While Yentl is probably the best known Jewish transgender person, the story of Joy Ladin, as told in her autobiography, is far more intriguing, and not only because it is not fiction. Joy Ladin is a professor of poetry at Yeshiva University, the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy who transitioned from male to female and returned to teaching full-time last year. Her return was accompanied by a very public discussion surrounding her persona, and in this book, she adds her own voice to the debate.
Told in at times heart-breaking detail, Through the Door of Life shows the pain of being born, or trapped, really, in the wrong body, and the great length to which people go to live, and to survive. The book is beautifully written, even lyrical at times. Ladin is, after all, a writer. Among the trans biographies I have lately read, this one stands out because it also addresses a religious dimension, the author’s deeply felt relationship with a divine figure that seems to be a constant presence in her life, though not always a comforting one. In the book, she does not always cut a sympathetic figure, she is not a hero who sails smoothly through transition, but she emerges as a full person, a fledgling trying to figure out how to be at ease in her (female) skin.
I am waiting for the sequel, written in ten year’s time, about what it’s been like, once the newness of transitioning, of wearing skirts and make-up has worn off. What will it mean then for her, I wonder, to be female, and trans?
Here you can listen to Joy Ladin talking on being Jewish and trans, from 2011.