When I worked at the Bloomington Antique Mall there was a therapist who liked to send their transgender clients in to get acclimated to living as the opposite sex. You would see them sometimes; shy, tentative, not really sure how those around them would react.
I really did not get to know a transgender person until I started working nights as a janitor at the Monroe County Library. I liked working nights because it left my days free to attend classes. Around the same time I was hired the Library they hired another janitor; a woman named Barbara.
After the first few months Barbara came to me and said that she was transitioning to a male identity and would I call her Bobby. I agreed.
Working nights with people you tend to talk. Bobby told me that his dad had been a successful harness racer and her mother had been a gorgeous model. Bobby had been their only child. He said that her father had always been disappointed with his female self because he wasn’t pretty. He said his father only valued women for their looks and because Bobby was heavy and plain his father thought he had no worth as a female while his mother was a vain narcissistic woman who always seemed slightly embarrassed that such beauty managed to give birth to such an unlovely creature. Bobby’s mother died when he was young and he told me that the last time he saw his father the man was confined to a nursing home. When Bobby entered his room his father said, “Why do you wear shorts when you visit me? You know how disgusted I am by your thighs.”
Bobby walked out and never returned. His father died soon after.
Bobby lived with a woman, Deena, and her two children. The woman had just left a nine year marriage and this was her first lesbian relationship. The woman seemed uncomfortable with that fact as did Bobby. He had told me that his lesbianism was one more aspect of his being that had aroused disgust in her father and further strained their relationship. He seemed to desperately trying to please a man with whom relationships of any kind were no longer possible.
It also seemed as if Deena thought their relationship was more acceptable if she could believe that Bobby really was a man trapped in the body of a woman and Bobby wanted to take on a traditionally masculine role and to be a father to her children. That’s when he started seeing a therapist about transitioning to manhood.
Deena and Bobby struggled financially. She was a stay-at-home mom and he didn’t make much money as a janitor. They moved from a trailer to a little house in the woods and Bobby got in trouble for borrowing a ladder from work to do some repairs at the new house even though he brought it back the next day. My husband and I moved out of town and I quit that job has it became difficult to travel such a long distance so late at night. Sometimes I would see Bobby when we came back through town, standing in front of the Library, looking more masculine than ever. Then I lost track of him.
In January, 2007 I read a story in the newspaper that a decomposed body had been found by loggers in the woods of Greene County. I didn’t think much of it until more than a year later another when another story was published identifying the remains and they turned out to be what was left of Bobby. He had gone missing in 2005. His roommate reported him missing and his truck was found the next day but Bobby, who had changed his name to Forrest, his grandmother’s maiden name, wasn’t found until almost two years later. A friend of his, Shirley Conder, commented to the newspaper that she didn’t believe the police had taken his disappearance seriously because he was transgendered. He was 51 years old.
Shirley asserted that Forrest had been afraid of his roommate but didn’t know how to get that person out of the house. He had stopped working at the Library and was collecting disability for fibromyalgia. No mention was made of Deena and the kids.
When Barbara…Bobby…Forrest Burright was found his body had been reduced to bones and an anthropology professor from IU, along with some of his students, were brought in and recovered, “more than half a skeleton,” but the Indiana Department of health issued a death certificate listing acute myocardial infarction as the cause of death after “forensic testing” led them to conclude that his death was “probably” caused by a heart attack.
When Forrest’s roommate reported him missing back in April of 2005 he said he believed Forrest had gone to hunt mushrooms. Shirley Conder disputer this saying that Forrest hated mushroom hunting and never would have gone into the woods by himself where he was eventually found along with a black bag and a pillow. His life was celebrated with a service at the Unitarian Universalist Church and no matter what it was he was searching for I hope he found it along with the respite that he always seemed to crave but never seemed to achieve.