On Sunday, I attended the funeral of my uncle. The funeral home was filled with friends and many of my relatives on the Eilers’ side of my family, easily a couple of hundred people.
Funerals and weddings have been on my mind for months. Depending on when these firsts would take place, I had no idea whether or not I would be able to attend any given event. I have been bound and determined not to put folks in an awkward spot with my presence. Whether or not I would do that has been one grand uncertainty.
My initial reaction was to break the ice by going as Greg. Since telling the news of my gender dysphoria and then openly transitioning, I had seen no one from my extended family. So, I thought, if I went as Greg, I would put no one on the spot and I could freely move about visiting with folks.
Not long after deciding that, I hated the idea. Last year, I had a few situations where I put Greg back on. It is so easy to go out into the world as a male. No thoughts of trying to pass. No concerns of being mis-gendered. No worries of any kind.
A few days after deciding I would attend this funeral as Greg, the idea sickened me. My sense of being female has deepened, profoundly. I go everywhere as Gina and I am comfortable everywhere I go. Recently, I took note that when I look in the mirror I see a woman. For months, whom I saw depended on how I physically looked at that moment or how I was doing emotionally. I have lost track of the last time I thought I was looking at a guy in the mirror.
I finally was ready to apply for my name change last week because of the profound progress I have made. I no longer have gender dysphoria; all ill feelings about myself are gone. Transitioning—from the medical aspect of the hormone replacement therapy, to living full time as a female, to integrating socially as a woman—has been effective treatment.
I am healthy. I am happy. I am strong.
For those who do not agree with transitioning, for those who are appalled and offended by it, for those who believe it is sinful, dig this: For the first time in my fifty-eight years of life I feel right about myself. The two-person struggle is gone. I feel like the me I’ve been trying to find since that first memory of wanting to play with the girls.
So, I floated to a number of key people the idea of my going to the funeral as Gina. Not only did every single person think it would be fine, each one was concerned with the thought of my trying to go as Greg. So, as Gina I would go.
The funeral service would be first, then the visiting. I decided that I would take a seat in the corner then, when the chairs were removed and folks milled around, I would stay put and let people come to me. I would approach no one so as not to put anyone on the spot. We arrived early enough that I was able to get the absolute rear-corner chair.
I had driven up to Montague on Friday and took my room at the Todd B & B. On Saturday, we marked granddaughter Maggie’s second birthday at my son’s pizza joint, Rebel Pies, and some shopping. Sunday morning, I went to church with Tim at Montague Methodist. It occurred to me that the last time I had been in that church was thirty-five years ago, when I served as Tim’s best man. After worship, a woman approached me. Oh, my! It was the daughter of my favorite great-aunt! It never dawned on me that someone like her might be in church that day. She smiled at me big, we threw our arms around each other, and we made quick catch-up talk. That little moment opened the door of assurance for my attending the funeral. (At the funeral, I saw her brother. “I ran into your sister at church.” “I know. She called right after church.” Of course, she did!)
After church, I drove to Grand Rapids to pick up my Swis. She can’t drive, so I love it when I can play chauffeur. Besides, I have a lot of bad-little-brother debts to pay off. Since neither of us is keeping track, I will gladly remain indebted to her.
Entering the funeral home, I was immediately put on the spot. Folks lined the hall and were standing in the coat room. I had to suppress the urge to go over to some whom I know very well. I had to let folks come to me. Some did. Some did not.
My uncle’s widow was greeting folks. Here was one of those moments of truth. She saw me, grabbed me to hug me as she would any other time. I expressed my love and sadness. She returned her appreciation. Then she was on to the next person in a long line of folks entering the funeral home.
After the service, over the hour-plus of visiting perhaps seventeen people came over to me. I was never without a person with whom to speak. Every meeting began with a hug and big smiles. Folks were so kind: “You look great, Gina!” Most conversations got cut off by the next person or two arriving. These all were folks I have known forever, almost all of whom, because I used to live far away and worked every weekend, I have not seen since the early 1990s, unless they had attended Dad’s funeral in 2010.
There were a few people I longed to embrace, who are not ready to embrace me. I caught others looking at me, their gaze broken when they saw me looking their way. I wanted to walk over to each of these, throw my arms around them, and whisper, “I’m still me.”
I will not let that part of the day detract from the success. I, Gina, for the first time attended a gathering of my extended family, and it went so very well!
Three years ago, I was chanting, “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.” Two years ago, I was retiring from the work of my life, the parish ministry, and still trying to hang in there as a male. Last year, I went public and began transitioning. I look back and am left shaking my head at everything that has transpired, and that I find myself still standing. More than standing, I am jumping into the air and clicking my heals.
On Sunday, as I chatted with one of my dad’s sisters, she reminded me of the annual family reunion. She smiled at me, “See you in July!” I smiled in reply, “I wouldn’t miss it!”