Joy Ladin spoke to a group of students at the NYU Bronfman Center on Tuesday night, discussing her journey of transition and acceptance of both her transgender and Jewish identities. Ladin is the first openly transgender professor at Yeshiva University, an Orthodox Jewish institution in New York City.
She spoke to a group of students about feeling dissociated from her own body and her struggle to embrace her female identity.
Feeling alone in her identity, she discussed how she turned to God for answers, since she was unable to open up to anyone else in her community. Ladin recalls her relationship with her parents was difficult, since she was unable to express her true self.
“They didn’t teach me anything about being true to myself,” Ladin said. “And I taught myself to never be true to myself because there was something terribly wrong.”
Though she grew up in a community that was not dominantly Jewish, Ladin turned her attention to her religion, and began to openly identify herself as Jewish in her community and adopting traditional Jewish beliefs.
“I was delighted to find that it was about a trans character: God,” Ladin said. “Like me, God didn’t have a body. God did not fit into any human categories. God and I were in the same situation.”
Through her process of transition, Ladin held her faith in God, saying that Judaism was the only thing in the world as strange as she was. Although coming out was difficult, Ladin noted the kindness of her peers in the Jewish community, remembering her conversation with a dean at Yeshiva University when she arrived as herself for the first time at a lunch meeting.
“You look beautiful, and you don’t have to worry,” the dean told her upon seeing Ladin dressed as the woman she said she was once afraid to reveal to the world.
While many Orthodox Jews still struggle with the idea of transgender men and women, the attitudes of some have already changed in favor of the LGBTQ movement. CAS senior Tali Kuhel, who is from an Orthodox Jewish background, said she believes listening to voices like Ladin’s is important in fostering acceptance.
“It’s a time where there is some tension between people who disagree,” Kuhel said. “It’s important to come and listen to people whose voices wouldn’t normally be heard.”
Students at NYU have a vibrant and accepting community with the Kevet — Hebrew for rainbow — club, which welcomes Jewish LGBTQ students, many of whom were in attendance. Stern senior Noah Flinkman in particular found Ladin’s story gripping.
“I thought it was a very real, very eye opening and personal dialogue,” Flinkman said.
Ladin made a point of highlighting why she felt more accepted in Judaism than anywhere else.
“Even when I was being discriminated against, I had to be treated as a human being,” Ladin said. “That is the most central value in Judaism: to recognize the humanity in any human being.”
Email Kati Garrity at [email protected]nyunews.com.