We had friends over for dinner the other night and in the course of conversation about commonplace affairs and interests, turning to general LGBTQ and trans-stuff, one of them posed the following question to me: “Do you want to be a man?” It is the question I have always dreaded, feared, hated and been shamed by and yet, it has never been directly asked of me. It has always loomed large in the disquiet at the back of my mind, mostly when I have entertained the fantasy of telling anyone in my family that I am transgender. In meticulous technicolor detail I imagine my aunt (the family member I am probably closest to, closest to in age and the “coolest” (not much of a competition there) of the bunch) looking confusedly at me and through a disbelievingly scrunched up face saying with the certain authority of one who assumes they hold the absolute and only truth and is stunned by the sheer stupidity of what they have just heard, “but you’re not a man hali. do you want to be a man?” I never get beyond that because that is where the whole daydream malfunctions, fizzles and implodes.
But this time the question wasn’t asked in that confrontational disbelief. Sandi isn’t like that at all. It was asked with such genuine interest and curiosity (and love… so typical of her) that I found myself answering with child-like artless candor. And while I’ve considered the question often, I have never formulated an answer to it. What came out of my mouth was as new to me as it was to anyone else.
“No. I don’t want to be a man. I already am male.” Then I had to pause. On some facet of reality, (clearly the concrete physical plane) that makes no sense, right? But, on some other level, in some parallel reality, it makes total sense. In my mind and heart and soul, I am male. I always have been. I’ve been a boy (or perhaps a boi) all my life. My male-ness just never manifested itself in genitalia. My male-ness was not shaped honed and hardened by societal beliefs demands or norms(sic). My male-ness is more au-naturel as they say. Before I realized that I wasn’t, I was. Or something along those lines. I mean, before it was ever pointed out to me that I was not a boy, I just assumed that I was and behaved as such without trying to act like… well, without trying at all. And quite frankly, it is the trying that trips me up even now. Perhaps ignorance really is bliss.
Fascinating. The memories come back. And the adult lens speculates and analyzes. When I was 5 I played often with children in the neighborhood. Most of the time I played with the boys – Ernie and Billy. We collected bugs. Often in the guise of our real, true, authentic selves – savers of the planet. I was simply one of the guys, one of the three heroes that we were in our own imaginings. We kept the order of nature balanced and learned as much as we could without an internet about the bugs we captured, observed and reinstated, after their brief hiatus with us, back into the landscape of 1970s suburbia. On occasion, when my friends were not available, I also played with the girls in the neighborhood. We’d play “house”. It was really the only thing I played with the girls – that game of house. Robin was always the mother in our make-believe house game. Annmarie and Michelle were Robin’s daughters – sisters – (not much of a stretch as they were siblings in real life). The father was away on business (though interestingly, none of us had fathers who traveled). I was Mike, Michelle’s boyfriend. I’d happily remove my shirt and pull up in either my pretend car or on my bike and take Michelle out on dates, placating her mother with behavior somewhere between Donnie Osmond and Eddie Haskell. Until my own real-life mother, leaning awkwardly out a window would scream for me to put my shirt back on and “get in here!” And then the fun would end. Killjoy. Not that we ever discussed my outdoor shirtless etiquette when I did come in. Not that there was probably much to discuss. I was just being who I was. And on some level, I believe my mother knew that as well. Talking about it was not going to help either of us. So thankfully, we did not.
At any rate, the difference between being and trying is vast. The discomfort in trying to be rather than just being is agonizing. The amount of mental and emotional effort, gymnastics, contorting and anguish that takes place in the vortex of self-conscious assessment and judging in a conscious attempt to be is phenomenally exhausting.
Recently though, I had the breathtakingly exhilarating experience of simply being. It was mind-blowingly amazing.
A friend slash colleague I’ve worked with for the past 16 years lost her spouse. Actually, her husband battled cancer for the last several years and at one point a few years ago when things looked bad, I visited him in the hospital. He and I hit it off easily and our rapport was one of respect, understanding and good-hearted banter. We shared similar understanding of spirituality and talked several times about the unfortunate trappings of dogmatic religion. He bounced back from that precipice, and over the next few years had ups and downs. But 6 months ago the doctors told him and his family that they could do no more. My friends, being pragmatic, had that most difficult but important talk. In that discussion, he told his wife he wanted me to officiate at his funeral.
He was from England, raised a Protestant, became a Mason. She, born in Ireland, a Catholic. Both were politically engaged and very involved in community and social activism. As I put together the service I realized that what I wanted to do was bring him into the room one last time. To allow everyone there to hug him, hold him, say goodbye and blow on that spark he planted in them. And with those fires all burning brightly, to let him go. The chapel was packed to capacity and there were people in the gallery and beyond. Folks from Ireland and England, local political figures, Masons and several members of the senior staff where she and I work as well as countless friends were in attendance. The service was an hour and a half. The substance woven of tears and laughter, stories of a life well lived, poems, blessings, so much love and companionship.
I did the funeral from my “zone”. That space where I go when I am chaplain. That place of honest presence and essence. A conduit for the abiding nature of compassion. When it was over and I looked out at all the candles kindled by his flame, I realized I also had a glow. He was someone who gave me the gift of opportunity. The opportunity to be me without trying. I realized that both in my connection with him and throughout his funeral service, I was able to just be. I simply was. God-sent grace.
So I raise a Guinness to you dear Bert. Thank you for the lessons, the laughs and the opportunity to be. May the next phase of your journey be filled with more of the same, and many many blessings.