Review: A Gender Transition at Yeshiva University

Joy Ladin's new memoir chronicles her transition from male to female. (Photo by Lisa A. Ross via The Jewish Daily Forward)

The Jewish Daily Forward reviewed a new memoir by a professor at Yeshiva University, about her transition from male to female and the spiritual journey that accompanied it.

“Through the Door of Life,” by Joy Ladin, “describes in sometimes heart-wrenching detail her transition from Jay, the male English literature professor at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, to Joy, the first ever openly transgender person to teach at an Orthodox Jewish institution,” writes the reviewer,  novelist Naomi Alderman.

Ladin is a lyrical writer, and there are some beautiful and moving passages in the book. She is achingly honest about her children’s difficulties in accepting that their father is now their “parent,” so honest that I sometimes wondered whether the children would be glad that this part of their life was being discussed so openly. She writes extremely well about her relationship with God — a fantastically difficult subject — evoking the numinous in rich prose, as on a summer trip with her parents in the 1960s: “… a maze of bushes bursting with blueberries… God was there for the taking, a damp cluster dangling in dimness, a thudding abundance.”

Alderman takes Ladin to task, however, for failing to examine the gender divide in her memoir.

“Sadly, while Ladin has transitioned into a woman, she’s no feminist,” Alderman writes. “Time and again throughout the book, she returns to banal clichés about what it is like to be either a man or a woman.”

But perhaps, Alderman posits, it is unfair to expect a feminist critique from a person in Ladin’s position:

To ask her, after years of longing and struggling to be a woman, to understand that women are still The Second Sex is like asking a starving woman presented with a banquet to consider the ethical implications of eating veal. And it’s clear that a genetic male who wants to present physically as a woman will have to spend more time thinking about makeup and clothes than I do, and so those superficial aspects of womanness will be more to the fore.

One Comment

  1. Ms. Alderman’s claims that I am not a feminist, know nothing of feminism, and offer “only banal cliches” (are there other kinds?) about gender roles are not only wrong about me and what I have written, but, more importantly reflect and reproduce the invidious stereotype of male-to-female transsexuals as men acting out naive, insulting versions of femininity.

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