People ask me what the difference is between religion and spirituality, especially with respect to a transperson. They’re not really the same thing, though religion sometime relies on spirituality and spirituality may be colored by religion. Perhaps my telling about the best love I had ever known among humankind would best explain it.
This story lacks the usual references for a reason. No verifiable facts about this would appear online. Spirituality must be experienced to be properly understood and it’s different for every person. This story is an introspective one.
Years ago as a Seventh-Day Adventist the church repeatedly sent to call on an old woman nobody really liked because she dearly loved to complain. “That Bible worker doesn’t come to see me anymore!” “The pastor is a moneygrubber!” She went on and on with her rants, as if to dump gallons of venom on me with every visit.
She might be called bionic too. About every month she went into the hospital for some new surgery which might consist of a new plate installed in her skull or a prosthesis in some limb or rib. He had a pacemaker installed too. Clearly this woman was living on borrowed time.
You’d think that a shut-in like that would want to pray or hear some good ol’ gospel music. But she wanted none of that. All she wanted to do was complain and complain and complain. This went on for years. Even after I resigned from the SDA church in 1995 I continued to pay her a visit from time to time. I never stopped wondering what on earth I could do to help this woman.
One day I did the unthinkable. I kissed her. And I don’t give pecks.
Her reaction? She became suddenly quiet and smiled. I bade her farewell.
The following week a phone call came in from her caretaker. She acknowledged my visit to the crotchety old woman and told me that she died that evening. I was thunderstruck.
A simple token of affection was all she wanted. Only then was she able to release. Only then was she ready to die. I don’t know how long I moped around from the news feeling guilt for not realizing this earlier. But I determined that I would not allow another to come within my reach to go away empty again.
But then I met Rosanne, a woman of my temple with fiery eyes and wasn’t particularly pretty. I loved her as soon as our eyes first met in the temple doorway. We engaged in easy conversation after ritual time. But it would be a year before our friendship really flourished. When I next saw her at her home she looked like she had aged 20 years.
Each time we met the love between us grew. But it wasn’t the kind of love you’d probably think. We kissed like lovers because we were. But neither of us was interested in sex with each other. I had trust issues with women after a bad marriage that persisted 21 years. I still find myself unable to trust a female in that way.
We spent many a weekend afternoon talking about crystals, temple events, and engaging in some light rituals. She understood crystals better than anyone I knew. She had also been a bellydancer in her prime, performing 45 minute routines in cabaret. She taught me what she could and gave me my first set of professional zils, Saroyans that produced a sweet and strong ring when struck.
One January afternoon I visited her to find her in deplorable condition. She had not eaten in 6 weeks. She couldn’t keep water down. Intense pain from adhesions due to endometriosis jarred her awake every few minutes. Despite my urging her to let me take her to an emergency room she refused. All I could do was lay next to her and stroke her to affect a charmed sleep.
But her mother and sister arrived the following week and put her into a local hospital. That’s where I found her next. That’s also where her family first met me. After I kissed her good night her mother lit into her with, “Are you having an affair with this man?”
She doubled over with hysterical laughter. She knew something they didn’t but soon would.
Those were my days before transition so I only went out as a woman part of the time. Rosanne had already seen me as Lynnea and Rosanne wasn’t into transwomen. The next time I visited Rosanne at her home I came as Lynnea. Rosanne’s mother understood. That’s when she began to warm up to me.
Rosanne endured 3 surgeries and 2 rounds of chemotherapy. Her hair fell away. My heart ached to watch her grow increasingly feeble, unable at times to withstand the soft touch of her finger on a keypad. When her pain brought her to tears I kissed them away. I also helped to clear her basement since she had to sell off much of what she had to pay her mounting medical bills.
In 1999 work took me to the Bay Area and away from Rosanne. But I still went to the nearby Fremont Library each day to use a computer for correspondence. We spoke of dreams and the deities we knew. But her e-mails diminished in frequency while they grew more poetic and reading as if she was addressing everyone:
“@–>– >—A rose for you
@–>– >— A rose for you
The Goddess dances in the wind…”
On a Labor Day weekend I returned to Southern California to visit Rosanne and go to temple. She had moved into smaller quarters by then. Medical bills had driven her to bankruptcy. She could no longer keep her house in Pomona. She set aside 2 bellydance outfits, one in which she would be buried. She gave the rest to me including a bra and belt she had used in many a performance. She also gave me her “Cinderella dress” which she had sewn with dreams of meeting her prince at a dance ball. But she knew that dream would never happen in this incarnation. I would wear it in her honor as formal wear in a beauty pageant in which I would compete.
Rosanne then did something that blew me away. She picked out an old Altoids tin and opened it. Inside I could see a button, a piece of glass, and some stones__ a childhood treasure. She said I was the only one besides her that had ever seen it. Neither of her 2 husbands had. She couldn’t trust them with seeing it. I fought my desire to cry.
One day her e-mails fell silent. I thought of her often, fearing the worst. Soon e-mails arrived from her sister Lilly. She told me that Rosanne had returned to her parent’s home in Paradise, California. She rested on her death bed. She had given up fighting. Lilly asked me to send e-mails to her that she could read to Rosanne because we had been so close. So I did.
One night I dreamed an intense dream.
I see the ocean with a teal color like a shimmery bellydance skirt Rosanne had given me. The waves curl a special curl that sprays to one side. I also see what looked like 2 cats cavorting in the air. The dream coalesces into a bolt like that of lightning and I awake.
I bolt wide awake. I see a butterfly of light circling the room before it flutters out the window northward till I see it no more.
The next day I was driving through San Francisco, arriving at Ocean Beach. As soon as I saw the water my mouth dropped wide open. The color matched the teal of my dream. So did the curl of the waves. I had to stop.
I watched as the wind blew furiously from the northwest. Few bothered to stop at this beach on such a blustery day. But as I watched, 2 crows tried to fly against the fury of nature, the wind contorting their wings into catlike shapes.
Just then I understood. I remembered that Rosanne was a shamaness. I had also read at the local college some years before then that Altaic shamans were known to depart from this world in the form of a butterfly of light. Rosanne had said goodbye to me in that dream the previous night. I knew she was gone and began to weep.
I walked onto the beach toward the breakers. Wind blasted my legs sore with sand. But I didn’t care. My grief was so great I could have died there. But the sandblast diminished when I neared the water line. Despite the damp windy chill I performed a rite of release for Rosanne. Then I broke down and cried for her all over again. My heart was broken and I would not be comforted. I remained so for many days.
The next day I stopped at the Fremont Library again to check my e-mails. A message from Lilly appeared on my screen. It said:
“I’m so sad to tell you that Rosanne had passed away yesterday. She had said that she loved you. I worry about you now.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “Rosanne already told me this.”
Lilly didn’t understand. As it turned out I was not permitted to attend Rosanne’s funeral for her father’s sake. Lilly said that her father would not be able to handle the fact that Rosanne had chosen a transwoman as her closest friend.
I ask you, dear reader, would religion teach you this kind of connectedness miles apart and at the threshold of death? Codifications of spiritual practices may preserve certain traditions through the ages. But they don’t activate this kind of experience on their own. These are things of the heart and from awakenings that most never experience but when they happen they blaze in stark and poignant reality. They lead you into the brightest experiences and the deepest sorrows. But in them you also find yourself. You awaken to a larger universe with immense grandeur in beauty even in tragedy. You come alive.
It’s as it were, the difference between existing and Be-ing. For a transperson, that awakening of internal truths blossoms into living in a way in which one finally awakens and finds herself or himself. They often lead one to recognize a difference in gender, driving one to shed more and more of the lies imposed from childhood. The world often thinks of us as “freaks” not only because of our gender expression but also because we often have grasped those internal truths when most of the world has not.
It also manifests into what’s often a freer set of affections. For as I learned with Rosanne, the kiss freely given means more than all the medicines in the world to a woman whose cancer had robbed her of her beauty and cast it into the withering winds of aging.
Have hearts been broken with a dream,
Not caring that Life’s Giver might rescind
The silver cord that binds them to the Earth?
Would you become a woman in the wind,
And disregard the human mirth
At something they refuse to understand?
In darkness Light does not retreat
Upon a wintery sandy strand
When memory flows bittersweet;
For none can truly dance unless the heart
Has broken with its tears that wash her clean,
And purify for truth the gods impart,
Which to the world remains unseen
While love becomes a living rapid stream.
So while the Temperance of sun and rain dance and make love together to make a rainbow the Arrow pierces the heart and compels us to transform in ways we cannot help but obey. The tears mean something. So do the joys. Transpeople get much more of this than most people do. While the winds of strife blow to scour our bodies we still breathe the clear air. When that happens we become more alive than we ever have. That’s a beautiful thing even if found in deep sadness. I found it to be so, joining dream to dream, as the weeping woman on a windy beach.