Gender in academic
and semi-academic circles
Gali B. Jaffe
Our recent LGBTQ+ History Month session: ‘Gender in academic and semi-academic circles’ provided attendees with an informative insight into the representation of gender and how we can continue to support the community.
Led by Gali Jaffe, who shared her perspective and talked frankly about her lived experience working as a trans woman, the session discussed gender in academic and semi-academic circles – followed by a Q&A, providing a non-judgmental environment for participants to have an open discussion about the issues explored.
Following on from the success of the recent session, we decided to catch up with Gali to hear her story.
Hi, my name is Gali Jaffe and I’m a transgender, or more accurately, a transwoman. But this is really the end of my story so far, I should probably start at the beginning.
I was born in Israel, in a kibbutz (an outdated form of communal living), as a boy called Gilad Jaffe. I spent most of my childhood with my parents and siblings in South Africa in the 1980’s, to which I can attribute my English. After that, we returned to the small sundrenched little country in the Middle East called Israel, where I lived most of my life.
My childhood and teens were fairly regular; school, girls and guitars. Sans one event; at the age of 17 I met a girl who is to this day my life partner and the mother of my children. Following high school, I joined the Israeli Army for my mandatory service which lasted for three years. A period which still scars me to this day and almost got me killed a few times.
I then moved on to study for my BA in Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures at Tel Aviv University in Israel and continued directly onto an MA there.
In 2005 I began working for the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA), a job in which I directed small and large excavations all over Israel and in every time period from prehistory to modern day, I do have two rare artefacts to my name, but nothing as romantic or adventure filled as an Indiana Jones movie. My tenure at the IAA lasted for about ten years until I left for various reasons. All in all, including universities and the IAA, I worked as a field archaeologist for 15 years.
It was then that I changed direction and began lecturing about archaeology. I stumbled into this line of work completely by chance and began to develop lectures about archaeology for the general public, specializing in delivering fun and easy-to-understand lectures at an academic level, but presented in simple, non-academic language.
This was also the time that a nagging feeling I’d had inside me for quite a while began to grow stronger, a feeling that something just wasn’t right, but I put it aside. Of course, this didn’t help as that nagging feeling didn’t really go away, so I decided to confront it.
It was at this stage that I also began to understand this in retrospect, considering the different cultural and social aspects in which I was always different. I know now that I wasn’t different, I was just experiencing them from the wrong point of view gender-wise. Looking back now, as a woman, it makes perfect sense why I did or didn’t like certain things that did not align with what was expected of a man in Israel. I emphasize the fact this was in Israel, because it is a very militant and macho country and culture, and many of these understandings relate specifically to army life which also affect other cultural aspects of life in Israel.
After much self-exploration of various sorts, and much thought, I knew what it was that was bugging me; an undeniable discrepancy between my body and soul, and it was quite a shock which I kept to myself. I did not even tell my partner at first, mainly out of fear she would up and walk away. There is no horror movie on earth that scares me as much as that thought.
Eventually, I knew I could not go on living like this, living a quasi- double life, so I mustered up the courage and told her. To my great relief and partial shock, she accepted me as I am. Of course, it was naturally a process we had to go through at our own pace, but we found our rhythm and our own way to deal with the changes and to make our relationship work while dealing with these significant changes. The next step was coming out to our children (no big deal from their point of view, they shrugged their shoulders in acceptance, we laughed and went on with life), then the parents and then the world.
This might be a good place to talk about my Twitter page (@theoniongoddess). Over the past three years (give or take) it has become an active community of archeology lovers which I manage and where I publish archaeological content daily. Slowly and gradually, without me really noticing, it grew and as of today has accumulated more than 16,000 followers. So, when I meant to come out to the world my plan was to do so via Twitter and Facebook (for better or worse these are our modern town squares), but it was only then that I realized how many people would actually see my confession online.
So I took a deep breath and jumped into the deep waters. I came out publicly, changed my name, pronouns and overall look. Lucky for me, the response was amazing in its positivity, from all directions, including friends and former colleagues from the university and the Israeli Antiquity Authority who all showed their support.
I feel that my gender, or more accurately, gender change, has not really affected my work and research as a freelance archaeologist and lecturer. In August of 2022 I attended the annual European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) conference in Budapest, in which I gave a talk about communicating archaeology to the general public. The EAA has put forth in its agenda to make researchers and archaeologists of all sexes, genders, nationalities etc. feel accepted and welcome, and that was indeed the attitude that was felt throughout the whole conference. There was not a single moment or instance that I felt judged or unwelcome, and given that this took place in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary which is actively working against people of the whole LGBTQ+ spectrum, this is no small feat.
All in all, I must say that up until now, almost a year and a half after I came out publicly as a transwoman, I feel as if all things have been positive, both in my personal and my professional life as a freelance archaeology researcher, an archaeology lecturer and a tour guide in Berlin. I feel no limitations regarding my freedom to conduct my research, speak about it in academic and semi-academic circles, or guide tours in the archaeological museums of Berlin. I don’t know if I am an exception or just lucky, but I hope I am not the only one who has had these experiences.
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