Last Sunday, Transgender Day of Visibility, of all the days, my friend was found dead in her home.

There are many things about this that are heartbreaking… but in these first days following her death, I think the most heartbreaking thing for me, as strange as it sounds, is that she’s finally at peace. It took death for her to find peace.

I never get to see her again, but if it means she’s finally OK now, then I guess I’m OK with never getting to see her again.

There is no more physical or emotional pain, and I suppose at the end of the day that’s all we really want for our friends.

Her reasons are her own, and I don’t feel any need to debate that. There were a number of contributing factors in her decision, and each of them is as important and personal as the last.

I just have some things to say about my most unique and beautiful friend, and a message that I hope will hold some meaning. The message: that maybe one day we can move forward more intelligently, and begin treating every single person on this earth with dignity, even if they make us uncomfortable.

I’m still processing a lot of emotions, but the thing I keep coming back to is the profound feeling of sadness that she never felt comfortable.

For much of Fred’s life he felt female. Fred was tall and strong and handsome, and kind of a badass, honestly. Very socially acceptable he was, packaged in this “correct” way for public consumption. He checked all the boxes. But inside Fred was uncomfortable, he didn’t feel right in the body he was born in.

These female feelings had a name: Francine. And when the time was right he channeled his badass energy into becoming who he truly felt like inside. When Francine was “born”, Fred finally felt right, but he was no longer packaged “correctly”, no longer conventional.

Fred was only honoring who he was: a man who felt like a woman. This person that we would come to know as Francine, had to overcome a great many hurdles as they put together a new package, one that felt like a more appropriate home for her soul to reside in.

But it was a hard sell for some, this new package… and where she felt uncomfortable in her own skin as Fred, she was made by others to feel uncomfortable in her new skin as Francine.

So she just couldn’t ever win. Never got too comfortable.

A couple of years ago, I learned that Native Americans have long recognized not just two genders but five:

  1. Men who feel like women
  2. Women who feel like men
  3. Men who feel like men
  4. Women who feel like women
  5. People who feel like both

In Native American culture, it’s the folks who aren’t “traditional” that are deemed special, the rock stars, so to speak. Men who feel like women, or women who feel like men, or people who feel like both; they have hidden secrets, understandings, and special ways about them that others do not. Their existence encompasses more.

They are revered, cherished, by their tribe.

Imagine: just being able to be you. No apologies, and no doubt. No hate thrown at you by weak, simple-minded people, no internalization of that hate, and no self-loathing. Just you… unapologetically strange, beautiful, purposeful you.

What would that world look like? I want to be a part of that world.

My friend never did get to live in that world, not for any meaningful length of time anyway.

Ever since I learned of this very well-established (and very healthy) viewpoint on gender ID, anymore I find it restrictive… and weird… the idea of just two gender identities.

Which is ironic because more than a few people would think of Franny as the weird one.

Why don’t we let people just be who they are?

Francine identified as a “she”, the whole four years that I knew her, but she’d talk to you any time you wanted about Fred. I think this made her a little different in trans world. Most trans people I’ve known won’t even tell you their given name.

But I know Fred almost as well as I know Francine, thanks to her stories. He was many things to many people, Fred was even a well known artist just like Francine, and he was a father too. And oh, how this person loved their daughter. Heaps of pride in her eyes as Francine would tell me stories about fatherhood.

Show me any woman who can do that. Talk about fatherhood like Francine could. That’s a special woman indeed.

She’d give you literally any bit of info you wondered about; some of her best stories were lived as Fred, so why wouldn’t she share those things if you wanted to know? Why wouldn’t she retain all of that as part of her persona? Why couldn’t she be both?

The fact that she embodied both, and did it unapologetically, meant a lot to me. It will mean even more to me as time goes on, I know.

Fred lived a full life, and so did Francine.

But neither of them were 100% comfortable in life, which is a shame, because they were both such a gift.

In the immediate hours following the announcement of her death, her relatives were joining the discussion online, referring to Fred’s early years. Some people were getting upset about it, suggesting that it was disrespectful, that she identified as a woman and should only be referred to as such.

But to my mind that wasn’t a wrong thing to do at all, to honor the memory of Fred. Francine did it all the time. These were the same person. For Francine to deny her manhood, would be to deny things like her daughter, who was the apple of their eye… Fred and Francine’s eye.

Same person, she’s the apple of the same eye.

Why on earth would Francine do that? Deny Fred’s accomplishments in life like that? To deny their roots, what built them as a person? She wouldn’t, she couldn’t, and she didn’t.

As I process my own grief, I am happy that there is no more pain, physical or emotional. But I am so, so achingly sad that this person couldn’t just be a man who feels like a woman.

Fear – the default setting for processing what we don’t understand – is a great way to alienate almost anything. I like to think that perhaps we could get over ourselves in favor of, you know, letting other people just live their lives.

She allowed herself to be vulnerable in this world; she accepted and maybe even trumpeted that vulnerability as part of Francine’s persona.

She knew those new tits required a certain intangible set of balls as well.

She chose the hard route, and she knew it, but I guess it wasn’t really a choice. People like her don’t choose so much as they are compelled.

I have only been blessed with a few trans friends in life so far, but every single one has been a true light in my world. Why? Well, probably because they have to dig real deep; life requires them to know exactly who they are, and to repeat it all day and every day, because they are constantly tested in this world.

When you’re that “different”, you get used to keeping your guard up and your message strong.

Probably because they are people of true substance. They are so much more than what you see, they are something else entirely… we are each something else entirely… but they know this to their very core.

Many of us float through life in our socially acceptable packages and never have to take a long look at what or who we really are.

But that’s not true at all for the people who don’t fit in either of the two “normal” buckets.

The trans people I have known, have a deep and abiding understanding of who they are. These special people, they live and breathe it. They are something many of us can’t understand, because they span both sides. They feel both ways. Their reach is so great, the span of their heart so wide, that they somehow touch both ends of two distinct worlds… the male and female, the yin and yang, the light and the dark.

It’s admirable, that reach. Incredible, all it encompasses. The vastness of that heart, the depth of that soul.

It’s so worth cherishing, any package containing such an important gift.


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