This week we are thrilled to shine a spotlight on Joella Laramay! Joella grew up in Liverpool, NY, and moved to Buffalo to attend the University of Buffalo many years ago. She then transferred to Daemen College where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in English Adolescent Education.
Joella had dabbled with religious experience with her friends in high school and she began seeking her spirituality as she became an older adult. After some brief research, she decided to explore Judaism. She connected with Congregation Shir Shalom and met with Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein regarding conversion. Joella began attending Erev Shabbat services at Shir Shalom and found a welcoming community there. The congregates offered their assistance during service and she overcame her social anxiety at the Onegs. Joella continued her Jewish education by taking an Intro to Judaism class and a Hebrew class five years ago. In the past year, she reconnected with Congregation Shir Shalom and Rabbi Alex to continue her conversion process. To further her knowledge, Joella is also an active member of the Judaism and Israel subreddits.
Joella works as an automotive technician at Mavis Tire and recently published her book, The Yang & Yin of Gender Transition with No Frills Buffalo publishing which details her gender transition. Joella was also instrumental in fighting the transgender exclusion on her employee health insurance with the assistance of Noah Lewis of Transcend Legal. Joella was ecstatic to have stood up to make such a change. As quoted from her book, “Talk about change! Talk about making a difference! Mavis LLC has 3,000 employees according to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)… Transgender people make up only 0.5-0.6% of the population. So, if you say that Mavis follows these statistics, Mavis has 15 transgender employees. I’d love to meet any other trans employees we have. I didn’t just want this for myself.” (Laramay, 2020)
Joella hopes that through her book, readers will gain a clearer understanding of the gender transition process and roadblocks that people who are transitioning may face. She initially began writing the book as a rebuttal to all the “happily-ever-after” books she had read as she tried to educate herself to learn what transitioning really was. However, she found that writing about her journey was cathartic and continued writing through her entire transition, ending with her affirming surgery and recovery. The book is divided up into four parts. Part one encompasses Joella’s insights on her past and her transition up to her abandonment by her family. Part two picks up after her family’s abandonment to where she gets wheeled in for her surgery. Part three describes her surgery, recovering at the hospital, and going home. Part four goes into depth about Joella’s new insight into her life as a woman and accepting herself for who she is. Throughout the book we get deep understanding of Joella’s thoughts and feelings as she transitions and grows. She spares little detail as we read specific counseling sessions and events that have happened to her. However as Joella said, “I didn’t want this to be another autobiography about transitioning. I wanted to use my journey more as a lens to show an average person’s transition and the struggles they face. I feel like a lot of my struggles are felt by a lot of trans people.”
We are so blessed that Joella is part of Jewish Buffalo!