Educating Talia Johnson's Life on the Fringes

I am the tzitzit, living, learning, and working on the fringes.

I have always been a dweller of the fringes, growing up, in my adult life, through my gender transition, and in my work and studies. In 2016 I completed my undergraduate studies, moved to Toronto, and discovered the Jewish Studies Program at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley California. Life being interesting meant that I was not ready/able to complete the application process and be ready to begin studies until 2019. In the meantime I have been studying to become a Kohenet Hebrew Priestess, a process that will culminate with my ordination on August 9, 2019.

Why, oh why do you want to study in the USA?!

40427782_1562360859619965_r.jpegImage: Looking east toward GTU  and Holy Hill from Hearst and Shattuck with mist in front of the hills in the background.

I have a life-long love of learning, thinking critically, and sharing that knowledge. When I met with faculty, sat in on classes, and spoke with other staff at GTU I knew it was the place for me. The passion for learning and sharing knowledge was obvious. When I discussed the possibility of my going to GTU with friends who had been students there I received positive reviews. This fuelled my resolve to attend.

The atmosphere in the Bay Area, the feel of the land, the cities, speaks directly to my soul despite the gentrification that is infecting the area. The politics are still mostly progressive and there are multiple queer communities. In addition, there are other Kohenet folk and friends who live in the area. There is community I can, and will, connect with.

Learning All The Things, but this thing in particular

40427782_1562360902654913_r.jpegImage: The wall of the Pacific School of Religion building at GTU with the trans flag below the hashtag #wontbeerased

My academic work will tie in with the work I am currently doing in the world. I focus on Judaism, queer/trans/LGBT2SQIA+, and mental health, combining with my experience working with people as a Kohenet-in-training, and continuing after I receive Smicha (ordination) in August 2019. Both in my undergraduate and professional work I found that these areas are, for the most part, spoken of in isolation. Although there is a lot of established work regarding ritual, there is little about practical, ongoing work to support people at the junctures where ritual is needed. This is my passion.

Wow, One gets the Sense that this is Expensive!

It is, indeed, expensive. Like Toronto, where I live, the cost of living in Berkeley and the East Bay is high. In addition, I will not be able to work in the USA except on campus. I have some ideas and possible leads about this, but won't be able to truly explore them until I am in Berkeley.

The costs of study are (all amounts in USD with Canadian amount based on a pessimistic exchange rate of 1 USD costing 1.40 CDN in brackets):

* Tuition (per I-20 form): $18,720 (26,208)
* Cost of Living (per I-20 form): $22,000 (30,800)
* Moving to Berkeley: $3,700 (Includes student visa fee) (5,180)
* Books: $1,000 (1,400)
* Contingency Buffer, Kohenet, and other costs: $4,580 (6,412)
* Maintain permanent residence in Toronto ($5,175)

Total: $75,175 Canadian

I have applied for financial aid from the school and in the process of applying for OSAP. Neither is guaranteed until I receive formal letters of confirmation that include dollar amount. At this point I must budget for zero financial aid, OSAP, or scholarships. As I receive confirmations of funding I will update the dollar amount raised accordingly. The financial aid from the school would be 50% of tuition.

I will be maintaining permanent residence in Toronto and planning to sublet my space, but until I have everything lined up for study I cannot commit to subletting to someone.

Your assistance will help make my dream of a graduate degree possible

I will appreciate every single donation toward this goal of continuing my education and furthering my work to make the world a slightly better place.  If you are unable to help via GoFundMe, I also have PayPal and a Patreon account if you are able to make ongoing contributions.

About Talia:
Talia Johnson is a Jewish ritual and service leader, writer, poet, sensitivity editor, public speaker, workshop facilitator,  educator, mentor, coach, and activist. She is a woman who is, in no particular order, an out queer autistic lesbian trans woman. Talia is Vice Chair of the Heartspark Press Board of Directors, part of the leadership team of Autistics for Autistics Ontario, and is active with Matanot Lev, a Jewish community in Toronto. She is co-editor of the Nothing Without Us anthology of Disability fiction to be released late-summer 2019.  Talia has been a member of the LGBTQ at the J committee at the Miles Nedal Jewish Community Center in Toronto since October 2018.

Talia is currently studying with the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute with ordination as a Kohenet Hebrew Priestess planned for August 9, 2019. Talia is the first, and so far only, trans woman in the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess program.  Her work in these areas bridges mental health, spirituality, and LGBTQIA+/queer/trans spaces, areas which are usually independent silos.

In January 2016 Talia was awarded a full scholarship to attend WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) Professional Training.

In 2015 she received a Canada’s Youth Role Model of the Year – Lifetime Achievement Award, Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD).

She has been an activist in various ways for most of her life. Her first words were, apparently, “That’s not fair!”

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Talia Johnson 
Toronto, ON
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