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Cocoon: The Return (to myself)

full-grown adult lying on their side on the sidewalk with butterfly wings drawn in chalk behind them.
Me. With wings.

“Hang on to this nasty ol’ lifeless skin for me, will ya?” said no snake ever.

Here I sit. Just about 3 months into boob-free livin’. Just shy of 45 years into my incredibly evolving life.

I have molted many times. My most recent slough was surgically facilitated, but a systemic, even seismic cast-off nonetheless.

This purging of selves has been ongoing.

I’ve shed my skin. I’ve molted my feathers. I’ve built a variety of chrysalis-like structures and emerged anew.

It’s not possible to mark a start point of any of these transformations, but the evolutions will cease only at the unmistakable moment of my death when, as Sheldon Solomon says, I “will be summarily obliterated and my atoms redistributed.”

As I continue to shift, loosen and extinguish the perspectives, habits (and yes, body parts) that no longer serve me, I watch people dear to me, people in the periphery, and everywhere in between remain unaware of their unconscious desire that I just… don’t.

I watch them grieve and I watch them try even harder not to.

I won’t pretend it’s easy to love a shapeshifter, but the very human desire for things to stay the same kind of sucks when you’re the changing thing.

I believe with all my heart that most people, particularly my dear ones, are open to and happy for each new iteration of this thing I call “me.” And it does less than no good to deny that a much less aspirational and more comfort-driven part of folks isn’t just simultaneously over it.

That’s fair. And it still sucks. All the way around.

People often remark on my “patience” and “graciousness” when they mess up my pronouns or misgender me or any number of other things that discount the reality that I experience inside my undeniably malleable self. I think I mostly do display these traits in these situations, but there’s more at work here than a constitutionally conciliatory nature or good ol’ fashioned conflict avoidance.

When anachronistic missteps happen (because, let’s be honest, that’s what they are; anachronisms…) it’s pretty easy to respond with kindness.

The people in my life didn’t know they were going to have to come to a new land to stay in relationship with me. I didn’t ask before I set off because embarking on a trip into oneself is not an event that requires permission from outside sources. Nevertheless, I really want people to like it here and to feel loved and welcome as they learn the culture and traditions of the shapeshifters.

I’m the one who sprouted wings. I’m the one who jettisoned the ballast of old identities over months and years. I grieved and learned the new ways as I journeyed; with each skin cell, with each wound healed, with each story released. And on the other side of each loss or new learning was incredible freedom and lightness that I would get to keep. Rewards I would never relinquish, but that I can only imagine sometimes made the space around me feel a bit foreign to people who had become accustomed to the old ways.

In the space of my grace and patience there is one important boundary to grasp cleanly. The grief my dear ones experience is not for me. It’s for them. It’s for their stories of who they thought I was, who they want me to be and for the way they wish I’d stay.

That’s cool. And that’s not mine.

They will have to grieve on their own time. I am in a place of celebration.

I wish with the deepest parts of my as-yet-not-fully-revealed soul that we could have grieved together, but while I was changing and shedding and growing, I was building the courage to share what I knew would likely be perceived as “less than,” at least until it would be understood as “so much more beautiful than.”

It’s an incredibly lonely and inescapably vital series of steps to surrender into the chrysalis or to fall fully into the feel of one’s feathers falling out. I am no braver than the fox who chews its own leg off to escape the trap. It’s a misnomer to call any of this a choice. I must go when my skin, when my circumstance, when the world is too small for me.

Out. Up. Through. Into.

Every time I have spun and spat and whittled to create my cocoon, I have ached for you to come with me, but I knew I might just lose my nerve if I asked you to look in the mirror with me while I became. I longed for you to see and weigh in on each draft. I wanted desperately to save you the desolate and inaccurate stories of loss and betrayal that I feared would come with the latest unveiling. But we all must do this work of completing our birth alone. The scaffolding of the new has to be built inside, without external collaboration. It’s simply too risky to do otherwise. If even your eyes had said, “Please don’t.” I wouldn’t have. And that would have been the end.

Repression and permission are too easily conflated.

I have never changed to harm those around me. I have changed, every single time, because I finally became tired of harming myself to protect others.

If you want my snake skin, please squirrel it away when I’m not looking and don’t ever tell me that you take it out and stroke it. Mementos are for the past. I’m looking forward to what’s next and if you're willing to leave that old skin behind, you can come, too.


Aug 08, 2021

Thank you for sharing this journey with us all, Cal. That first “shapeshifter” really hit. Perfectly. Asking permission, especially about something as fundamental as one‘s own whole SELF sounds…crazy. Keep shedding! Every fresh iteration is brighter and you’er!


Janet Neely
Janet Neely
May 03, 2021

I have thought of you often, sending you healing and wellness....hoping you were well and emerging as beautifully as i knew you would. You are a source of inspiration to me, and i’m sure to many others to live authentically and unapologetically .... to “screw up your courage” and step boldly into whomever you are....thank you for continuing to share your journey. Namaste and Blessed Be, dear one.


May 03, 2021

A deep look into the consciousness and experience of those who transcend and evolve into who they are, either in the moment or for eternity. I admire your empathy for those still learning the multitudes of pathways we take through life; yet, understanding it’s their journey no matter how difficult. I’m inspired. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt and deeply personal story.

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