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is Gottesman Professor of English at Stern College of Yeshiva University. She is the author of Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders and has published five books of poetry.
In this photo essay, Joy Ladin reflects on how gender is a covenant she has broken "with others and a covenant with myself."
You can read and listen to all the poetry Joy Ladin recited for us during our interview, and an additional piece not featured in the show. Enjoy and share them with others:
» Somewhere Between Male and Female
» You Are Making Me Now
» Letter to My Body
» Sickness and Health
Joy Ladin plays with her youngest daughter at a playground in Amherst, Massachusetts.
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I found this to be a really well balanced understanding of gender and transition. I appreciated your story Joy, because even though I am only 23 our stories of transition from male to female are much the same. I am the first student at my baptist university to transition, and I understand just how hard it can be. Continue living as yourself, and continue loving your self. :)
Thank you Nadalie!
Ms. Ladin, thank you!! I am a scholar at Bsruxh College writing on and researching gender in hiphop culture esp relative to socialization and cognitive development of girls 13-17. Your life and your articulations of a broader understanding of gender expression and identity is missing in most research about girls and woman. You should check out Angela Davis's recent talk on feminism at Univ of Chicsgo. Your views are converging. Thank you. I may reach out to you and ask which of your books I might consult.
Thank you Kyra - I would be happy to talk with you.
Thank you Joy and Krista for such a lovely conversation. The questions posed and responses offered radiate such shimmering light. More than a conversation, this is a mitzvah.
One of the most extraordinary conversations
I’ve heard, anywhere. I’m am always looking
for context when something exists,
right in front of my eyes, and an inner reflex
tells me it shouldn’t be there.
Joy’s responses to Krista’s questions were poetic,
thoughtful, useful (on so many levels).
Just echoing Mr. McRoberts' sentiments. I was deeply moved by the conversation - its depth, eloquence, honesty, and relevance to all of us searching for ways to live in joy and integrity in the world. Joy Ladin, you are a Boddisattva, a prophet, and a tremendous gift.
A powerful image of a lovely woman enjoying her child at play. I have just listened to Krista's interview with Joy. An agnostic, I am moved & inspired by the beauty and truth expressed by Joy. She is a model of inner spirit and soul to which we can all aspire. Joy models what it is to be truly human regardless of how we are "seen." Now I am going to read her poetry!
WOW, tremendous sensitive insight. A facsimile of this is going on for me in midlife.
"We are ratios of being and becoming". How poetic!
Love of self and others, hate of self and others, hiding, revealing, who am I now, how am I manifesting, is it authentic, does anyone care, who am I betraying to be who I am becoming. What a brave human being she is.
I also love the recurrent healing power of Jewish ritual life that emphasizes doing & belonging rather than feeling or knowing which is so much harder for me and others.
Going from Suffering Existence to Gratitude and Joy.
We should all be so blessed. I am grateful for her life offering. I receive it as a sacred communion. Thank you for believing in you, me and in humanity. NW
You are who you are not how others see you.... get the hook!
Thank you Joy. Your voice gives me inspiration at a time when my own transition experience seems less than vital.
Hang in there Bambi - the world needs you to become your wholest, truest self!
You are a mighty woman, Joy. We have so much from learn from you. But we should also cherish you for being so open about your vulnerabilities. Thanks for your quiet leadership and for giving permission to all to love oneself first.
Tremendously perceptive on many subjects. Thanks for the insight about Judaism's rules on what actions we take, but absence of regulations on thoughts and ideas, and that this arrangement is not universal.
As usual, this show helps me think about things in new ways and to see our journies from new points of view. As a Unitarian Universalist I have learned and accepted all things LGBT, and while there are trans members of our church, I was never privileged to hear their inner thoughts. Joy and Krista, thank you for such a thoughtful and beautiful conversation. Ladies, you rock!
A very moving and articulate conversation. Thank you for enlarging our understanding. Your book will be added to our "books that need to be read" list!
As a 63 year old retired prosecutor grown up an Orthodox New York Jew who has experienced identity and self image change via medical experience, but no gender ambivalence, I was enormously moved by admiration and, I hope, understanding of Joy Ladin. Her radio appearance offered me wisdom, pride in my religious culture, and rare closeness to her shared human personhood.
From the moment we are born our gender strips us of personhood. In sexual expression we try to live up to our gender rolle. Your so,ul does not ascribe to either. Its role is "being.' Christ knew that. That's why he didn't waste time talking about either
In the kingdom of God there is neitber male nor female.
At 61 years of age I am more interested in people finding "home" and less interested the background noise that surrounds everyone's reaction to an individual's journey itself. I am grateful to people like Joy who are willing to do whatever it takes to find "home". My hope is that we can become a culture that understands that there has to be room for all of us or face the realization that there simply isn't room for any of us.
It is always welcomed to get to hear, understand and appreciate the experience, challenges and, if you will, destiny toward which individuals move. Joy has moved in that direction intentionally and bravely. The fact that she can articulate her experience in such a true and beautiful way is a gift to humanity as I see it. So often we have only muddled ideas, bias and intolerance that arise with such issues and experience, which can be the cause of much pain, tragedy and even violence. Thanks, Krista and Joy, for illumination, which always engenders acceptance, compassion and, therefore, peace. We have a long way to go as a "species" as Joy noted, but each step opens to that possibility.
I identify with your understanding about being Transsexual. Your share rang true for me.
I transitioned almost 20 years ago at 50. It did cost my marriage and children and family, and my career.
I did also go thru an "ugly duckling" phase....
I have unending gratitude for the women who helped to re-socialize me as a woman, and the voice training CD I found from "Melanie".... My voice needed to refocus to stop the lower register-I was squeaky for some time, as I listen to your voice on the radio today, your voice, inflection, content are great, and all that your training might be to not let the lower tones of our voice be so prominent.
I have a new life 1000 miles away, and my siblings are again in my life. I have many friends who never knew me as as a male.
My former Wife and Daughter still care and struggle to wrap their minds around how Dad became a woman.
My Son struggles and doesn't know how to have me in his life....
I have church that accepts me and a job that appreciates me.
Thank you for your courage to be real and share with us .... in the end, its all we really have.
Next week I hope Krista will be giving equally unconditional support and publicity to Christine Benvenuto, Ladin's ex-wife, who has written her own memoir of the deep impact of Ladin's transition on her and her children.
For me the really interesting issue is: 'Where does 'identity' come from?' It clearly comes over a lifetime, if you live it that way, part of it comes from 'inside' and part of it comes from 'outside.'
I have always been heterosexual--treated as male and didn't have a problem with that. Never has it been confusing or in doubt with me. What strikes me on this subject is that what we call 'gender differences' are essentially arbitrary though, i.e., cultural, dependent on the culture we are in. Gender in absolute, literal, actual sense applies to only half of only one chromosome. Other than that, a difference certainly exists but only in custom, in sociocultural terms, as far as I can see--and is therefore ultimately 'arbitrarily.' Any particular element could be taken one way or the other, depending on the standards and definitions being applied, from an external perspective.
It's not clear just what 'chemical' personal factors are connected to the male chromosome. I have generally wondered at the possibility that a transsexual or homosexual is one who tends to take these cultural values as absolute, to take his/her experience in a literal way. I can see that some people tend to understand things from a personal, 'internal' perspective and others from an 'external' or 'public' perspective--what one is to an other or others.
Generally men are taller than women, two to three inches on average. That means basically that only of the men are an inch or so taller than only the women. In voice pitch it's a little bit more pronounced. (Our parrot uses a completely different register when he speaks as I come in as it did before when it is mostly women that he hears.)
We also have the issue of 'ideal' vs. 'actual'--what the 'standard' is versus what the actual would be if it would be measured, either individually or statistically. I don't see 'emotionality' as gender specific to any degree--except in the 'ideal.' I (as a male) have just learned not to talk about feelings in public and to put them into context when I do need to but I never felt the need to deny them to myself. --I did learn eventually to take (feel) them much more fully as I gained the ability to experience my own personal 'identity,' 'personality' more fully and to break down a sort of 'schizophrenic' or bi-modal personality I used between when I was by myself and when I was with others.
Ultimately, I see it 'humanisticly:' that if you are not a full human being, it doesn't matter what you are, you're not there yet and have plenty of work to do just in becoming a person. If you are a human being, that includes both: by definition, in general and in practical terms--'find the things that work for you and the people around you.' --Does having to do the dishes mean you are a woman, having long hair, wearing a skirt? (In the USA in the 50s it did, unequivocally. Now it means you're not helpless around the house, you reject traditional, stuffy American values, are from India or are a proud--if anachronistic--Celtic with a beautiful kilt--a real kilt, women just wouldn't wear, it would look ridiculous!)
In future approaches to this subject it might be nice to have some detail on how this person defines her gender and how she feels it and "To what degree is 'male/female' 'binary' and to what degree is it a continuum?"
(I do understand 'On Being' tends to consider the personal aspect of all these issues. It's not a 'scientific' or research program.)
Thank you--my favorite radio series!
It's helpful to untangle sex, which is biological, a matter of chromosomes and bodies, from gender, which is both a constantly changing set of social conventions, a kind of shared language for expressing ourselves and understanding others, and for most of us a deep-seated sense of who we are, part of what we call identity or self. There's no established science on this yet, but there are indications that gender identity has some basis in the physical characteristics of the brain;physically male and female brains have somewhat different characteristics, and transsexual brains seem in preliminary studies to have characteristics associated with brains of the sex that is the opposite of their chromosomes. But even if gender identity is physically based, what we think of as gender (how men and women do or should act) is a human construct, or rather a constant communal negotiation.
Thank you for this inspirational piece. I, too, found your thoughts about Judaism's emphasis on acts, not thoughts, to inform so much about culture, philosophy , psychology and spiritual differences . But most of all, I loved your idea of rhyming words versus free form poetry. My poetry rhymes. The notion that it is an attempt to reconcile feelings and have the words "fit" with reality was a thought I will mine for a while. I may have to write a poem about it. Truly thoughtful.
Dear Ms. Ladin - My husband and I were struck by your remarkable strength to have survived the horrendous journey you've endured. Our hearts went out to you as you talked about not seeing yourself. We marveled that you were able to continue living until there was a point at which you could claim your true identity. Thank you so much for sharing your story for us and particularly for others who may be experiencing the difficulties you endured.
With deep appreciation and admiration,
Joy said that she struggled greatly with identity, and still does. I recommend that she frequently place herself before God in prayer: God sees us whole, and we start to see ourselves whole as well, and begin to see who we are.
Dr. Ladin discussed her difficulty with the Torah commandment that is usually translated to prohibit "coveting" - a thought, not an action. Bible translation scholar Joel H. Hoffman, on his blog, http://goddidntsaythat.com/ , writes:
"In the original Hebrew, the Ten Commandments don’t address coveting, so common renditions like “do not covet” or “thou shalt not covet” are mistranslations."
I recommend his complete post on this: http://goddidntsaythat.com/2011/03/02/the-ten-commandments-dont-forbid-coveting/
I found this feature very interesting. I don't know how much my comment relates to the subject, but this is just an observation I have made about gender roles: My wife and I raised four daughters, who we are very proud of. One of our daughters has a little three year old girl, who my wife and I sometimes help take care of. It has occurred to me that there is more to the idea that boys and girls are often raised differently from each other than the parent's, or grandparent's, preconceived ideas. These differences are sometimes driven by the child. For example, when three year old Katie comes home from nursery school she usually wants to immediately change into a "beautiful dress" and wear a grown like a "princess" Her mother was not like this, and her father certainly doesn't have it in his mind that his daughter has to dress up, and look "pretty." So, she is "driving" our behavior toward her. When she puts on a fancy outfit we are bound to say that she looks "beautiful." On the other hand, her cousin Carter, who is only two weeks older, has just about always loved to play with tractors, toy construction equipment, trucks, and so on. He knows the names of all the different types of construction vehicles,better than any of us can remember them. So, when I help watch him, we focus on his interests. His father, my son-in-law, says he wasn't anything like his son at his age, and his mother verifies that. So, we could tell Katie: "don't you realize that you are behaving in a stereotypical female role, and this might be limiting to your future down the road" but I don't think she'd get it. She'd probably just cry. And we could tell Carter something similar about his interests, but he'd also cry. As to why Katie has chosen to love what society says is stereotypical a female interest, and Carter has chosen to love what society says is stereotypical a male interest, I have no idea.
I transitioned male to female when I was 55 (I am now 62.) Joy through your explanation of yourself you have provided the most cogent, insightful explanation of myself that I have ever heard or read. I am uplifted and for the first time I feel I may finally have a way to take my family from a point of acceptance to a point where they might actually understand me not only as I am now but also what it was like to live my life going back to my childhood. Thank you so much!
I am so glad Shannon! We are just beginning to develop language to talk about feelings and lives like ours.
Thank you, Joy, for sharing your story, and thank you to Krista and the "On Being" team for your skillful questions and presentations of Joy's story. So much of your story is mine. I'm nearly 40 and my transition caused the breakup of our marriage and our family with 2 children. I've already shared the link to this page with a number of friends. You've explained things in ways I wasn't quite able to. You've also shown me a glimpse of my life a few years down the road. I started as my female self at work only a month ago.
Though I've lived an active part-time as my female self for nearly a decade, that life was secret from my family and family friends. Your thoughts on the selfishness of the choice of transition and on allowing others to have their feelings about me as long as they are respectful were especially helpful this weekend. I tend to be very patient with those who have a hard time accepting me, to the frustration of some friends. What you said provided another perspective on this that I have been able to share.
On Saturday, I spent time in my old neighborhood as my female self helping to clean up from a damaging storm. I moved out of our family home 2 months ago. Upon returning periodically to cut the grass, I sensed I was being avoided. It wasn't unexpected, but disappointing. The storm cleanup on Saturday was the first time my neighbors got to spend time with me as my female self. It came after they've spent a couple of months providing support to my now ex-wife and my kids, the victims of my selfish choice. Everyone deserves a chance at redemption. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had on Saturday.
I'm also grateful for your story. Thanks again, Joy and Krista!
Thank you Alison for living your faith in yourself and in others - for not giving up, for giving those who knew you as a man a chance to learn better ways to respond to your true self.
I just heard part of your story on my way home from church. I immediately sent a link to my Alex, who was my niece and is now my nephew. Alex is a sensitive, spiritual person who is working very hard to stay alive and figure out what his life will be like. (That's the first time I referred to Alex as "his"). Tears are filling my eyes. Thank you for sharing your journey. I can't wait to read your book. God bless you and your family.
I'm waiting on the transcript. You said one word. I got stuck on it. Did you really say it? How did it fit? Who were you talking to? Was this a joke? Was it to me, the audience, or her the transgendered person? It wasn't until the end of the conversation that I understood how it probably fit, but that's because I have friends who are homosexuals and lesbians who seem to constantly explore, play with, and remould their gender roles. Maybe you and your guest are just that at ease with one another? Maybe you're just that hip? S'okay with me. I was just surprised how that one word coming from you got me tangled.
Okay, I listened to the long version and at 26:38 she really did say it, but it's not as jarring in the context of the larger conversation. What I heard in the produced version varied greatly from the understanding I got from the uncut version. I'm glad that one word got me to dig deeper. Great talk!
Ms. Ladin's comments about her fear of people seeing her true self and being horrified by her - these are familiar thoughts, and I don't struggle with gender. She expressed perfectly well that feeling of being different. I'll never know what she went through, but she knows how I feel, and that was a beautiful moment to hear on the radio.
As the mother of a beautiful , creative, courageous, funny trans son, I've been listening to this respectfully spacious interview over and over and hearing it for the first time again and again. My heart is full. Thank you.
Ms. Ladin, I was touched by your interview. It's brave and inspiring to hear you embrace and share your experiences with the world. Toward the end of the interview, you mentioned that you grew up with a dim view of humanity and you lived in hiding. You added that as you transitioned, you were surprised to find people responded to you with love, compassion, and respectful curiosity. Even though I'm not transgendered, this statement really impacted me. I'm a survivor of significant childhood abuse. After I graduated from high school, I managed to climb my way out and enter into the 'real world' where I attended a major university and eventually earned my masters degree--the first person in my family to go to college. I have no relationship with my parents or their families. I've been successful in my field, but I've always lived in hiding. Partly because of the fear I have from them finding me and interfering with my life (which they have)... and the other part of hiding is not sharing this part of myself with others, like friends or coworkers, for fear of how they would react or how they would see me. If it would change how I'm treated, the accomplishments I've made at work, dating someone. As I listened to what you said, it made me think about my history of abuse, and that people can be more gracious and understanding than we think. It also made me think about discovering who I am, as I start to embrace my own experiences and live more authentically. Thank you for the example you're setting for others.
Thank you - I wish you continued healing, and pray that you find kindness, compassion and understanding wherever you go.
Joy, I listened to your podcast as I returned from putting my transitioning son on the bus for his counseling appointment regarding testosterone treatment. Thanki you for sharing your story. It touched me deeply.
Thank you, Joy, for your wonderful, insightful interview! I am a transgendered sixty-something person who is out in part of my life but not all of it and struggling with when and how to fully transition. I feel sometimes like I'm peeling an onion in becoming fully who I truly am. Going back to "male mode" for me seems like a small death each time. If I don't keep moving forward, I think I will lose my mind. Many of my inner feelings were mirrored in your conversation. I'm so glad that you are sharing your experiences in such a public way. That is truly courageous and beautiful and, dare I say, a Mitzvah ;)
I know those struggles, those daily deaths of shrinking back into "male mode" so well - many of us do, and we know that you are right: you DO need to keep moving forward, becoming yourself. Hang in there, sister!
To everyone who has written here:
I am overwhelmed by the empathy, kindness, depth of understanding and love in these comments! Thank you for hearing me so deeply, and for finding a place for my life in yours.
Thank you! And thank you Krista!
I got tears in my eyes as Ms. Ladin spoke of the validity of the feelings of others. I wonder, does she know she just spoke the words that hold the key for all who are on opposing sides of any issue to be able to get along? What a treasure you are to the world.
Dear Joy, You have my utmost respect. I feel like an accident that happened yet I'm so happy I did. I had a long on and off history from 1990 on but 15 months ago I was out and felt so happy, so comfortable and so accepted suddenly in just seconds I didn't want to go back. I didn't. I couldn't. I will not. That of course raised Hell's fire which I endured and made it through. Every day now for just over a year has been so wonderful and happy I cannot feel anything but so blessed. Such energy. Such power. It is as if I had a super charger strapped to my back. Nothing can stop me. I love everyone and they love me. How can it be? I bow to our Creator who has set absolute laws but within those laws His creation is infinite. One law, one rule but infinite variety. Each one of us is absolutely unique both physically and mentally yet we are all human beings. No one has ever been, nor is nor ever will be exactly like you. Uniqueness is His gift to us given with His Love. I am and I am filled with love and joy for everyone. The disapproval of some is of no consequence to me. That is their problem, not mine.
Live and love life to the max while you can. The time is so precious. You can't get a single second back. Live it like there is no tomorrow. There is no time to waste.
Said by one most of the way through. I know their is no easy road but I pray your road is easier than mine was. How hard was it? Try standing in Hell's flame for 5 days. It burns but does not consume. I wanted to scream but did not because I knew it would do no good. I do not know why I had to endure that but it happened. Accept yourself as you are. Pursue happiness. It is your right written into our constitution.
God bless America and God bless you all.
Prof. Joy Ladin spoke to a conference of those of us who prepare Jewish bodies for their "final journey." We wash them, we dress them and we sit with them between death and the funeral. Joy came to talk to us about "being dead," her story of living the "in-between" lie of beginning life as a male while knowing she was truly a female. She spoke about the challenges of revealing that to her family and friends; of the abuse she took (and still takes!) from her university employer, and of the anguish involved in being transgender.
Through her presentation, she was hilarious, she made us laugh many times which put us all at ease. I will admit that as a Rabbi, I am still getting used to dealing with same-sex relationships, but transgender was never something I could wrap my brain around. Joy helped me understand that we ARE all truly created in the Holy Image of God, AND that understanding is not the issue, acceptance is. And love is!
Thank you, Joy, for opening my eyes! God bless you as you are blessing all of us!
Such a profoundly moving conversation. Thanks to you both.
I'm listening to the unedited version of this conversation for the fifth time. Twice I listened with friends.
Both times I invited them to listen to the first ten minutes. Both times we listened to the complete conversation and followed up with an in depth conversation of our own.
I am commenting here to say that some of the On Being programs work better for me as edited productions.
Some need to be heard unedited. This program needed to be heard unedited. I needed to hear and trust the voices. It was such an unusual subject.
I hear you you, David. We decided to provide all of Krista's interviews uncut for a variety of reasons: to be open, honest, and transparent about our work; to provide a behind-the-glass experience; to permit aspiring interviewers, producers, and general audiences to hear Krista's approach to interviews and the wandering nature of her conversations; and to allow people access to the sweep of our guest's thoughts and ideas. At the time, doing this was a big risk and a bit of a sea change. When I read your comments, I am heartened to see how hearing these unedited interviews can add to your experience and understanding. Thank you so much for sharing.
Wow my Jewish sister! Outstanding. I have bookmarked for further reading time-permitting. I have a special request. I am Christian who absolutely knows God is very real since the age of 21 when under severe stress as a young Air Force Sgt. God blessed me first with a special revelation followed by a way out of my severe stress which led to my honorable discharge.
I had cried out to the God that I was skeptical was there, as I told God that (1) even though a sinner, I had remained morally pure. (2) reminded him that I was a child no less than Moses, Adam, Enoch, Noah and since they had received revelation so too could I (which I did receive). (3) that he had promised not to give us more than we are able to handle. (4) that I was that lost sheep that the shepherd would go searching for.(5) that His word states that mustard-seed-sized faith can move mountains.
In short, a mountain was moved I believe just for me, as He would do for others of faith. When that happened I went from skeptical to belief to knowledge that no matter what we think about God....in fact God is present somewhere. Growing up, as I read the stories about the Jewish people, their history, their travails and blessings, for some reason I identified with my Jewish brothers and sisters as close as my blood relatives...and still do. I don't know why this...maybe just maybe I have Jewish ancestry, because innately I sense that I do.
My request? As a MtF transgender person of faith, I don't accept that gender correction is sin, given that it is biologically based and we know that because of sin, our bodies are corrupted and often birthed with untold birth maladies, including the hormonal malady behind sex correction reflected externally as "gender." My request is that you please e-mail me information as to how I can become part of the Jewish faith, although I believe in Christ as savior. I believe it is the reformed Jewish sect?
Thank you and look forward to hearing from you!
You are very cool! It's a pleasure to be able to read your story. Thank you for your example and loveliness. =)
Dear Joy, I know you've said people shouldn't read comments, but I'm glad that you do, because now you can read about my accidental stuble-upon. :) I study Linguistics, Anthropology and Judaic Studies here in Zagreb, Croatia. And for my studies I got the task to write a short essay on a book on sociology of a professor Peter Berger. I googled him, got to the ww.bu.edu page, and saw the Elie Wiesel Centre link..so, I'm thinking, let's give it a try :) And so I got the wonderful opportunity to hear you interview.
I'm sorry you had some tough time in you life, before transition. And I love how you said you were even cheated as a woman. :) I wish you all the best, all the way across the world, and sorry I can't come to your poetry presentation :) Maybe in some other lifetime :)