The kind man who lets strangers hunt for mushrooms on our property had prostate surgery a week ago. He has given me permission to tell you this, and that he is doing fine. One tends to be shy about maladies that have to do with our more intimate body parts, like uteruses and breasts and prostate glands. His procedure was mentioned in the church bulletin as “scheduled surgery,” while someone else was requesting prayer because of “shoulder replacement.” The assumption was that you wouldn’t want gender-specific body parts named in the church bulletin. Other parts are fine.
And really, he didn’t. But I asked to trespass on my husband’s privacy because this reminded me of the whole bathroom hullabaloo and how we are now talking about transgender stuff in that embarrassed-fascinated-tut-tut way we once reserved for “homosexuality” (now a politically-incorrect term) and, way back when, birth control and even pregnancy. Stuff that playwright/actor Ted Swartz says, in his powerful play, Listening for Grace, gives us “the ickies.” Like thinking of your parents having sex.
But we all have sex, that is, some kind of gender differentiation, and these distinguishing body parts have so much to do with who we think we are. Most of us can’t imagine the turmoil of having body parts that don’t match who we think we are, or making the tremendous effort required to bring the mismatching body and persona into alignment with the truly felt identity. Hats off and best wishes to those who need to make such a transition. Let us please get over “the ickies” about that, quickly, and live and let live. Nobody is out to get you or your children.
I asked my husband whether he felt different without his prostate gland. He thought for a bit, as he does before answering any question, because he is an honest man. He said, “No.” No worries about being less of a man? Nope.
There are other things, like dementia or mental illness, that play greater havoc with one’s identity, both to others and in one’s own regard. I just read a memoir, Brain on Fire, by Susannah Cahalan, a journalist who suffered a sudden and mysterious psychosis. For a month before she was diagnosed and treated for a rare brain inflammation, she lost herself, became someone else, a crazy person. Even after treatment she struggled for many months to recover her old self and was embarrassed to be around people who knew her before her illness but weren’t aware of what she’d been through. But there were certain people who loved her all the way through the horror, even when she wasn’t who she used to be.
We take it for granted that who people appear to be, the bodies and behaviors that we see–crazy, normal, male, female, black, white, handicapped, able-bodied–is who they are. But what if we thought of our embodied selves in another way altogether?
A friend posted a meme that expressed what I may be trying to get at: “Human life is a crucible for the creation of love. When the body’s life goes, the love remains. It was always the real point.” – Martha Beck..
In other words, the only Self that matters is that love we carry and receive and magnify and spread. Our bodies and personhoods are gloriously varied, precious, vulnerable. Whatever happens to them, whatever we do to them, may they be crucibles for that everlasting love.