Transgender Professor Joy Ladin Faces Life Back at Yeshiva

When Joy Ladin told officials at the Orthodox Jewish Yeshiva University she was in the process of becoming a woman, school officials immediately put her on indefinite leave. A letter from her lawyers got the decision revoked, but now Joy, back at school, is facing a slew of new struggles.

BY Rachel Ament

September 17 2008 11:00 PM ET

Yeshiva University x100 | Advocate.com

A surprising
number of students were active supporters, sending Ladin
encouraging e-mail messages after they heard the news via
the grapevine. Many others appear to still be torn.
Jillian T. Weiss, a transgender Stern alum, commented
on the gay blog Queerty that she wishes Ladin the best
of luck but that she also “understands the financial
realities. I’m not sure whether I wish for
Professor Ladin to stay or be fired.”

On the domestic
front, Ladin faces yet another battle. Her wife filed for
divorce and custody of their three children (ages 14, 8, and
5) and has moved out of their Amherst, Mass., home.
Ladin and her wife settled an agreement that Ladin can
still see the children but must wear men’s
clothing. This has lessened the shock factor for the
children but has been “incredibly
difficult” for Ladin, says an anonymous
source.

According to
Ladin’s unfinished memoir, Inside Out:
Confessions of a Woman Caught in the Act of
Becoming,
she has yet to undergo
gender-reassignment surgery but is taking estrogen and
progesterone to grow breasts. The hormones have wreaked
havoc on her body temperature, however, causing abrupt
surges, then crashing falls. Ladin often feels sick
and feels weaker than she did as a man, since female
hormones soften muscle tone.

The journey has
been an emotional roller coaster for Ladin, resolving old
inner struggles while creating new ones. But working on the
memoir has helped, especially since she
couldn’t write about herself before the
transformation, since she “didn’t feel she had
a self to write about.” Ladin has also taken up
beading; the rote task of stringing beads on a thread
has had a way of assuaging nerves and “making a
pattern out of the chaotic,” says a source.

Though
Ladin’s transformation has been a lonely process,
there is a long list of other transgender cases in the
Jewish world, several within Orthodox communities.
Support groups for Jewish transgender people have
cropped up across the country, the most prominent being the
Boston-based Transgender Working Group, which welcomes
transgender people from all branches of Judaism. The
group hosts Havdallah nights, offers Torah study
groups, and has been pushing for a trans rights bill to give
trans people protection against discrimination in the
workforce.

Ladin is sure to
face a great deal of parochial bullying within the next
few months, but under all the rubble is a smidgen of support
here, a dash of good luck there.

Says Rabbi Or
Rosen of Hebrew College: “As a graduate of Yeshiva
University, I am proud that my alma mater has the good sense
and moral courage to retain this award-winning scholar
and teacher.”

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