Transgender woman's journey from Hasidim to a new life

- Born into one of New York's most gender-segregated societies, Yisrael Stein was one of 13 kids in a Hasidic Jewish family. Today she goes by Abby. Five years ago she left the Williamsburg sect. Her road is long and complicated, but her attitude is optimistic and inspiring. 

"When I was nine I had a prayer, I would pray to God that I would wake up as a girl," she said.

Abby first remembers associating as female at 4. As she grew up, Abby continued struggling with her identity. But her community had no room for gender dysphoria.

"I didn't even know LGBTQ people exist," Abby said. 

Instead, she immersed herself in Jewish studies. She spent 10-hour days learning the Talmud and Torah and prayed three times a day. In her late teens, it was time for an arranged marriage. 

Abby was married in 2010 at age 18. In 2012, Abby's wife got pregnant. A child on the way became a catalyst to confront a secret she'd harbored her entire life.

"That's when it didn't work anymore, trying to figure out my identity and trying to ignore gender, when I'm passing on -- I'm having the next generation that I have to raise with these gender things," Abby said.

Abby left the only world she knew. The English language was just as foreign as everything else in modern society. About two years ago, Abby came out to her parents as transgender.

"My father told me not to talk to my mother at all and sadly he is the one in control," Abby said. She is still in touch with her son who is now 5. 

Abby found family in the LGBTQ community. The 25-year-old now works to help others struggling with gender identity.

She is a student at Columbia University and hopes to one day have a career in public policy.

"I choose to focus on the positive in life, and there is so much," Abby said. "Am I going to say it's always easy? No, it's not, but I'm doing my best."

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