When my youngest brother died our family had to print two separate obituaries. On the cover of one, he wore a tie. Long, rope-like dreadlocks framed his smiling face. But he wasn’t smiling on the second obit. In fact, he was not a “he” at all. The pensive eyes of a young woman stared from the page. Tendrils of long black hair were swept back, away from her delicate forehead and cheeks.
Raymond was undergoing a sex change but not everyone knew it until that rainy morning in January 1996 when we all walked into an ornate, Buddhist temple to pay our final respects. That’s when select friends, co-workers and even some family members learned the truth about this sensitive soul who was born way ahead of his times.
Raymond read encyclopedias like they were storybooks, meditated in a lotus position and became vegetarian — all before the age of 13. So, my family shouldn’t have been surprised when we discovered something else about him was startlingly different. His body was producing more estrogen than testosterone. According to Raymond, a new “strain of humanity” was being created.
I was closer to him than anyone and the first to discover his secret. It confused me for a while, and I worried about him constantly. When he drowned at the age of 40 in the San Francisco Bay, I became more determined to understand his need to cross over to another gender. I recalled that he had once compared himself to a platypus, a mammal with the bill and webbed feet of a duck and the body of a beaver. He explained that transsexuals were hybrids who needed help becoming their true selves.
Society has a tough time classifying hybrids like my brother. Case in point: A South African female runner faced a gender challenge that disqualified her from the 2009 World Championships in London. Though she was born a female, blood tests revealed her testosterone levels were as high as a man’s. The dilemma left many unanswered questions. Was she cheating? Or was she another example of that “strain of humanity” Raymond referred to years ago?
At the time of his announcement, Raymond was already morphing. His voice, which was never loud or husky to being with, had risen a few octaves and he was speaking in a tone so soft people often remarked that he sounded like me, his older sister. I loved my brilliant baby brother and had no reason to read anything into the way he talked. I took as much pride in our similar voice inflections as I did in our shared cheekbones and smiles. I saw us as shadows of one another, the two musketeers who used to stay up extra late on Saturday nights, watching low-budget sci-fi movies or giggling when absolutely no one else seemed amused.
Raymond was the person I went to with many of my concerns, a child guru who knew more about life and death than anyone I’d ever met. I suppose that’s why one of our babysitters gave him the label “the prophet.” Or why his friends referred to him as their spiritual teacher. Admittedly, I, too, was one of his students, following his guidance and reading books he’d recommend. Our special bond was unshakable — even after he unveiled the identity he had spent years trying to mask.
But one thing was altered. My awareness. For the first time, I found myself pondering the limitations and demands of gender role playing. After a lengthy discussion with Raymond, I developed a better grasp on the inherently free state of our spirits, and I lost respect for a society that told people that their bodies, more specifically, their genitalia had the final word over how they should think and feel.
Then Raymond died and, as my family bore the pain of his loss, we also continued our struggle to come to terms with his unusual orientation. We saw it as a misunderstood phenomenon. A social taboo not to be shared with anyone. A mysterious mountain we had to climb all alone.
So, when Bruce Jenner made his 2015 declaration, I was underwhelmed. I didn’t bother to read the news stories, the zinging commentary, the potpourri of Facebook memes. The journey of a man becoming a woman yet still professing a romantic interest in women was old news to me. My brother/sister Raymond had a girlfriend and planned to continue to have girlfriends. It was his physical form that made him feel imprisoned. He had no yearning to be intimate with a man.
My goal is to one day tell his full story and offer deeper insight into what is, perhaps, the most perplexing stigma in our society. This blog is the first step. It was a long time coming, a revelation I considered making public 22 years ago, began to write more than a decade ago and didn’t have the courage to finish until now – March 2019.
That’s how difficult it’s been to sort through my fears and expose the quiet turmoil of an introspective man named Raymond Crittendon who evolved into a warm, deeply-intuitive woman known as Malaika Lawshea. It’s also how long it has taken me to remove my impenetrable shield. Opening up takes guts. Facing torpedoes of ugly criticism takes thick skin.
But I have conquered those insecurities now, and all I can say to the skeptics is: Bring it! I’m no longer vulnerable to childish name calling and bigoted, homophobic attacks. I live in an inner world of peace, and I celebrate the right of all consenting adults to express themselves openly, lovingly and through the light in which they were intended to shine. I’m not the least bit worried about what others think. For no matter how many negative remarks are made and how many insults are hurled, one thing cannot be denied:
Raymond/Malaika was brave enough to open the door and pave the way for others destined to walk the same path. He/she was a trailblazer who I am proud to call my sibling.