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Professor Joy Ladin Faces Life Back at Yeshiva

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.

A few years ago, Jay Ladin found his mind constantly shifting toward the subject of gender, and then one day, it got stuck there. The obsession had turned into a physical illness. Ladin, an English professor at the Orthodox Jewish Yeshiva University's Stern College, was having trouble eating. He'd dropped a whopping 30 pounds and tossed and turned throughout sleepless nights.

Jay Ladin knew he wanted to become a woman but feared the havoc that would be in store for his family and career.

Now Jay is Joy, miles ahead of where she was two years ago when she told Stern College administrators she was in the process of becoming a woman. School officials immediately put her on indefinite leave. Unfazed, Ladin's lawyers sent a letter to the school, and in one sharp snap, the decision was revoked; Ladin could keep her tenure (she began teaching at the school again two weeks ago for the first time since her transformation).

The details of the legal work have remained a mystery to the public and even to Ladin, with an anonymous source stating that "it remains unclear whether Stern faculty members suddenly empathized with Ladin or if the decision was completely legally motivated."

Whatever the case, heated protests could be heard everywhere from the hallways of Stern College in New York City to rabbinic powwows on the other side of the Atlantic.

"We are dealing with someone who is severely psychologically disturbed, and we should physically restrain him from touching his body, the way we would an anorexic teenager," says Rabbi Moshe Tendler, senior dean of Yeshiva's rabbinical school. "Transsexuality in the Torah is absolutely forbidden!"

Other reactions have been milder.

"I don't understand this illness, but I don't think people need to react with such anger and hate," said a staff member who works in Stern's administrative office. "Rabbi Moshe Tendler is a scary man."

School administrators are doing their best, it would seem, to keep their faculty quiet on the subject. When queried, faculty members would provide only PR-tinged responses about how they could not speak to the press, while others would speak only on condition of anonymity.

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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