Joy Ladin


Those were the days when we were always afraid
our faces would melt
like papier maché in rain.
That parents would see we weren't their children.
That the FBI would kick down our doors
and arrest us for not being human.

Those were the days when we had always just landed.
To blend with the native population, we taught ourselves
not to count higher than two, to be this and not that,
to say "or" instead of "and." To communicate
via static. We told ourselves we knew
what hiss and crackle meant.

These days, making a living
means answering questions:
How much of you has been cut away?
How much of you is left?
Is it more polite to stare
at your face or your chest?

Words for us multiply
in academic journals and sidewalk cracks.
Power scribbles all over our bodies, power lays its eggs
in our most controversial orifices,
colonizes our genitals and pronouns,
our wardrobes, our tones of voice, our gestures.

The bursts of static are coming closer. We are too.
We walk right into public restrooms,
inscribe ourselves in directories and databases,
play ourselves playing at being human
on Broadway and television,
strewing streets with stripped-off clothes

and recycled representations.
Some of us are inspired, some of us bemused
by the increasingly frantic attempts, ours and yours,
to define us as a form of you—
as colors on your spectrum, cyborgs, post-whatever
you're longing to transcend.

Some of you have also begun to blossom
out of the bodies you were given, as distinctions
that once seemed solid as tables and chairs
dissolve in the light of a future
you never saw coming
because it was already here.

Joy Ladin is the author of seven books of poetry, including Lambda Literary Award finalists Impersonation and Transmigration, and Forward Fives award winner Coming to Life. Her memoir of gender transition, Through the Door of Life, was a 2012 National Jewish Book Award finalist. Her work has appeared in many periodicals, including American Poetry Review, Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Southwest Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review, and has been recognized with a National Endowment of the Arts fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship. She has spoken about gender identity issues around the country. She holds the David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in English at Stern College of Yeshiva University, and has also taught creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Massachusetts (Amherst). Links to her poems and essays are available at

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