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Through the Door of Life

A Jewish Journey between Genders

Joy Ladin

Publication Year: 2012

Professor Jay Ladin made headlines around the world when, after years of teaching literature at Yeshiva University, he returned to the Orthodox Jewish campus as a woman—Joy Ladin. In Through the Door of Life, Joy Ladin takes readers inside her transition as she changed genders and, in the process, created a new self.
    With unsparing honesty and surprising humor, Ladin wrestles with both the practical problems of gender transition and the larger moral, spiritual, and philosophical questions that arise. Ladin recounts her struggle to reconcile the pain of her experience living as the “wrong” gender with the pain of her children in losing the father they love. We eavesdrop on her lifelong conversations with the God whom she sees both as the source of her agony and as her hope for transcending it. We look over her shoulder as she learns to walk and talk as a woman after forty-plus years of walking and talking as a man. We stare with her into the mirror as she asks herself how the new self she is creating will ever become real.
    Ladin’s poignant memoir takes us from the death of living as the man she knew she wasn’t, to the shattering of family and career that accompanied her transition, to the new self, relationships, and love she finds when she opens the door of life.

“Wrenching—and liberating. . . .[it] opens up new ways of looking at gender and the place of LGBT Jews in community.”—Greater Phoenix Jewish News

“Given her high-profile academic position, Ladin’s transition was a major news story in Israel and even internationally. But behind the public story was a private struggle and learning experience, and Ladin pulls no punches in telling that story. She offers a peek into how daunting it was to learn, with little support from others, how to dress as a middle-aged woman, to mu on make-up, to walk and talk like a female. She provides a front-row seat for observing how one person confronted a seemingly impossible situation and how she triumphed, however shakingly, over the many adversities, both societal and psychological, that stood in the way.”—The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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A Blessing - Spring 2007

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pp. 3-5

Every day I say a blessing in Hebrew over my medication: “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, who has kept us, preserved us, and brought us to this time.” That blessing is traditionally said at the beginnings of holidays, on the eating of new kinds of fruit...

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1. Introduction: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Stern College - September 2008

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pp. 7-18

It was a beautiful New York September day, sunny, warm but not hot, with a sky so blue it seemed to laugh at the hard-nosed realism of the skyscrapers thrusting into it. As I walked south from Grand Central to begin the fall 2008 semester at Stern College...

Part One: Who Will Be

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pp. 19-96

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1. Things Fall Apart - Summer 2005

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pp. 21-35

Aman is standing in the shower. It’s the weekend, it’s Saturday, it’s sunny, he’s in his thirties, his early forties, taking a long, hot weekend shower, listening to his family—first one child, then another, then three together—screaming happily with their mother...

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2. Being a Man - Fall 2006

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pp. 36-43

"What’s so bad about being a man?” my wife asks me. I’ve been living in the house for months since shaving off my beard and mustache and starting to wear androgynous but female-marketed clothing. At first, we talked compulsively, night after...

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3. Girl in a Bag - Winter 2007

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pp. 44-54

"What’s in those?” my friend asks, her eyes swiveling toward me and then back to the road. “Birdseed,” I answer. “Birdseed in panty hose.” She laughs. We are talking about my breasts...

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4. In the Image - Spring 2007

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pp. 55-61

The usual Starbucks where I change for work—the one with two bathrooms—is under renovation, so I head across Union Square to its cozier northwestern counterpart. The line there is ten deep, and it’s already midmorning. E-mails from undergraduates...

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5. Suicide - Spring 2007

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pp. 62-74

So there I was, a week or two later, howling on hands and knees on the terra-cotta tiles of my globe-trotting friend’s West Village apartment, finally ready to die. Jumping would be the easiest way to go; I wondered how hard it would be to unlock the...

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6. Truth - Spring 2007

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pp. 75-80

"So, did you go to an all-girl school?” the elegantly dressed woman asks. Since I started my transition, I’ve been asked a lot of questions by friends and fellow travelers, but this is a new one. Not only did I not go to an...

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7. Choosing Life - June 26, 2007

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pp. 81-96

The answer to the problem of being human fits on one small stone. I’m looking at it now: a rounded triangle of Jerusalem stone, its bone whiteness streaked with browns and grays and veins that gleam pink when the sun strikes at the right angle...

Part Two: Adolescence

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pp. 97-152

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8. Adolescence - Summer 2007

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pp. 99-114

Like a Dior fashion spread gone terribly wrong, the tangle of sheer lemon dress and not-quite-female skin writhed in the mirror, struggling to separate flesh from fabric without disturbing the brown curtain that concealed it from the high-end consignment...

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9. Mothering - Summer 2007

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pp. 115-123

If your mother has never seen your face—if you have never had a face to be seen—if, in a sense, you have never been born— do you have a mother? And if your mother has always called you “son,” can you ever really become her daughter...

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10. Like a Natural Woman - July 2007

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pp. 124-131

There was no doubt about it: the Australian flashing me the I-know-you-feel-so-lucky-I’m-smiling-at-you grin was cute. This was strange, not because he was Australian—voted, I am told, as among the sexiest males on the planet—but because, as...

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11. Anger - Summer 2007

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pp. 132-152

My wife called while I was driving with the kids. It was another in a string of blazing, humid summer days, and the car— the new used car they had helped me pick out when the Altima I had moved out in abruptly died—was cool and comfortable...

Part Three: The Door of Life

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12. The Day My Father Died - October 2, 2007

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pp. 155-164

The day my father died—almost six months after my mother first saw me—I slept past dawn. My father had died in the darkness, around 5 a.m. I was dreaming. I wasn’t dreaming of him. The night had been as warm as day...

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13. The God Thing - Fall 2007

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pp. 165-186

God comes after the worst nightmare I’ve ever had. I’m at the family house, in the kitchen, at the end of a visit. My wife and children are leaving too, on their way to do something that involves boots and down vests. I’m curious. I’m...

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14. The Voice of the Future - Summer 2008

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pp. 187-202

Some mornings I hear the voice of the future. I wake early, dipping in and out of consciousness, muttering prayers that tangle with half-dreamt dreams. The trees behind my eyelids grow lighter, birds scream, and the paws of...

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15. Two Trips to the Wailing Wall - March 2002 and October 2008

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pp. 203-213

It’s 2002. I still have a family; I’m still a man and am sure I always will be. We’re in Israel together, wandering through a Jerusalem emptied of tourists by a vicious cycle of suicide bombings and Israeli army reprisals. No one is in the souk, the Arab market, but...

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16. Teaching Naked - Spring 2010

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pp. 214-224

I wish I could ask Rachel, the young woman sitting two feet away from me, passionately explicating a poem: “Do you know that I used to be a man?” Rachel’s eyes are glowing, kindled, as they always are, by the friction of sound and meaning...

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17. The Door of Life - March 2010

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pp. 225-243

The day before the day on which I had decided to die, I met the love of my life. It’s hard to explain why, but, as winter 2010 was ending, I realized that the life I’d fought so hard to create was unlivable. Mostly, it...

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18. Try - May 2010

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pp. 244-255

"Why did you have to be a girl?” my youngest asks. It’s spring 2010, almost three years since I moved out. She’s naked and glistening in a bath whose bubbles are disappearing, surrounded by a flotilla of toys—plastic animals, a large submarine, a battered...

Further Reading, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780299287337
E-ISBN-10: 0299287335
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299287306
Print-ISBN-10: 0299287300

Publication Year: 2012