Trapped in her ‘own private concentration camp': Once a doting Jewish family man, how Joy became a woman – and a heroine of the transgender community
Jay Ladin was a beloved husband, doting father and respected English teacher in New York, but one who was tortured by the knowledge he was living a lie.
Now known to the world as Joy, a woman in her early fifties, the remarkable story of how this Jewish university professor suppressed her feminine instincts for so long is to be published next week in a new memoir.
A celebrated figure of the transgender community, Ms Ladin's journey has been arduously long and fraught with torment, secrecy and guilt.
Born again Jew: Transgender author Joy Ladin (right), once known as Jay (left) finally underwent a long-desired sex change after years of personal torment
In her book entitled Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders, the author writes about the decades spent living as man with gender dysphoria.
'A body is there, but it’s not yours,' she explains. 'A voice is coming out of your throat, but you don’t recognize it. The mirror contains another person’s face.
'When your children wrap their arms around you, they seem to be hugging someone else.'
In the memoir, the present day takes place in 2005 when Ms Ladin has finally shaved off her facial hair for good and started dressing in androgynous clothing.
During arguments with her wife, she recalls wanting to explain: 'This isn’t a typical male midlife crisis – it’s a typical transsexual midlife crisis.'
When asked repeatedly: 'What is so bad about being a man' Ms Ladin carefully replies: 'What’s bad about being a man is that I’m not one.'
As a man, Jay Ladin always knew he liked to dress in women's clothing and was honest about his tendencies with his then girlfriend in college.
But when the couple married, the aspiring academic found he was forced to quash any instincts to be anyone other the husband his wife expected him to be.
Out! The story of Ms Ladin's gender transformation is chronicled in a book
In her book the now renamed author recalls: 'After decades of practice, I had a well-prepared repertoire of male gestures, tones, even conversational topics that I could trot out as the occasion demanded.
'I had become an expert at translating my smallest impulses into an acceptably male idiom. As a man, I was a father, a husband, a teacher, a writer. As a woman, I was nothing.'
But when she became obsessed with thoughts about gender and struggled to perform even the smallest task without wondering about gender norms, she suffered a series of breakdowns.
'In the name of being a husband and father, I had turned gender dysphoria from a chronic discomfort and occasional crisis into a system of torture,' she chronicles.
'For years, being a man had been a habit. Now, being a man was a matter of constant self-denial, a desperate failing effort to control the rage for transformation that seemed to be all that was left of me.
When the walls of her 'private concentration camp finally collapsed' in 2005, Ms Ladin's wife refused to approve of what she saw as the destruction and erasure of their lives together.
'Most literature on transsexuality implies that there is a moral obligation for others to recognize the supremacy of the transsexual’s needs,' writes the professor.
But her wife was not like everyone else. Her 'courage' as a young adult to resist the moral decree that a woman should always put others' needs before her own – that had once been the object of her husband's admiration – now stood in the way of her acceptance of his true identity.
'Rather than swallowing her pain and focusing on my mine, she decided to fight for her life,' Ms Ladin explains in the book. 'If I had been faithless, she would be faithful.
'If I denied the reality of the man she loved, she would mourn and defend him.'
The couple eventually split and though Yeshiva University placed Ms Ladin on leave, the teacher was soon allowed back to work as her new persona, Joy.
Kay Ryan, former poet laureate of the United States, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry said about the memoir: 'Joy Ladin’s book…is anything but a trans
tract; it is a fierce story of regular old human life: hideous choices,
endless repercussions, occasional glory, frequent humiliation, abiding
difficulty. It could have happened to us.
'She makes us believe it.'