Who is This Strange Man?

By Calvin Neufeld; Geez Magazine 10th anniversary issue; Winter 2015

I remember my dad shaving his beard on rare occasions when I was growing up. He would walk in the room one day, bald-faced with a goofy grin, and I would stare at this strange man in my house. I knew he was my dad, but – where was the beard? It wasn’t right. I couldn’t get used to it. Until the beard grew back, he didn’t fit the image I had of him.

If my dad shaving his beard could shake me to my core, then I have to wonder how my own changes have affected others. How have I shaken my loved ones to their core?

The nice thing is that, unlike my father without a beard, my own changes have suited me. My family sees me – bearded as I am – as me, as much as I see me as me. Some changes are more radical than others, but not always in the ways we expect. I think my transition from female to male is a far less radical change than my dad without his beard.

When I think back on all the changes I’ve experienced in the past decade, chronicled in my articles for Geez, I can say that I’ve written as a female, as a lesbian, as a meat-eater, as a Christian, as a non-Christian, as a transsexual, as a male, as a heterosexual, and as a vegan. How in the world do I reflect on all that change? Where in the world do I begin?

In my gut, I just feel the same. I am the same person I ever was, just as my dad – freakish as it is to imagine – was the same person without his beard. The only thing that really changes is the image we have of someone.

I have experienced radical changes in my life but I feel unchanged. If anything, the changes I have undergone have been to stay me. I didn’t feel like a girl, but my body was turning into one. My options were to play along or to confess that I didn’t feel like a girl. I went with number one for a long time and suffered for it. When I went with option number two, problem solved.

Life is always changing. We exist in a whirlpool of happenings outside of our control. I remember reading that, for Gandhi, the path of truth was as straight as a razor’s edge, and the easiest to follow. I would say that for me, the path of truth has been as turbulent as an ocean’s undertow, and the hardest to follow. But the alternative is drowning. Truth is the oxygen of the soul.

Behind my father’s beard lay a strange man. A stranger one lies behind mine. And now, as a father myself, I suspect that the greatest transformations in my life are yet to come. Already I have doubled both in my capacity for love and in my experience of joy. I sing now, terribly, as I play piano – I have even been seen to dance, dreadfully – because it brings joy to a little boy. Who knows how else I am being transformed? In the words of poet Stanley Kunitz, “I am not done with my changes.”

Still, I remain the same. I am me. As long as I don’t take off my glasses. When I do, my son gives me the exact same stare I gave my beardless dad – shaken to the core – and tells me most seriously in his two-year-old words, “Daddy want to put glasses back on.”

A self-described speaker, writer, and thinker, Calvin Neufeld is an advocate of life and quality of life for oppressed species, sexual and gender minorities, racial minorities, the physically, mentally, and economically disadvantaged, and absolutely everybody else. He lives with his wife and son in Perth, Ontario. www.calvinneufeld.com

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