Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

The Velveteen Woman

Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

The Velveteen Woman

Article excerpt

EDITORS' NOTE Those of you who have followed Parnassus in recent years will surely be familiar with the fine contributions of Jay Ladin, such as his essay-reviews on Heather McHugh and the medieval Andalusian poet Shmuel HaNagid. You may abo have noticed that our hst issue included both an essayreview (on Yona Walhch) and a poem by one Joy Ladin, and have wondered about the reUtionship between these two writers, their names separated only by a vowel. They are, in fact, the same person. We ourselves karned of the change after writing to Jay - as we still knew him - to tug his sleeve about the WalUch piece, which was overdue. He apologized for the deUy by exphining that his life had been in an uproar. Not, however, for any garden-variety reason: The cause of his turmoil was that he'd decided, after forty-odd years of living as a man (and many of those as a husband and father), to become a woman, and to call himself Joy. "Bet you've never gotten an excuse like that before," he - or rather she - added, with typical wry humor; indeed we hadn't. She abo mentioned that she'd been working on a memoir about her transition. We asked to see it, and found it so riveting that we asked whether we might publish selections from it. Joy agreed, and the result is the piece behw, cobbled together from passages in the first part of her memoir. It ends in early 2007. Since then, Joy has begun not only living full-time as a woman but teaching as one, Stern College (at Yeshiva University) having agreed to let her do so after phcing her on leave for a year.

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, at any joyous occasion when Jews want to heighten their gratitude by becoming mindful of the singularity of the moment. It is not to be said over daily events, and, though the Torah doesn't specify, surely not on the taking of medication, let alone the sort I take: progesterone and estrogen, those hormones that help define and regulate normal female bodies. I don't have a normal female body. Born without the capacity to produce more than trace amounts of female hormones, my body overproduces testosterone, masculinizing my face, bones, muscle, hair, and skin. Thanks to my medication, those effects are diminishing, and for the first time in my life, when I look in the mirror, I see someone who has begun to resemble... me.

I never thought I'd see myself in the mirror. I never thought I'd hold the means to become myself, taste it dissolving under my tongue. Every day this medication brings me slowly closer to being the person I've always wished to become and known myself to be. And so for me, every day is a singular occasion, every dosage a blessing. At a stage in life - middle age - when many of us are facing the facts of mortality, I'm experiencing rebirth, or at least a second adolescence. This perhaps is only fair, since I spent so much of my life as a ghost, haunting a body that didn't feel like mine. Rather than embodying my identity, my body erased me. Now, every day, my body and I move closer toward belonging to each other. This transformation is more than physical. As my body learns to metabolize and distribute fat according to female rather than male patterns, the sophistications accumulated over forty-five years, the blasé attitudes, the taken-for-granted mechanics of daily life, have fallen away. Consumed by the insecurities of adolescence, I'm shy, awkward, always verging on the inappropriate, a maelstrom of feeling and need, fear and excitement. I've watched these processes as a parent, but I never guessed that one day I'd be watching myself learn to walk and talk again, say hello to grownups, order in restaurants, shop for clothes, make friends. All this is new to me - or rather, has become new again. Going to work, riding a subway, making a business call: Each experience has become an adventure, uncomfortable, unpredictable, brimming with emotion and discovery. …

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