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Professors are supposed to be smart. That’s why they’re professors. Certainly, Joy Ladin is no dummy. The literature professor waited until she’d secured tenure before advising her dean at New York’s Jewish Yeshiva University that she would be transitioning, fully expressing her female identity. No more Professor Jay.
She wasn’t expecting the fallout, mild as it was. Everything would be just fine – as long as she didn’t set foot on campus.
(Photo by Lisa Ross)
”The university wanted me to go away for a while,” Ladin recalls. ”All I had to do was not do my job. It’s a situation many academics would kill for.”
But for Ladin, it was too much to ask.
”I’d never experienced discrimination before. I was completely unprepared for it. It just hurt. There were a couple blocks on planet Earth where I wasn’t allowed to go, two blocks where I was considered too horrible to be seen,” she says, adding that while her gender is an integral part of her, it’s still only part. ”My identity as a teacher is a very important part, too.”
Today, Ladin believes she is the first openly transgender employee at an Orthodox Jewish institution, and is sharing that experience and more in her memoir, Through the Door of Life. On Sunday, Oct. 14, she’ll be in D.C. as a guest of the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival at the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Center.
She guesses that sharing parts of her book in the planned discussion with Lilith Magazine editor Susan Weidman Schneider won’t be a tragic retelling. Yes, there is some sadness in her story, Ladin grants, but she’s also partial to humor.
”I like laughing, and I tried to ensure there would be laughter in the book,” she says. ”I guess we will be doing some laughing, also touching on some profound questions of what gender means. What it means to be a woman, to be a Jew. I think both Jews and transsexuals need good senses of humor to survive. All oppressed people need a good sense of humor.”
Joy Ladin appears Sunday, Oct. 14, at 11 a.m. at the DCJCC, 1529 16th St. NW. Tickets, which include a light brunch, are $15, $12 for DCJCC members, seniors and students with ID. 202-518-9400, washingtondcjcc.org.