John 20:11-16 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (Which means teacher).
Another well-known scene from the Gospels, Mary goes to visit the tomb and finds it empty. She begins to weep thinking that someone has stolen the body of her friend. It’s a response that makes sense. First to see your friend and the person you’ve been following brutally murdered; and then when you go to pay your respects, to feel close to the person you’ve loved and lost and to find them gone one couldn’t help but weep.
And in her grief she has an encounter with someone who she thinks is the gardener. You wonder how different Jesus looked as a resurrected person that Mary didn’t even recognize him. Was she blinded by her tears? Or did he look completely different? Either way, she doesn’t realize that she is talking to her friend until he calls her by name. What a moment. I wonder what it was in the way Jesus said Mary’s name that made he realize it was him. Did he have a special way of pronouncing it, or was it the tenderness with which he said it? In that moment, the moment of Jesus speaking her name, Mary knows she is with her friend again.
I remember the first time someone I knew didn’t recognize me. I was maybe a year into my transition, maybe not even that. I ran into one of the professor’s assistants from my seminary on a subway platform. I had her the previous semester and hadn’t seen her since. I went over to say hello and she just stared at me blankly. I waited for a subway car to pass by (drowning out our conversation) and told her who I was. Then she recognized me and we had a nice chat.
It was a surreal experience. I honestly didn’t think I looked all that different, but here was someone who I saw for an entire semester once a week who had no idea who I was. On the one hand it was a great moment. I was finally becoming the person I was meant to be. I was being seen as who I am. But it was also strange to think that people who knew me before wouldn’t know me now.
There’s a bit of a disconnect that comes about once the old you becomes unrecognizable. I see the photos of myself from the past and I don’t know who that person is anymore. It seems like I was wearing a costume that hid my real self. And this new body that I walk around in is my true face. But what does that do for the people who knew me before? People who might not have contact with me in my day to day life now.
I think of my mother and my siblings who only see me a couple of times a year. I go home and I look like a different person. Do they feel they are losing me as my face changes? I think of people I haven’t seen in years who I could probably walk past on the street today and they would have no idea it was me. Even people that I was incredibly close to. You have to work really hard to not lose the person you were in the midst of your transition.
I think early in transition there is a sense that anything is possible. That you can become a new person. And it’s true in that in some ways you can. You can reinvent yourself as you inhabit the new life you are meant to live. But for me, as my transition has gone on, there are a lot of parts about myself that I thought I had lost that I am reclaiming. There is my love of baseball and my fascination with military history. Those things that I pushed aside but now feel like I can pick back up (for a multitude of reasons). In so many ways I feel more authentically myself now that I ever did. I feel more connected to my childhood now. I think in some ways it’s because as a child I didn’t have the same disconnect with my body that I did as a teenager, but in other ways being at home in my body has allowed me to be whoever it is I feel called to be. It means that I don’t have to worry that if I shave my head I’ll be seen as female. I can wear a pink shirt without worrying about being misgendered. That is a freeing place to be.
And in being the most authentic person I can, I think that will translate into my relationships with people who might feel like they are losing the person they loved. It will translate to those people who don’t or won’t recognize the person I am now. Just like Jesus had a certain way of saying Mary’s name, I trust that there is a certain way that I interact with and speak to the people I love that will help them to recognize me even though I have a beard now and even though my body and face are different. There will be a certain way that I say “mom” that lets my mother know that she is not losing her child.
No matter how different I look, how much I change, the essence of who I am as a person remains the same. Transitioning allowed me to let go of all of the baggage I was carrying and become who I was meant to be. By becoming myself I am freed to love more wholeheartedly than I ever could before. And that is the biggest blessing of all.