From Boy to Joy by Dr. David Sanders

 

The innovations of the Kabbalists in Tzfat some 500 years ago were often based on observations that led to their intuitive insights. In this regard, they were as much social scientists as they were mystics. One such naturalistic observation was the presence of people in their community who we would now identify as transsexual or transgender. They spoke about these people as “men with female souls” and “women with male souls.” The outside appearance was not reflecting an inner awareness. Their bodies were not conforming with who they knew themselves to be.

When we meet someone who challenges our preconceived categories of human expression it can be quite disorienting. We are, after all, not just social scientists gathering data. Out naturalistic observations can become quite personal. We are not observing a phenomenon—we are getting acquainted with, learning from and loving people who are “men with female souls” and “women with male souls.”

Joy Ladin, formerly Jay Ladin, a tenured English professor at Stern College for Women, had always felt her body didn’t match her soul.

Professor Ladin’s transition from male to female caused quite a stir at his Orthodox Jewish university. It disrupted his family. He nevertheless was determined to create a new rhythm to his life–to be who Jay was meant to be, to be free, to be Joy.

Joy saw her disconnect between body and soul metaphorically in the form of poetry she was (and still is) attracted to. She loves rhyme, “as there is something in rhyme, that is almost like a magic ritual of revealing identity in unlikeness.”  In an interview with Krista Tippet she reflected: “I may be making this up retrospectively, but it seems to me that rhyme was the way I felt that there was a fundamental female identity within me that rhymed with that of other born girls and women, that when I created a rhyme between dissimilar words, I was revealing something like that hidden essence. I was making it ring true. That’s what rhyme usually feels to me, like the ringing of truth.”

What is the deal with masks

when we say, they reveal

as much as they conceal.

Authentic as those may be

He or she or they

Are masks our essence convey.

1 Comment

Laura Thor, DMin, LCSW · November 19, 2019 at 10:19 am

The work of “seeing” does indeed require openness to welcoming the sacred “Other” before us. We must be good social scientists if we are ever to be ethical, moral and enlightened Jews. Responsible theology demands this. Thanks to Dr. Ladin again for her work, and to you, Dr Sanders, for this essay.

Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published.

Related Posts

say yes

Saying Yes to Yourself

I was recently speaking with my therapist about how exhausted I am from the busy-ness of life, the running around, trying to get it all done, and finding it hard to find time for self-care,

Seder Plate

Passover Prep

by Dr. David Sanders P is for examining the past, for procrastination, for purging possessions, for preparation, purpose, possibility. For Passover. With the passage of time we are enjoined to not be passive. Passover, at

A Leg Up

by Dr. David Sanders It is not a question you will hear often: “Would you like to have my husband’s leg?” For the widow or widower, clearing out their dead spouse’s closets is part of

Refugees welcomed at kabbalah experience

We were also strangers.

by Melanie Gruenwald Transformative Kabbalah reminds us to pay attention to seen and unseen reality- to connect the finite to the infinite, and recognize how they are each held in the other. In our Soul