Transition, Death and Mourning: Jan’s Story

Transition, or transformation as a friend recently called it, is a funny thing. The very nature of the words imply change. To transition, to transform. . . to change from one state to another. For the Transgender/Transsexual, this implies changing from male to female, or female to male. And this implies a beginning and an end.

As in “Today I began my transformation”, or “My transition ended on March 12, 1994”. But in reality, for those of us who are Transgender, our transition or transformations do not begin and end so abruptly. In fact, I am not sure there are any beginnings and endings at all. But rather what we perceive as beginnings and endings are simply stages on the Journey of life.

Another way of looking at this, perhaps the beginning of a transition is the decision to take the left hand fork of the road, and the end, here we choose the right hand fork. We do indeed choose to start our transition, but at the same time, we have always been in transition. The same can be said at endings. Transformation never ends. Only the very nature of transition itself changes, and transforms. . .

Yet as we pass through each stage, we have an internal need to mark that change as having been completed. Recently I went through such a point in my personal Journey. That was the decision for, and completion of, the surgery I needed at this time. And with this surgery, I had become. I had transformed from one stage to another. I had in one gray sense left the transgender, transitional community, and joined the community of women. I know a lot of what I am saying can be debated semantically, but please bear with me. We are now entering the arena of my dreams, my feelings, my Journey. Your dreams, your feelings, your Journey will be different from mine. And that is how it should be.

So I finally transformed from a male to a female. I had completed the final step. I had become. And there were no fireworks, no parties, no announcements, it simply happened. And I felt disillusioned and let down. I found depression setting in. So I sought help, spiritual help. And I found my solution.

I decided that I needed a conference, a retreat. Later I was to come to realize what I searched for was a pilgrimage. The search was not long. I very quickly found information about just the type of retreat that I needed. It was called a Circle of Kindred Spirits. Holly Boswell runs this program. This particular Circle was to be held in North Carolina, in the Great Smoky Mountains. I contacted Holly, had her send the information and soon found myself drawn.

Circles of Kindred Spirits are somewhat confusing to many. The concept is one based on both Native American Shamanism, and Wicca, contains elements of both, but is neither. The ritual, the Shamanistic and Wiccan, serves as a focus for the Circle, a gateway to the Circle. The Circle itself is a sharing. Allowing the presence of the others to steer us into opening parts of our selves we seldom see. The Circle in the Smokies used a talking stick for a focus. This is a Native American tradition ( I think, but the origin is really not important, it’s use in the Circle is). The stick is passed around the Circle clockwise. When you posses the stick, it is your time. Each circle is given a focus, one of which was traditions and rituals in our lives. As each took the stick, they had the opportunity to share what traditions and rituals they use in their lives, to aid in focus of their spirituality. Some circles are light and fun. Others reduce the participants to tears.

With each pass of the stick, each circle, we began to grow. We began to learn, both about ourselves and each other. We began to trust, trust those in the circle to respect our divergent views, trust ourselves, and perhaps trust that the love growing within the circle could and would support us when we needed it.

Sometime, I will never know when, we became a community, a community in the true sense. With love, understanding, and caring. But yet, what I had came for eluded me. The ending I was seeking, the release I needed was not to be found.

On Saturday afternoon, we had concluded most of the major work we expected to do and broke down into smaller components to work on individual areas. Holly, myself and a third Transsexual went off to discuss our needs. We three were all post transition and had needs that differed from the rest. We discussed transition, the beginnings and endings. We discussed the gains, the changes, and the losses. We talked about rites of passage, celebrations, and mourning.

Mourning, that which I had come these many miles seeking. I had come to mourn John, and the loss I will always feel for him. Who is John? Simply, he was me. In some senses I will always be John, but in others, to transform myself into who I had become, part of John had to be sacrificed. Surgery made that sacrifice permanent. For me, what surgery really changed was that John’s departure was made permanent. And in many ways, I do indeed miss him. This is not about regrets, the Lord only knows how much more I am, how much happier, how much my contentment has grown. But this was larger than that. This was allowing part of me, that which I called John, to pass from me. This I came to mourn.

Yet mourning had not come. But still, I felt the need for something, some rite of passage from male to female, something to mark the end. It was then I realized my trip to this place was in itself a pilgrimage. The trip had become a pilgrimage. I was the pilgrim, on a holy quest for the chalice. I was seeking. I had sought. I had come. That, I supposed was the rite I needed. The actual coming, the pilgrimage. And what better to end a pilgrimage than celebration? And a celebration we had planned.

When I received the brochure for the trip, I was surprised to find that Saturday was listed as a “formal dinner and dance”. In the mountains? On a retreat? So I packed a pair of heels, a formal dinner type brocaded suit and figured “OK, why not?” It was now time, we separated, each dressing in our own way, and reassembled for a wonderful formal meal, to mark the end of our Pilgrimage. Dinner was soon served, and enjoyed. The tables cleared, candles set, and the dancing begun. And did we dance. One of our people had the miss fortune to be confined to a wheel chair, that didn’t stop us, she danced with all of us.

After a while, I decided to change and really let my hair down. I returned to my room, selected a pair of black crinkled cotton pants, a black cotton blouse and changed. And I did something I had not did for 19 months, I took my bra off. A very minor, but to me, a very symbolic act. Dressed in the cotton, with no socks or hose, just bare feet, I returned to the dance and committed myself. I allowed myself to totally immerse myself into the joy I felt. I danced. I danced harder than I had in many years. I allowed myself the freedom to celebrate who and what I had become. It was as I had always dreamed. . .

Then it happened. Suddenly I found myself totally alone in the room. I looked around and everyone was involved deeply with another, there was no place left open for me. That was OK, I was hot, drenched with sweat. I decided to walk outside and cool off. As I left the room, I was drawn to the stone medicine wheel we had so well used for focus. I entered the wheel and found the place I knew I was supposed to sit. But something was missing, in seconds I arose, went to my room and grabbed my Bear.

The bear, well I suppose it may seem strange, but to me, this stuffed Teddy Bear is a focus of my emotions. Any bear will do, but this was a special bear. I had “liberated” this bear from a state of being a hostage about 6 weeks before. I found the bear in a store in Center City Minneapolis. I bought the bear during a conference, and actually went to the conference with the bear still in the bag. That did not last long. Friends soon realized what I was carrying, and in minutes, the bag disappeared. So the bear made a lot of friends that day. But yet, he remained unnamed. My need for surgery had come up really fast, I had developed problems with the hormones I needed to take. My Endocrinologist slightly more than “suggested” that I have surgery immediately. And so we did. I had my surgery performed on the way home from the conference in Minneapolis. The bear was with me. He earned his name that day, DR Kuglistch Bear. Or DR Bear for short. DR Bear was there when John both physiologically and symbolically died. DR bear was to be on that rock in the middle of the medicine wheel that night.

I returned with my bear to the rock and sat back down. In seconds I was in tears. I had found the emotional space I was destined to mourn in, to cry in. And I did cry. I do not know how long I sat there alone, except for this vitally important stuffed Teddy Bear. But I will tell you I finally mourned my loss of John.

This was not the first time I have cried since beginning the transsexual Journey, nor I am sure, it will not be the last. But this was the first time I had cried for my loss. That I cried for what I had to sacrifice, to give up in order to become me. All the tears before, they were for pain, for suffering, for confusion, and often for other people, but not for me. This was my time to mourn, to cry. To grieve.

After some time I grew cold from the drenched cotton I was wearing. I decided that I did not want to be alone, that I could not be alone, that I should not be alone. I reentered the room with the dance and sat next to the door. I sat almost in a fetal position, hugging the bear, with tears streaming down from my eyes. I was noticed, it is impossible not to be noticed at such times. And from time to time, people would come over and sit next to me, perhaps to hold my hand, perhaps to stroke my hair, perhaps to talk to the bear. But never to talk to me. That time was not yet right. I sat there a long while, listened to the music, watched the dancers, hugged DR Bear and cried silent tears. I mourned the passage of both John, and in some strange sense, my innocence. I mourned the leaving of one community, and the entering of another. I mourned the end of my life as I had dreamed it.

It is a funny thing. I had always dreamed of becoming a girl, a woman. As far back as I can remember, early grade school I can clearly remember vivid dreams of wanting to be a woman. But I had never dreamed of being a woman. And as my transition, my transformation progressed I found that I had fewer and fewer dreams. As I became, the dreams began to dry up. I never dreamed of being a woman, only the process of becoming. Yet here I found myself a woman, and I truly do recognize that I was scared. Many of my tears that night were tears for the unknown. With the mourning for John, the end of that stage in my life, I was entering the next stage. The stage of being, not becoming. I know I will always be part John, that can never leave me, I know I will always be transgender, that is simply the truth of my life. But now, the focus must begin to shift, as it did 19 months ago from being male to becoming woman. This shift was from becoming woman to being woman. A woman who has a lot to learn, a lot to experience, and tremendous oppertunity to grow. But yet, a woman, no longer a man. Yet I am not sure at this time what sort of woman I will become, or what my role in society will be. And that is very scary to me. Perhaps in many ways, more scary than the transition from man to the transitional stage I have recently left.

After a while, perhaps an hour, again I will never know. Time at this point had no meaning to me. A friend came up behind me put her arms around me and began to talk to me. I will never know how long she talked, or all that she said. The trance I was in held me far and away from her. But gradually she brought me back. I know she told me she loved me, that she respected me. I can remember her telling me how strong I was, and how much strength she had gained from me, by simply being in my presence. I can remember her telling how I had added to the Circles, elements that were badly needed at time. I can remember her love. Slowly I began to respond, to talk, to share my grief, my mourning. She never corrected me, never tried to talk away the pain, but simply held me as I expressed that pain. We grieved together. Finally, again after an unknown time, I felt it was time to go to bed. My friend hugged me and let me know she really, honestly did care. As I knew she did. I left the dance, returned to my room, talked very briefly with my roommate and went to sleep.

The sleep was soundless and without dreams. When I awoke in the morning, I felt free and refreshed. As free as I every had felt. The grieving was over. But I also felt embarrassed, afraid to face those who had seen me so tearful the night before. I almost simply packed my bags and left without saying good-bye. But I did not. I faced this demon as I have faced so many. I left my room, and in the circle, on the rock I had sat the night before was one of the woman who had comforted me. I, still carrying DR Bear, went over and sat next to her. And I explained what had happened and what I had been through. She listened, understood and I believe she learned. At the end, we both went into the common room and rejoined the group. By now, I had faced all my demons, my spirits were high, my soul free.

We did two easy circles that morning, then began to say our good byes. A quick group picture, and it was time to leave. The trip back was different from the trip down. Coming down was full of excitement and anticipation, returning home was full of contemplation. But the weekend had ended, the pilgrimage was complete. This stage of my Journey, this stage of my learning had come full circle. I had went, in little under two years, from being a man, to truly becoming a woman. Now, I find myself back at the beginning, of another transformation, a different leg of my Journey. Am I scared? Of course I am scared. But I am also challenged by that which scares me, the unknown. I will face that unknown, I will continue this Journey, I will continue to learn and to grow, and most of all to love.