Forever Gone...But Still Alive

By Jessica Errico


The day my brother's sex-change surgery became a reality, I was overwhelmed with grief. How should I relate to my brother, now that he was a woman?

Grief clung to my body like a mourning shroud. Sorrow, like I'd never known, crushed me. I pushed against the heavy door and entered the store. On any other day, the brightly-colored cards and friendly stuffed animals would have cheered me. But this day was unlike any other. The weight of my grief would not lift.

How could I cope with the death of a person who was still alive? Having never lost a loved one, I was unprepared for the pain I felt. And this experience of loss was in no way typical. It defied any generalized outline of the "stages of grieving." I had just lost my thirty-year-old brother. By a surgical procedure, he had become my sister.

Scanning the racks of cards, I noticed the various headings. No, this popular greeting card franchise didn't provide a selection for the "New Transsexual in Your Life."

Would a "get well" message be appropriate, or did a birthday greeting better fit this occasion? I settled on a cheery, nondescript card that said, "Hope your stay in the hospital is bearable."

Though we had known for years that Jim thought a sex-change operation was the answer to his problems, today everything became final. I was forced to say goodbye to my younger brother. Jim was gone, and I was supposed to accept "Jennifer" instead. Confused and numb, I couldn't understand why God had not intervened.

Nine years ago, Jim told the family that he had lived in agony most of his life. Since childhood, he'd felt trapped in the wrong body. He forced himself to participate in Pee Wee football, mountain-climbing clubs, and weight lifting. He tried to prove he was masculine. Yet the feeling that he was a woman in a man's body did not go away.

We accepted Jim's reclusive behavior as part of his creative and sensitive nature. He successfully hid the inner "hell" that kept him in torment for twenty-one years. I couldn't begin to comprehend how he felt when, upon seeing a pretty girl on the street, he knew he should experience some sort of attraction to her, but instead only wished he could look like her.

When Jim first told us his unhappy secret, shock waves buffeted our family. My husband and I, though grieved by Jim's disclosure, promised to accept and love him no matter which gender he might choose. If he was determined to become a woman, we would love him unconditionally. But, in truth, we never stopped hoping that he would find a different answer to his identity crisis.

The ensuing years continued to be a lonely nightmare for Jim and a time of desperate uncertainty for those of us who loved him. We were aware of his suicidal moments and the torment of his soul; and we ached to come up with a solution, a "cure" to make everything the way it should be.

Jim submitted to psychological testing, to biochemical and hormonal evaluations, but nothing conclusive was found to warrant a sex change. At the same time, the results did nothing to help him feel more comfortable in his masculine body.

What caused his gender confusion? Was it because he was a premature baby, second-born in a family where the father was away on business much of the time?

As Jim struggled with the "whys?" and "should have beens," the rest of the family wondered if they had added to his turmoil. I wish now that I had sought the Great Physician for answers back in those early years. Unfortunately, it wasn't until recently that I learned of Jesus' ability to heal us emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

While we supported Jim in his attempts to sort out his sexual identity, God slowly cemented the truth of Christ Jesus into our hearts. We grew in the knowledge of His grace and felt His healing touch in our own lives. The Holy Spirit became real to both my husband and me. We felt challenged to leave the shallow waters of faith and depend more deeply on Him.

Four months before Jim's operation, we both felt we should begin interceding for him. We believed God was telling us the sex change was wrong and that we should pray against it. This reversal in our support bewildered Jim. Yet we sensed that God wanted to heal him of all his confusion and that Jim should not take matters into his own hands.

Explaining to Jim that God had made him the way he was and that surgery wasn't the answer to his problems was difficult, especially by telephone. Jim became defensive and teary during such conversations, and it broke my heart to hear him hurting. He contended that, since he only felt at peace when he dressed as a woman or visualized himself as one, God's will was for him to be healed by the sex change.

We prayed fervently that the blinders that kept Jim from seeing Jesus' love for him would fall away. We prayed that Satan (the master of deception) would be bound and that God would give Jim masculine feelings. At one point, the upcoming surgery was postponed. Our hopes soared.

Determined to be done with the agonizing uncertainty of his life, Jim picked a new date for his operation. On the night before his surgery, I lay face down on our living room carpet and sobbed for my brother until the carpet was drenched with my tears. I cried for all the emotional pain he had endured. Great waves of compassion rolled through my body.

I prayed for forgiveness for any hurts I might have caused Jim during our childhood years. I proclaimed my love for my brother. I spoke also of Jesus' love for him. I believed God for His power to do anything.

Surely Jesus would step in at the eleventh hour and save my brother. Surely my unbelieving family would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through such a miracle. Would not the God who stopped Saul on the road to Damascus also interrupt Jim's life in an equally miraculous fashion?

A phone call to the hospital the next day flattened my faith. I requested information about J. Marsh. The receptionist, taking a moment to consult the floor nurse, responded, "Oh, yes. She has just gone to her room from recovery. Would you like to speak to her?" Reality hit with the driving force of a hammer, shattering my hopes.

"No, I'll call back later, when she might feel more like talking," I heard my faltering voice say.

God had not acted the way I believed He would. Why did God allow Jim to destroy the body he had been born with? The seeming finality of what had happened mocked my faith. I had believed that God would interfere and spare Jim the consequences of a true transsexual lifestyle. But Jim got what he thought he wanted.

I realized that his lifetime struggle had not been to become something or someone, but to destroy something. It seemed to me that Jim was shaking his fist at God, saying, "I hate the way You made me, and see-I did something about it."

Was Jim's hardness of heart an obstacle to how I wanted God to work? I don't know. I'm sure that God called me to intercede for Jim. Even so, God tells me in Scripture that "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). It's not necessary for me to understand.

Jim's surgery was a day of mourning for me. The whole family reeled in the aftermath of nine anguished years of hoping that Jim wouldn't do it. I felt abandoned by God, as if all our prayers had fallen on deaf ears. My faith, having been fanned by the knowledge that "nothing is impossible" for God, was now a dying ember.

Late that evening, a Christian friend who had prayed diligently against Jim's surgery called to say he had heard the news. I shared my despair with him. His optimistic faith tugged uselessly at my numbed heart.

"But Tom," I pleaded, "don't you understand? It's not like Jim has gone `off the wagon' or something. This is mutilation! Why didn't God stop it?"

Patiently, Tom spoke words of truth and hope, reassuring me that God was yet in control. All was not lost.

Wasn't Jim's need to come to Jesus Christ the most important thing in his life? This could still happen despite what Jim had done. And couldn't our Almighty God (who healed the flesh of lepers and called forth even the dead) still heal my brother's body, if He chose to?

As Tom talked, I felt my despair begin to ebb away. Faith began to flicker again. God is always in control. To His glory, He is able to take all the circumstances of our lives and weave them into a tapestry that tells of salvation through Jesus Christ-if we let Him. I knew I needed to refocus my prayers for Jim and not discount what God could yet do in this situation.

How will God deal with "Jennifer"? Does He still see her as the baby boy He formed in our mother's womb (Psalm 139:13)? Will my sister's stubborn heart ever submit to the Holy Spirit?

Jesus is not ashamed of His children; rather, when we repent, He welcomes us into His kingdom and into the wholeness of His love. I knew that, in trusting Him with my sister, I also had to show Jesus' love for her.

Today, Jim says he is happier as Jennifer. Soon "Jennifer" will be his legal name, and I've been dealing with many ambivalent feelings. How do I reconcile all the past memories of me and my brother?

Do I shelve old photographs as if Jim is gone forever and begin a whole new relationship with Jennifer? What do I tell my preschool children about their new aunt, when they've heard us talk about Jim? In spite of this confusion, everywhere I turn I hear God's voice telling me to simply love her.

Yet, I'm struggling. The unconditional love I promised Jim all those years ago does not spring willingly from my heart. God is persistently teaching me how to love Jennifer more, to wish the best for her, and to trust her welfare to Him.

A Christian song, a book, and the keynote speaker at a conference have all been used by God to show me that loving is His first commandment. If I'm to be obedient to my Lord in this matter, I will love and trust.

Gradually, the grieving and questioning have subsided, and I have discovered the true freedom of relinquishing a loved one to Christ. Now my prayer is: "Yes Lord, show me how to love with Your kind of love, so that I might be Your light in my family and in this hurting world."

Miraculously, as I seek more love for Jennifer, just as she is, God is building my faith that He will bring her to Himself; and it will be to His glory!

Copyright (C) 1990 Distributed by Love In Action, PO Box 753307, Memphis, TN 38175-3307; 901/542-0250