s visits and stuff with other pregnant women.
YT: Yeah, I didn’t actually have much interaction with [pause] – Well, I had a lot of online interaction with cis women. [Pause] Mainly Israelis cos I still find it easier to, kind of, write, and, and read in Hebrew. [Pause] Mostly very positive. Some very negative. Not much in between actually! [Laughs] I guess the people that don’t have much to say about it don’t, don’t, just don’t bother to comment, so [laughs]
BT: Fair enough. I’m just trying to think…
YT: A lot of the questions but I kind of see that as quite natural and I’m happy to answer them cos I understand it’s different and people are curious about what’s different and I think that’s, you know, the best way for people to [pause] you know, learn, and if I put myself in that place I’m, I’m kind of – I put myself in that place and I’m, and I’m happy to kind of be there and answer questions.
BT: Have you kind of ever, met up with any other kind of, trans people that have had kids?
YT: Yep. Yeah, and it, and it’s amazing, it’s kind of… yeah, connection on a whole different level, we can kind of – I’ve met people that I, you know, the first time we’ve met we’ve been filling each other’s sentences [laughs] And, and… yeah, I, I have a few really good friends that’ve given birth, but kind of, they’re just not… in my everyday life. Kind of, on Facebook and things, but… like, they don’t live nearby, so.
BT: That’s fair. [[Pause] Just thinking what to say [pause] Sorry, my mind has just… gone today…
YT: Would you prefer to do it some other time? Cos I mean I am around.
BT: No, no, it’s fine.
YT: And I could come to Leeds, or –
BT: No. No, what I was going to say is like [pause] How’ve you found, like, all your different kind of, identities over the years, how’ve they kind of intersected with… like, being Jewish?
YT: [Pause] To be honest… not very much cos I kind of left the religion much much before I kind of came out as queer… I dunno if I should say left the religion but, kind of, I, I, I’m not religious so it didn’t – there wasn’t really a conflict there. Now I’m kind of keep what’s fun when I fancy but, kind of, I don’t see it as… yeah. A, a lot of LGBT people… Jewish LGBT people have, like, a conflict with the religion, but I, I don’t really feel it’s a conflict cos I just choose what I want as it is.
BT: What’s, what would say is the kind of differences between the, kind of, queer community over in Israel and like, the queer community here would be?
YT: Hmm. [Pause] In… Israel it’s kind of… very… radical and kind of, all… [pause] All struggles combined sort of thing, in a way that – in many ways I kind of… agree with, and I do think that kind of… until Palestinians are free queers won’t be free, and kind of it does interact, but on the other hand it’s kind of like a checklist that you have to follow, and it’s kind of, you, you’re left-wing, and, queer, and I don’t know, but you’re not vegan, so then, kind of, you’re not – ‘oh, that’s not cool’, and I kind of like that there there’s a bigger range of kind of ways of – you don’t have to tick all the boxes, and… nobody’s going to kind of kick, kick you out of queer meetings if they see you eating a hamburger, or [laughs].
BT: Fair enough! Less kind of, all-or-nothing?
YT: Yes, yeah.
BT: [Pause] Just trying to think… How’ve you kind of… it’s probably, like, a really dumb question, but how’ve you like, brought your kids up in regards to like, how they explore their own gender identity?
YT: Actually it not a dumb question at all. Cos it – we, we’ve had a lot of… conflict… over that. [Pause] In Israel I mean… I met – I actually, also, admin a group which I opened when I was pregnant with my second. Which I thought was going to be me and like, ten friends, and now has 2500 people in. Of – it’s called… like… All Colours for All, kind of… Genders. About, kind of, sort of gender neutral parenting but it’s kind of, yeah, but –in Israel it’s so, it’s… in a much much earlier stage, it’s like, you know, if you dress your… baby boy in pink, like, ‘oh my God’. And we’ve struggled, we struggled a lot with society around that, like… my – we, we, we kind of – in Israel it’s not – gender neutral parenting is almost impossible cos the language is so gendered, you just can’t avoid gender in the language. So we did… use pronouns for our kids, like… as they’re assigned sexes but out of, you know, knowing that we, we didn’t know and that they could correct us at any time and that would be absolutely fine… Occasionally people when would say that, you know, ‘is it a boy or a girl?’ I’d say, ‘we don’t know yet’, or,‘we’ll have to ask them when they’re older’, but kind of actually, to be honest I did that less and less with time, cos it’s just so tiring. And then when we moved here, we kind of – they kind of, re-opened the question of if we were gonna use he or they. But it just seemed too complicated to use they, and… also as we – our relationship with our family is important to us, and again, and it – in Hebrew you can’t avoid it, and even with our English-speaking family we just thought it’d, it’d just be kind of too difficult, so we use… he as well. But apart from that – so we, we do use kind of pronouns but apart from that, yeah, they play with all of the toys, wear all of the colours…We try to bring them up as, kind of, gender neutral as possible, it’s definitely much much easier here. I also see like, how my, my eldest is kind of… the more – the longer we’re here, he’s getting kind of more comfortable in… being not gender-conforming which he was, when he was very small, and then, probably about at two he was told that pink and purple are for girls, and you can’t wear dresses, and he kind of stopped and became very very… boyish. Which kind of really… I found really really difficult because it was obvious it wasn’t coming from him, it was coming – adopting… what society told him, and then… since we’ve been here he’s kind of… not, like – well, so he was two, but kind of occasionally he’ll ask for nail polish, he’ll usually take it off after ten minutes but that still feels like a bit of an accomplishment, cos he really liked nail polish when he was small. And, I got… the other two kind of matching seahorse tops for Trans Pride in Brighton which were kind of pink with blue seahorses, and sort of like, I thought it was like, amazing that I found seahorses and kind of, trans colour. And I said, ‘what – if, like, if I get you one will you wear it cos I don’t want to get you something you won’t wear’, and he said yes, and it was like yes with no question, and I think a couple of years ago to get him a pink T-shirt would’ve kind of – he probably wouldn’t have been cool with that, so I’m really happy that we’re here and – and I hope you know, all those stupid ideas, he might just not even get exposed to. My daughter actually, she’s been, like, really girly, but I’ve struggled with that less, cos it… it did feel like it was coming from her, from the age, kind of, she could express herself she wanted dresses. I’m cool with that as long as it comes from them and I don’t have to, like, as gender conforming as can be, or as gender not – non-gender conforming as can be, as long as it comes from them, but… but with her it felt like it came from her, and with my son’s gender conforming it really didn’t feel like it was coming from him.
BT: OK. What kind of response have you had from… other parents, so the… like, trying your own kind of form of gender neutral parenting?
YT: Here none at all. [Pause] In Israel, a lot of [laughs] shocked people that my baby was in a pink Babygro, or [laughs]… yeah, not even talking about frilly dresses, that’s why we didn’t put any of them in them really, but, you know… pink Babygro on a boy, oh, and it – yeah… a… [pause] ‘A top with a tractor on girl, oh no, what’s [laughs], what’s going on here, how will we’ – yeah. And, ‘interesting that, but, you know, you can do this today, you can really tell that he’s a boy’, and, ‘she looks so feminine’, how, you know, ‘we couldn’t, we couldn’t get confused’, even though you just did a minute ago, but [laughs], you wanna believe the things you believe, so.
BT: Do you think you’ll ever have any more kids?
YT: Hmmm… if you’d have asked me three months ago, absolutely not, cos I really really hate being pregnant. Not on a gender level at all, it’s just shit [laughs]. But now that he’s out I’m kind of gradually forgetting how horrible it is, and I really love babies, and I’ve always dreamt of four, but then I do really have complicated pregnancies, so. I don’t know.
BT: OK, fair enough.
YT: Yeah, it’s early days [laughs]
BT: That’s fair… can you think of anything else you’d like to talk about? In regards to anything?
YT: [Pause] Hmmmm… I don’t know. I think… I think gender for me is kind of a really… long journey that never ends. And I think if we’d had this interview a month ago or even tomorrow it would probably sound pretty different. And in a way I think kind of does this concept of – well maybe not as much anymore but what – definitely when I was growing up, of kind of trans people, like, are trapped in the wrong body. And I more than anything now feel that I’m just trapped in gender. [Laughs]
BT: Fair enough. What’re we on? 21 minutes.
YT: I think that’s probably pretty much it.
BT: That’s fine, we can stop now if you want?
YT: If you’ve got anything else to ask, go ahead.
BT: I think I’ve asked everything I wanted to ask.
BT: [Pause] No, I think I’m good. [Laughs]
YT: Cool [laughs]
BT: It’s lovely speaking to you.