Issue 35, Final Fringe

Transition Time

by Joy Ladin 06.18.2013

Fringe published its last issue on Monday, June 24. As part of the goodbye, we asked former contributors and staff to write about their experiences with the magazine.

It’s common for writers to measure our identities in terms of the rejections and acceptances we receive. Acceptances seem to confirm that we are indeed the wonderful writers we hope we are, that the sacrifices of time, money, and social life we make for writing are worth it. Rejections seem to confirm every doubt about our ability as writers, and, for those of us who write close to the emotional bone, our deepest existential anxieties: we have bared our souls, and the world has shrugged in boredom or grimaced in distaste.

After a couple of decades riding the ever-turning wheel of writerly fortune, I had a mantra—only acceptances matter—and I could repeat it in my sleep. But by January 2007, when I received word that Fringe had accepted my poem “Transition Time,” acceptance and rejection had once more become a matter of life and death, confirmation of my value as a person or confirmation that my life and I weren’t worth it. A few months before, I had stopped living as the man, “Jay Ladin,” under whose name I had published two books and many poems and essays, and begun living as Joy Ladin, whose credits included . . . nothing.

“Transition Time” was not only one of the first poems I sent out under my true name—and with a bio that, in order to claim my earlier publishing credits, outed me as a transsexual. It was part of a series of poems I had written while my male persona was crumbling, poems that spoke from a future I couldn’t really imagine, in which I had shed that persona and become my true self. Though the poem emerged from the birth-pangs of gender transition, I hoped—prayed, really—that its language of death, rebirth and becoming would speak more broadly to the fundamental processes of being human.

So when I opened the response from Fringe, it seemed to me that my whole effort to become my true self and make poetry of that self that would speak, as I always hope my poems will speak, to others, was riding on it. And when I saw that “Transition Time” had been accepted, that acceptance seemed to resonate backward and forward through my entire life, proving that I didn’t need to waste all that time living as a man I wasn’t, that I could approach the future knowing that the voice of my true self was intelligible and accepted by others.

Fortunately, I left all of that out of my cover letter. But though the brave, boundary-pushing, and boundlessly generous editors of Fringe couldn’t know how much was riding on my submission—one of hundreds, or was it thousands, that year—I hope they know that their acceptances and publications and email blasts have affirmed the lives of innumerable writers, and have stretched American poetry to include people who not long ago would never have found a place within it.

Thank you, Fringe. We will miss you.

Joy Ladin

Joy Ladin

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Joy Ladin, Gottesman Professor of English at Yeshiva University, is the author of six books of poetry: last year’s The Definition of Joy, Forward Fives award winner Coming to Life, Lambda Literary Award finalist Transmigration, Alternatives to History, The Book of Anna, and Psalms. Her memoir, Through the Door of Life:  A Jewish Journey Between Genders, was a finalist for a 2012 National Jewish Book Award, and a Forward Fives winner. She is also the author of a book-length study of American poetry, Soldering the Abyss:  Emily Dickinson and Modern American Poetry (VDM Publishing). 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 Fulbright Scholarship.

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