The Virgin and the Girl-Fixer

Suddenly the whole scene changed in that Exorcism room, like an eerie and expert theater experience where, in a few seconds, the main actors change costumes and roles and the scenery is switched on invisible wheels, back to front, upside down, inside out, producing a kaleidoscope of change that makes everyone blink in disbelief.

At one moment, Father Gerald, the exorcist, was bending over the possessed, Richard/Rita,” who had sunk his teeth in his own instep. In the next instant, the glaze in Richard/Rita’s eyes broke, melting into a lurid gleam of mockery. Greenish. The
teeth loosened their grip on the instep. The mouth opened, baring gums and throat, the tongue protruded, quivering on a stream of gray foam bubbles. The whole face was furrowed in irregular lines, as Richard/Rita broke into peals of laughter. Great buffeting gusts of mocking, jeering, Schadenfreude laughter. Laughter pouring from a belly of amused scorn and contemptuous hate.

In a fraction of a second Gerald understood. The Girl-Fixer, invisible to his eyes, was on him, two claws clutching at his middle. His assistants heard the raucous laughter.

They held their ears. But Gerald’s agony they could not know. All they saw were Gerald’s - Richard O. is a transsexual. In talking about his life before his operation, I refer to him as Richard O. or simply as Richard. Afterwards, until his exorcism is completed, he is referred to as Richard/Rita. In conversation, Father Gerald frequently referred to him as R/R. With Richard O.’s permission, I refer to him throughout this narrative with the masculine pronouns-he, his, him. Today he calls himself simply Richard O. sudden, violent spasms backward and forward “as if his middle was caught in a vise”; then the screeching shredding of his cassock and clothes, leaving him naked from chest to ankles. After that, all details escaped them in the violent jerkings and writhings of his body.

Gerald felt one claw was now totally sunk in his rectum. Another claw held his genitals, stretching his scrotum away from his penis, jerking at him brutally. Both claws were stiff, cutting like the jagged edge of a tin can, driving deeper and deeper, impaling him. He reeled away from the couch where Richard/Rita lay laughing, laughing, laughing, kicking the air and thumping the couch with clenched fists in deafening bursts of merriment.

Gerald staggered zigzag across the room, bent like a jackknife, involuntary screams gushing from his throat. One claw rocked back and forth within him. Slivers of agony jabbed and pierced through his buttocks and belly arid groin, as flesh and veins and mucous membrane and skin tore and ripped irregularly.

A fetid smell wafted up to his nostrils and from behind his head. The voice of the Girl-Fixer beat at his eardrums unmercifully: “You’re my sow. I’m on you. Your boar. My snout is giving you the best blow-job in the Kingdom. Shoot, sow! Spread your legs, sow! Your boar is mounting your flesh, opening your little untouched hairs. My prick is taking your virginity. You’re no girl. But I’m still the fixer of every box!”

Gerald staggered in spasms, stumbling over his feet, doubled up, flaying the air helplessly, leaving a thin trail of semen, blood, excrement, and screams, until he bumped heavily into the wall, and fell to the floor in a twisted bundle. Blood sprang from a thin, vertical split that opened from the middle of his forehead up into his hair. Richard/Rita froze into the blazing look again. The attack had lasted about three seconds. It was over before the others recovered themselves. Suddenly, Gerald’s screams and Richard/Rita’s laughter stilled, there was a moment without sound in the room, like the farthest edge of whispers. The raw silence after raucous, earsplitting noise.

Then, a flurry of voices and activity. The doctor and the police captain lifted Gerald onto the stretcher that had ironically been brought for Richard/Rita. The four men quickly bound Richard/Rita down tightly to the iron frame of the couch. No one looked at those eyes. All felt the blazing glance on them, intent, triumphant, smug.

“Like tying down a hot, steamy carcass,” one of them recalled afterwards.

Richard/Rita’s two brothers, Bert and Jasper, eyes swollen red with tears, faces dirtied yellow with panic, carried the stretcher out. As the assistants left the house, they felt the stark contrast between the scene they had just witnessed and the outside world. In the garden by the pond the thrushes were warbling in the first wave of the dawn chorus Richard/Rita had loved so much and which had drawn him to live here in the first place. The sun was shining.

Inside, Gerald’s priest assistant, Father John, still wearing his immaculate cassock, settled down in an easy chair to watch and pray. He was wordless. Just to be sure, he held the crucifix in one hand and the holy-water flask in the other.

A year earlier, in the ordered life of the seminary, he had known nothing of all this. Had not even suspected its existence. Evil had been a definition on the white page of a theology manual. And the Devil, well, that had been really not more than a mysterious name for a gentleman thought of in terms of horns, a green face, hooves, and a forked tail. Now John had the bleached, drained look which only youth carries when strain and weariness veil its freshness, and it has neither age lines to show nor makeup to lose, only paled illusions to shield it. It was 6:20 A.M.

There would now be a delay of four and a half weeks before Gerald could resume and successfully terminate the exorcism of Richard/Rita. The violent outcome of the first part of the exorcism would provoke many difficulties for Gerald. His own bishop entertained doubts about Gerald’s competency. The psychiatrists involved in Richard/Rita’s case decided that Gerald, a layman to psychology, was meddling dangerously with Richard/Rita’s mental health. Gerald’s own health was a continuing problem. And, as experience taught, even a partial failure to complete an exorcism meant that eventual completion of it would be doubly difficult.

Yet-if at all possible-Gerald had to complete the exorcism of Richard/Rita. For two main reasons. If Gerald were not personally to do so, there would be no guarantee that he himself would be immune from at least harassment-if not worse-by the evil spirit that possessed Richard/Rita. As it happened, Gerald did not survive very long after his successful termination of the exorcism. Apart from that, there was now a definite possibility that an attempt at exorcism by another person would fail.

Gerald’s housekeeper, Hannah, showed me through the house into the garden and called out to the thin figure in shirt and jeans tending the flower beds at the far end of the garden. As I crossed the lawn, he waved to me: “Hi! Come over and chat. I want to finish this job before sunset.” It was about 5:30 P.M. The sun was beginning to cool, but its light was still gilding everything about me in warm yellow.

“Out here among my tulips,” said Father Gerald to me with a wave of the trowel in his left hand, “I have great beauty. And peace, of course.” Still bending over his flowers, as he patted the earth: “Done much gardening, Malachi, in your time?” I said I had done a little. I asked if I might take notes of our conversation. He laughed lightly in assent. From the start, Father Gerald established an atmosphere of ease: I had been expected; I should take a welcome for granted.

The last thing I had expected to find Gerald doing was tulip gardening. Sitting weakly in a deep armchair reading, perhaps. Or hobbling painfully on a stick to meet me with a wan smile. But enjoying life and tranquillity with obvious measures of physical well-being and quite evident inner happiness-this was almost a shock to me.

There were three tulip beds. He was working the middle one. Beyond them, a row of yellow azaleas. Then the ground sloped down to rolling prairie fields and distant mountains. Somewhere in the sky a small airplane droned.

His casualness was contagious. I asked: “What exactly do you like about your tulips, Gerald?” I was standing over him to one side.

Without looking up, he went on working, answering me slowly and deliberately. “No claims. You see. They don’t clamor at you. They just are there. Beautifully. Just are.”

The slight emphasis on that last word had a faint French roll to it. “As you apparently know”-this last with a boyish grin, teasing himself wryly more than he was teasing me-“I have had some dealings with beauty. And the beast. After that, you know beauty when you meet it.” He paused, glancing up at the twin mountain peaks away to the far left. But the sun was in my eyes and his features were blurred to me. Then, finishing his thought: “And the beast.”

After a minute or two, Gerald straightened up with an unhurried gentleness, facing me for the first time, his arms by his sides, his back to the sun. Now, four months after he had completed the exorcism of Richard/Rita, in retirement on the edge of a Midwestern town, Gerald, according to medical reports, had about five or six more months to live. At the age of forty-eight he had incurable heart disease and had already survived two strokes.

The man looking at me was slightly taller than myself. Thin-shouldered, blond, gray-eyed, he stood in an askew fashion, as if the center of his torso had been twisted out of shape-a memento not of the strokes, but of the Girl-Fixer; an ungentle reminder of his exorcism of Richard/Rita. A scar ran vertically up his forehead into his hairline. What struck me particularly was his face shining like a beacon-a light all over it, without any visible source. Then there was a dark, oblong patch on his forehead between the eyes. Like a nevus. Mutual friends, referring me to him, had told me about it. “Gerald’s Jesus patch” they had called it jokingly but affectionately. The new scar ran through the “patch.”

Gerald, they had said, never looks into you, just at you. Not until now did I realize what they meant. Like when you look at a city on a map in order to find out where it is. It was your context that mattered to Gerald, where you were at. Only, I did not know then what he saw as context.

“I know very little about you, except that I am supposed to trust you. Your name-Malachi Martin. Where you live-New York. You were a Jesuit once. Some books to your credit. You wanted to see me about Richard/Rita.” His tone was level and low. After a few moments and still looking at my eyes: “Nothing much else, beyond that you appear to have peace in you, but”-with a quick glance all over my face-“you strike me as not having paid all your dues.” He must have noticed some involuntary reaction in me, some unvoiced protest. “No. Not that. Those dues we hardly ever pay. I meant: you seem to have tasted beauty’s sweetness, but not its awesomeness.”

He stopped and looked down at the tulips. “I garden regularly. It relaxes. Tulips-well, I love their colors, I suppose.” Another pause. The boyish grin again. “Let’s take some tulips in to Hannah for the dinner table.”

He bent down again. There had been no tension between us, only briefly on my part, when he scrutinized me for the first time. And now the tension had disappeared. He had satisfied himself about some puzzle in me.

“I do want to talk about Richard/Rita,” I said as he set to work again. “But my chief interest bears on you.” He worked on in silence for a few moments. An early-evening breeze bent the tulips. The sunlight had dimmed to a very light gray-blue.

“You realize,” he said matter-of-factly as if to put to rest any tension I might still have, “you won’t get away with it this time. Not scot-free, anyway. I mean, if ever you paid your dues, you’ll pay them now-if you go ahead with your project.”
“I have thought about all that.”

“This is no mere fun and games, Malachi. You’re treading on their turf. Dangerously. From their point of view. If I can believe my friends, that is.” I began to notice his staccato style of speaking. “But I suppose. You’ve calculated all that. Eh? Still set on taking the risk. Risk there is. Anyway. You have your own protection. That much I can see.”

“I spent two days with Richard/Rita, Gerald.”

“All going well?” We both were avoiding the sharp-toothed pronouns, he, she, his, her, and the like.

“As far as I can judge. Of course . . .” Since his exorcism, Richard/Rita had lived in an in-between land of his mind. There was disquieting indefiniteness about him.

“Of course. I understand. But Richard/Rita is at least clean.”

“What would you say was the principal benefit to you from the whole matter?”

“Before it all happened, I never knew what love was. Or what masculine and feminine meant. Really did not. Besides, I got rid of some deep pride in myself.”

It was now getting chilly. I was happy to stroll with Gerald into the house for dinner. We talked continuously. And, as we did, it became clear to me yet again that, while true cases of Exorcism take their toll, they are not simple horror tales for frightening readers and moviegoers. For all that evening we were delving deeper not into horror, but into the frame of love that makes it possible to expel horror. And the case of Richard/Rita was important beyond many another, exactly because it centered on our ability to identify love, and on the dire risk of confusing that love with what we can only see as its physical or even chemical components.

It became clear that for Father Gerald the importance centered on the same point. Richard/Rita had carried the confusion to ghastly extremes. But for those who could come to know and understand his case, there is a lesson to be learned. I was trying to understand through Gerald and through his entire experience, so bizarre and violent, what that gentle lesson was.

“Gerald, I want to get back later perhaps to what you meant by ‘clean’-you used the term when speaking of Richard/Rita before dinner. But just now, something else is on my mind.” We were sitting in his den after dinner. “Having read the transcript of the exorcism and talked extensively with Richard/Rita, my questions to you center around sexuality and love. For instance, why were you nicknamed the ‘Virgin’ in the seminary?” I had learned this from Gerald’s friends.

“I was the only one who didn’t know the nickname for half my seminary days. As to their reason for it, it seems I gave the impression of not knowing anything about sex.” “Did you?”

“Not really. I had seen diagrams and pictures, that sort of stuff. I could distinguish a passionate kiss from a friendly or affectionate one in the movies. But sex as such remained a hidden thing for me.”

“But didn’t you have the normal feelings about twelve or thirteen or fourteen?”

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘normal.’ I never had one of those nocturnal ejaculations. Never yet had one. When I started to grow hair on various places, it sort of wasn’t there one day, and the next day it was.”

“Did you ever masturbate?”

“Never. Not that I wanted to. I didn’t. Erections around the age of puberty and later just were taken by me as happening to me. It sounds funny”-he grinned boyishly-“but not as something about which I had to do something. Embarrassing. But then my father took me for a walk and gave me his set speech on sex which he gave to all my four brothers. It always began with the affirmation: ‘Look, Gerry, you have a penis. And it is used for two things neither of which it does very well: urinating and copulating.’ All of us knew the speech by heart. Then he explained clinically what copulation was.”

I steered the conversation to the time just before Gerald had entered the seminary: had he gone out with girls or dated them or done anything more complicated than that?

Apparently he used to take the sisters of his school friends to see a movie now and then, usually in a group. He went to some dances, but never really enjoyed them. He avoided them whenever he could. He was embarrassed by girls and by women in general.

He was on his feet now. “Let’s take a turn in the garden. It will help oil the wheels.” We went outside. It was already night. A few clouds lazed across the stars. There was no moon. The garden was partially lit by the lights from the house. As we walked down toward the tulip beds we entered greater darkness. A few lights could be seen winking on the distant mountainside. There was very little sound.

“Ever kiss a girl?”

“No. Not passionately. Never.” He had been looking away while talking. Now he glanced quizzically at me. “Why all the questions about my sexual life?”

“This is my way-perhaps roundabout, but anyhow-this is my way of finding out what you now understand about love and masculinity and femininity, and what you learned in the exorcism on this score.”

We stood for a short while taking in the calm of the night and the distant lights. Then I began again.

“Let me put it like this, Gerald. I take it you entered adult life-even your life as a priest-with very flimsy notions of what sex was all about, and . . .”

“There you go again,” he interrupted good-humoredly. We traveled a few paces in silence. “I suppose basically I was like that once- minus the experience. I mean: of course, I realized about eighteen or nineteen that there was a very powerful thing called sex. But”-he stopped and looked out over the tulip beds-“it was always something I knew about. In my mind. With concepts. In myself, I felt there was this mighty urge. Never gave it any leeway. Once a girl tried to kiss me on the lips. I was frightened by the-uh the-“ He fumbled for the right word but couldn’t find it. “Look. Something told me if I let it go inside in me, it would rule me.” Then triumphantly and raising his voice: “The rawness! That’s it. The kiss felt raw.”

“And dirty for you?”

“No. Lovely raw. But too lovely. Kind of tumultuously lovely. Only I couldn’t handle that tumult, I knew.”

We turned around to stroll back toward the house. “Well, anyway, Gerald, what difference did the exorcism make to all this?”
“I suppose the best way to say it is the simple way. R/R thought for years that gender and sex were the same thing, for all practical purposes. So did I, come to think of it. Don’t know about you.” We were coming up to the house, and the light fell on his face. “You may remember from the transcript. The crux of the Girl-Fixer’s resistance lay there. [”Girl-Fixer” was the given name of the evil spirit expelled from Richard/Rita.] And it took all that talk and pain to let me see it.”

He stood facing the windows, his face and eyes bright and clear. “In a nutshell, Malachi. As I now understand it since the exorcism, when two people-a man and a woman-love each other, are making love, I now understand they are reproducing God’s love and God’s life. Sound’s banal. And it sounds trite. Even sounds evasive and vague and feathery. But that’s it. Either that, or here you have two more or less highly developed animals copulating-rutting, whatever you want to call it-and the ending is just sweet sweat, a few illusions, perhaps, and then a let’s-get-back-to-normal-existence sort of thing. Do-or-die. Now-or-never. Go bust in the effort. Anything you like. Could even learn from kangaroos, if that were the way with it.” He turned his head in a comical way and said: “Ever see two kangaroos courting and copulating? I did. In a documentary. Extraordinary. Extraordinary.” He shook his head.

“Well, apart from any practical significance that might have for you now, Gerald, you being celibate and all that . . .”

“And with a few more months to live,” he said gently but not testily, as if to make quite clear he took into account the deadline of his life. “Okay. Apart from that, maybe we’ll get back to that subject. But explain something to me. Isn’t there an in-between stage? I mean: men and women aren’t just animals. But neither are they performing an act of worship of God. Or are they? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Aaaah! The good-and-natural-act business.” He was mimicking someone I did not know, probably some professor of his seminary days. “Well.” This last word was said with sardonic emphasis. “As I now understand us men and women, we go through this world finding our way through facts and facts and more facts. Mountains of facts. But no matter what we do or get to know, all the time we are experiencing spirit. God’s spirit.”

He looked across to the lights of the nearby town. “And sometimes it’s an experience in thoughts we think. Or it comes in words we hear. More often, it’s an experience by intuition. A direct ‘looking-at.’ Some of those perceptions come like messages sent you. You hear children laughing, or see a beautiful valley in the midday sun. But you’re mainly passive. At other times, you’re doing something. And that’s better still. Like when you have compassion for someone, or forgive someone.”

We were down again at the tulip beds. He stopped at the middle one, where he had been working earlier, and looked at the silent flowers. They gleamed with wisps of color in the distant reflection of light from the house. “But in love and lovemaking, it’s the highest. | Both are acting. Both taking. Both giving. Nobody’s passive.”

At this point I made an objection, saying I had no concept of how men and women reproduce God’s love and God’s life when they love each other. We might say that, perhaps, in a remote and metaphorical way. But, then, the tulips do the same. And the kangaroos. All these, including men and women, may not know they’re reproducing God’s life and God’s love, metaphorically. But they do. Or don’t they? This was my question.

He turned away from me and faced the mountain range. His voice came in short murmurs, as if he were reading cue cards visible only to him. “You remember the Girl-Fixer, and my struggle with it. You J remember?” The crux of that struggle between Gerald and the evil spirit possessing Richard/Rita had concerned the meaning of love and of loving. “Well,” he continued, “on the plateau of love-and I don’t mean the climax of an act of love only, but the plateau of love itself-man and woman are both caught up in a dynamic of love. No past. No standing still. No anticipation. No then, now, and next. Just the black velvet across which all stars flash. No oblivion. All . . .”

“But, Gerald, God-where’s God in all this? You started off talking about God, as if the lovers were locked into an intuitive sharing of God’s life.”

He wheeled around and said almost fiercely: “That’s God! That’s what God is like.” He turned away again, as if looking for inspiration. “God’s no static and immutable quantum, as we understand those words. That’s the God in books. But-an eternal dynamic, always becoming, without having begun, without going to an end. Becoming without changing. No then. No now. No next.” As he turned and started to walk back toward the house, I fell into step with him.

“But there are two in our case. Man and woman.”

“Ah,” he said, tossing his head backward in a slight gesture, “that’s the condition we’re in. And that’s the price.”

“The price?”

“Yes, the price. In order to have that participation in God’s being, the two must reproduce God’s oneness. Must love. Truly love. You can’t fake it.”

“But what part-if you can speak like that-of God does a man reproduce and what part does a woman reproduce?”

“None. By himself and by herself. Or in himself or in herself. None. Nothing that is physical. Only in love and loving.”

“Well, in love and in loving, what do they reproduce?” We stopped halfway up the garden. Gerald was looking at me steadily, as if searching for something. After a moment, he drew in a deep breath and said softly: “As far as I know, God is beautiful, is beauty itself. Beauty in being. Being that is beauty. And God’s will is in full possession of that beauty, that being. In human love, woman loving is that being’s echo; and man desiring is that will’s parallel. In their love, will is locked with being. They simply reproduce, know, participate in God’s life and love, in God’s self some way or other. Otherwise, let’s go back to those kangaroos-or chimpanzees.”

“Well, even granting all that,” I said to him as we started to walk again, “tell me, what does masculine and feminine mean for you now, in the light of all that?”

“Remember Richard/Rita’s crux?” He looked at me, knowing I did.

This had been the center of the Pretense in the exorcism. Richard/Rita had presumed the ultimate source of masculinity and
femininity was the same as that of sexuality-the body, the chemistry of the body.

“And none of Richard/Rita’s most extreme efforts, even the operation, worked for him. He wasn’t basically androgynous. No one is, for that matter. We’re basically and immutably masculine or feminine. Nature may goof and give us the wrong genitals for our gender. No matter. Apart from a mutant form of that kind, our sexual apparatus corresponds to what we are-feminine or masculine. Androgyny is baloney.”

I laughed at the rhyme and the slang. But I had a real difficulty. According to Gerald the feminine-femininity-corresponded to God’s being; the masculine or masculinity, to God’s will. The essence of God, in our human way of thinking, would be feminine in that case. “If you are correct, Gerald, God, to speak in human terms, is feminine rather than masculine.”

“Of course. More powerful. Creative, In her own being, the ultimate theater-not the object-of human longing.”

“What about the He’s and the Him’s and the His’s of the Bible? And Israel like a woman God loves and woos? And all that?”
“Just a good dosage of Semitic chauvinism. Plus a lot of ignorance. And a good deal more of all men’s chauvinism down the ages. Men have been in charge from the beginning. Even in Buddhism. Just because the Buddha was a man.”

“So, feminine is something of the spirit essentially?”

“Only of the spirit.”

“And masculine also?”

“Right. A bird doesn’t fly because it has wings. It has wings because it flies. A man isn’t masculine because he has a penis and scrotum, nor a woman feminine because she has vagina and womb and estrogen or whatever. They have all that-if they have it-because she’s feminine and he’s masculine. Even if they lack some or all of those things, they are still masculine and feminine.”

We were back on the patio. Gerald was about to open the door, and I should have left it at that. It was already late. I had to travel back to the town and catch a bus to the airport. Gerald, under doctor’s orders, should have been in bed over an hour ago. But chiefly, if I had not gone on talking and probing, I would not have had, as a consequence of my probing, to bear an almost intolerable pain on Gerald’s account. I went on unknowingly: “Gerald, tell me one more thing before I leave you in peace. With all that we have said in mind, do you now regret that you never fell in love or that you never made love and never will make love with a woman?”

As always when you make a mistake, you begin to sense it vaguely and go on in desperation trying to remedy the situation.
“I know you don’t regret your priesthood. I know your vow of celibacy is dear to you. But, all that aside for one moment, have you regrets?” Gerald let go of the door handle gently. His head bowed as he dropped his eyes. I could no longer catch his expression. The sudden silence between us was not merely an absence of words. It was the abrupt severance of all communication. I felt perspiration on my forehead.

He stood for a moment in the patio light, looking thin, askew, frail, as if a great weight had been laid on him. I noticed age lines and a gauntness that had escaped me earlier. His face was immobile, but the “Jesus patch” was now of a deeper color.


Then he stepped slowly onto the grass, limping, and started to walk with short steps down toward the tulips. I followed and started to say something, but he silenced me with a small, slow gesture of his right hand. A couple of yards from the flower beds he slowed to a stop. I did not dare look at him, and at first I heard no sound from him. But I knew he was crying. Then, as the minutes passed, I realized that this was not a sobbing or a voiced crying. He was not shaking, but very quiet and still.


His tears were flowing steadily, ground out of him by some deep sorrow long ago accepted and whose pain he knew intimately. Merely, on this occasion, I had evoked that pain and its sorrow beyond his control. I knew he had to finish it in his own way. Nothing could console him and stop those tears. Seneca said once: “When a man cries, either he cries on his own mother’s shoulder, or he cries alone.” Gerald was alone.

It lasted several minutes. Then putting both hands to his eyes and wiping them, he said simply: “I know you understand the meaning of these.” His voice was strangely deep and very unlike the tones he had used all evening. Then it had come from someone alive and vibrant in his own way, walking and talking near me. Now it came from very far away; deep, grave, solemn, he was speaking clearly to me from another terrain where he alone had walked, where his fate had been decided, and where the very self of him had never ceased to be ever since. It was an exorcist speaking from the lonely world he must always inhabit, alone with his grisly knowledge, his bruised memories, and his blind trust locked desperately on to all-powerful love for a final cleansing.

“Don’t be sorry, Malachi. No reproaches. It’s just that no one should have to put up with this in another. These are tears to be shed in solitude.” He straightened up and cleared his throat. I could see him take in the whole horizon, turning his head slowly and meditatively from side to side. “Somewhere in my world,” he said out loud, but as if speaking to himself, “somewhere, at some time during the years I have spent in it, there must have been or even now must be someone, some woman with whom love would have been possible. I shall never see her eyes or hear her voice or feel the touch of her fingers.


I could have tasted God’s eternity and ecstasy with her. And I could have seen God’s comeliness on her hair and on her breasts. Somewhere. Someone. But I never shall. Not now. Not ever. I shall never share in her mystery of God’s self-contained glory.

“And you know well, I am not crying because of missed opportunity or frustration. So help me.” He wiped his eyes again. “In one way, I don’t know why I am crying. And, at the same time, I do know very well. Once you finger the innards of a situation such as R/R was in, I think the terrible fragility of human love becomes more beautiful and you are frightened for its safety. Poor R/R and his delicate dreams! He really, genuinely yearned to be feminine and to love as only woman can.”

He turned and faced toward the house. His eyes were still wet and glistening, but washed bright: “Is that why lovers sometimes cry tears at their happiest moments?” Apparently, at that moment, the tears started to flow again, because he looked away quickly toward the mountains.

“Many a woman and many a man must have had R/R’s same beautiful dream,” he said through the pain, “saw it within finger’s touch, reached for it, and found it blighted before they held it.” A pause. “I don’t know why I cry for them. Feeling for them, perhaps. For only Jesus can mend the fracture of their spirit.”

I waited until he seemed to have stopped crying. There was one last question I wanted to ask him, about Jesus. But he spoke before I did: “Of course, I have regrets. I would be a liar if I said otherwise. The regrets I have are for the intuitions I never had. Any man or woman I’ve ever known who really loved, all told me that in really loving, the physical was a couch or bed for a flight of intuitions. He no longer felt himself merely in her or near her. She no longer felt herself merely around him or near him. It went beyond that into-what’s this one woman said?-uh-an ‘allness’ she said. Or, as one man said to me, ‘full togetherness.’ He meant: with himself, with his wife, with God, with earth, with life.”

I asked Gerald if, mingled in his knowledge and his partial regrets, he thought of the loss of children he might have had. He replied that his having or not having children was something else again. I pursued the point, however, suggesting that perhaps one lament of deep pathos and suffering for him in Richard/Rita’s case was Richard/Rita’s total inability to have children. No matter how much love Richard/Rita dreamed of and achieved, it could never be a life-giving love. His would always be a crippled dream.

Gerald reminded me of what Richard/Rita kept screaming at the end of the exorcism as he thrashed back and forth. He had screamed again and again: “Life and love! Love and life! Life and love!” until they covered his mouth with masking tape. “Now,” concluded Gerald, “like Richard/Rita, I will have to wait until I cross over to the other side, in order to find life from love and love from life. At present, I am time’s eunuch for life and love in eternity.” With the last sentence the timbre of his voice had subtly changed.

He now sounded more or less like the Gerald who had entertained me earlier that evening. ‘We started walking back to the house. As we passed out through the hall and front door, he quoted Jesus: “ ‘In the Kingdom of Heaven, they neither give their daughters in marriage nor are given in marriage.’ No marriage there,” he commented musingly. “No need for it.”
“Gerald, about Jesus.”

He broke in on me. “He was-is-God. No woman, no human lovemaking was needed to enrich him.”

“Can we make love then, do we make love, because we are merely human?”

“Only because we are human. Once possessed of God and possessed by God, there’s no point in making love. You have all that human love can give you and much more. Love itself.”

Nobody who had seen Gerald starting off life as a young priest would have guessed he would end as an exorcist condemned to an early death. Born in Parma, Ohio, reared in Dijon, France, until he was fourteen years old, educated from that time in Cleveland, ordained priest in 1948, Gerald was sent as an assistant to an outlying parish of Chicago.

There and in other parishes Gerald served as an assistant for 23 uneventful years. During that time he acquired a reputation for solid common sense. He was unflappable even in the most trying circumstances. Sometimes he was criticized for being a little too unworldly- “Not very worldly-wise,” a colleague would remark now and then. But, whenever a crisis arose, Gerald’s judgments and decisions generally proved to be the right ones.

One day he was called by the pastor of a neighboring parish and asked to go there for a consultation. When he arrived at the priest’s house, he was told the story of. a young man, Richard O., an employee of an insurance company, who had recently come to live in the neighborhood. He was not Roman Catholic, but his two brothers and some close friends of his had gone spontaneously to the old priest for help and counsel. Their brother and friend, Richard, had been deteriorating for some time now. They had tried doctors and psychologists. Then Richard had been persuaded to visit a Lutheran minister. After that, a rabbi had prayed over him. But the deterioration still continued.

Richard’s brothers were quite frank when they talked to the two priests in the parlor of the rectory. They gave a brief sketch of Richard/Rita’s life up to that moment. “Father, we are not Catholics. We don’t believe in the Catholic Church, or in any church, for that matter. But we will do anything, anything at all, go to any length, in order to help our brother.” The old priest excused himself and Gerald for a moment. They went outside.

The pastor had several questions for Gerald. Did he think Richard O. was a case of possession? Gerald did not know; he had never come across such a case. Shouldn’t they alert the bishop? Gerald had already chatted with “young Billy” (the bishop’s nickname among his priests). There was no official diocesan exorcist. The bishop knew nothing about it, and he wanted to know less. “Let’s take it step by step from the top downward,” counseled Gerald cheerfully.

They returned to the parlor and asked the two brothers for Richard O.’s medical and psychological reports. They could have them immediately, Gerald was assured. Gerald asked if Richard knew of the brothers’ visit to see the pastor and himself. Bert said he did not think so.

“He may,” Gerald rejoined. And then he went on to explain that, if Richard were really possessed by an evil spirit, he could easily know much more than his brothers told him.

This conversation took place three days after Christmas. The reports arrived early in the New Year. With the permission of his own pastor, Gerald went to live temporarily in the rectory of his old friend in order to be near Richard O. At the beginning of February, having digested the reports and spoken to the doctors and psychologists, he accompanied Richard’s two brothers on a first visit to Richard.

Richard/Rita received them quite pleasantly in his house. That day he seemed inordinately happy. He spoke to them about himself and made no bones about his condition. He said that sometimes, as at that moment, he saw things clearly and knew he needed some kind of help. At other times, from what people told him, he went all funny. It was a constant change in him. And it was too painful and abrupt and unpredictable for him to carry on like that much longer. “Help me if you can,” he added. “Even if later I tell you to go to Hell, help me. I’ll sign any documents necessary.”

Willingly, Richard/Rita said in answer to Gerald’s proposal, he would go to Chicago and undergo tests by doctors and psychologists of Gerald’s choosing. The following day they went to Chicago together. By some happy circumstance the visit there and the tests conducted by the psychologists and doctors went off without incident.

Richard/ Rita had no lapse into his sudden fits.

While they were in Chicago, Gerald and the old priest went to see the only exorcist they could track down within reaching distance. He was a Dominican friar, an ex-missionary, who lived in retirement in a Chicago suburb. He smiled grimly as they told him their story.

“Better you than me, boys,” he said quietly. “Let me put you through the rite of Exorcism and give you a few tips of my own for yourself and the assistants. I learned a thing or two in Korea. It wasn’t all wasted.”

The old man inculcated the first principles of Exorcism. He warned Gerald not to try to take the place of Jesus. It was only by the name and power of Jesus, he emphasized, that any evil spirit could be exorcised. He schooled him in the various traps that awaited the unwary: the dangers of any logical argument with the possessing spirit; the need of strong, silent assistants; and the customary procedure of an exorcism.

Gerald had to return several times to Chicago with Richard/Rita after the first occasion. He went by himself to see some theologians in order to get a more accurate knowledge of what went on during an exorcism. Richard/Pita himself had to make several trips in connection with his office work. All in all, it was the beginning of March before everything was in readiness. Gerald felt that he had taken all possible precautions. Intrigued as all the medical and psychiatric examiners were with Richard/Rita’s history and transsexual operation, they had satisfied themselves that Richard/Rita was medically and psychologically as normal as any other person, and that he was not indulging in any strange fun and games in order to attract attention. This had been suggested by one of the psychologists. The rite of Exorcism, Gerald decided, would do no harm.

For the actual exorcism, he had chosen five assistants. Richard/ Rita’s two brothers, Bert and Jasper, had volunteered for the job. The old pastor had secured the services of the local police captain and of an English teacher from the parish school. Richard’s landlord, Michael S., a Greek-American, a good friend of the old pastor, had been told of the exorcism and spontaneously offered himself. Gerald chose as his own priest assistant a young man recently posted to his parish, a Father John.

Only once or twice in the last month before the exorcism was Gerald’s courage shaken. At one moment, the old Dominican friar took him aside as he and the pastor were leaving him after one of their visits. He asked Gerald if he was a virgin. He was, replied Gerald, but what difference could that make? The Dominican answered him rather offhandedly, trying to play down the import of his question. It made no difference, he said. It was just that Gerald would have more to suffer. At least, that is what he thought.

Questioned closely by Gerald as to why he thought so, the Dominican looked at him for a moment; then he said in a still voice: “You haven’t paid your dues. You don’t really know what’s in you. But”-he wandered over to the door and opened it-“They do. Now”-motioning to where the old pastor was waiting for Gerald- “your friend is waiting. Go in peace. And don’t be afraid. This is your lot.” As Gerald and his old friend drove back home, they chatted about the whole matter. It was clear to him, the pastor said, that when one spent years in a certain type of job-the pastor in his parish, the old friar in his missionary work-you got a special sense. You can’t share it with anyone. You don’t want to, really. And what it tells you isn’t always pleasant. Sometimes you see dark, abiding presences where others see nothing but light. “It’s all very funny,” the pastor remarked to Gerald, who had fallen silent and thoughtful.

“Don’t try to understand. You can’t get old before your time. It would tear the heart out of you.”

The nearer the mid-March date of the exorcism came, the more unreal it all seemed to the participants, especially to Gerald. This was chiefly because of Richard/Rita. There was in those last days no sign of deterioration in him, no fits. All was calm and normal. He even received them all in his house the night before the appointed day and served them a dinner he had cooked himself. Afterward, he helped them arrange the room where the exorcism would be done and chatted amicably with them before they left. Gerald had brought the paraphernalia of Exorcism with him-crucifix, stole, surplice, ritual book, holy-water flask. On the suggestion of the old Dominican, a stretcher had been borrowed from a local clinic; they might need it for Richard/Rita.

All were to assemble at 8:00 A.M. the following morning. For Gerald there were some swift seconds with an awry note. He was the last down the pathway out to the road where he had parked his car. As he turned back to close the latch on the gate, he saw Richard/Rita silhouetted in the main doorway of his little house. Gerald could not at that distance read the look in Richard/Rita’s eyes, but Richard/Rita’s hands caught his attention.

When the pastor and Gerald had left him at the door, Gerald remembered clearly, Richard/Rita’s right hand, with open palm toward them, had been raised slightly in a goodbye gesture. The left had been resting on the doorknob. But now, as he looked back at Richard/Rita, the right hand was splayed out like a claw pointing toward him. The left, palm turned up, fingers slightly curled, was held stiffly. Gerald felt a shudder in his spine.

“Come on, Gerald! Someone walking on your grave, I suppose?” It was the old pastor pulling his leg good-humoredly. Richard/Rita waved to them again and went inside.

The story of Richard O. is only in part, but nonetheless importantly, the story of a transsexual. He was born physically a male, but with an ineradicable desire to be a woman. In his childhood his ideas and wishes were nebulous. In adulthood he firmly believed that each one of us can be male or female, masculine or feminine; that each one has an almost equal dosage of maleness and femaleness, of masculinity and femininity, before culture and civilization and social environment, as the persuasion goes, make little boys little boys and little girls little girls. He finally underwent the transsexualization operation-successfully, in medical terms. He then took the name Rita.

Richard had a very clear and very early understanding of the difference between femininity and masculinity, and he was attracted by the seeming mystery of the feminine and repelled by the inadequacy of being restricted only to the masculine. From the age of sixteen on, Richard’s aim was to let the feminine in him emerge, so that he could supplement his masculine inadequacy with the self-sufficient mystery of femininity.

From sixteen to twenty-five he actively sought, in full confidence and trust, to think, feel, and act “androgynously”; he was persuaded that he could have the union of feminine and masculine in himself. But the result was a great aloneness (not, at that stage, loneliness) with none of that desired union. At twenty-five he sought in marriage the same union. It did not work; he found neither the unity nor the union of love; and the androgynous persuasion in him withered.

From his divorce at age twenty-nine, through his transsexualizing operation at age thirty-one, up to his exorcism at age thirty-three, he developed into a “watcher on the sidelines,” jealous of the supremacy of the feminine, fascinated by the essential function of the masculine.

The mystery of femininity became something to unshroud; in Richard’s case his unshrouding of it amounted to blasphemy and a type of physicomoral degradation which haunts him today. The vitality of the masculine became a weapon for him; he saw it as a means of death.

By the end of the summer 1971, he had voluntarily become possessed by an evil spirit which responded to the name of “Girl-Fixer.” This possession had started many years previously. His violent revolt against possession ended finally in his undergoing the Exorcism rite performed by Father Gerald. But, until after his exorcism, Richard saw his problem as one of chemical substance, of brain modification, or of cultural adaptation, never as a dilemma of his spirit.

The exorcism was successful. He was freed. But Richard/Rita ended up, as he is today, in an unenviable position: neither male nor female; not a sexual neuter, but, nevertheless, in a no-man’s-land between masculine and feminine.

Not all the details of his life are pertinent for understanding what happened to him. We need only a relatively few scenes and details of childhood and early teenage. It is the triple stage he passed through as an adult which illustrates to some degree his condition at the time of exorcism.

Richard/Rita presents in vivid outline the classical puzzle of all possessed people who, though possessed (always to some extent with their consent), still at some point revolt against that very possession. And why should Richard/Rita, and not any of the other transsexuals known to many of us in ordinary life, have been thus possessed in the first place?

Richard/Rita was born Richard O. in Detroit, Michigan, the third in a family of six children (three boys, three girls). The family lived in a semidetached two-story frame house which -stood in a suburban area, predominantly white and upper-income bracket. His mother was Lutheran, his father, Jewish; the children were baptized as Lutherans; but religion did not play a prominent role in the family life. His mother’s Lutheranisrn was as unimportant to her as Jewishness was unimportant to his father. It was a family in easy financial circumstances, governed with a light hand, and no more or no less self-consciously united than any other on the street.

Richard’s father worked a regular nine-to-five day in an insurance office, spent most of his free time with the boys. He was a boating and open-air enthusiast, and went fishing and shooting in Canada during summer vacations. First, the two elder boys, Bert and Jasper, and then, when he passed his ninth year, Richard participated in these vacations.

An ideal held more or less unconsciously by each of the boys was to be like their father-strong, athletic, outdoor. To be a man. Richard’s first memories of this ideal include a day in December when he was in the park with his father walking Flinny, the family dog. He was throwing a ball for the dog to retrieve. As the dog leaped, twisted, caught the ball, and returned running to them, his father remarked that that was how Richard must be-taut, ready to jump and run and catch. The movements of the dog’s body became a rhythm of ideal supremacy and independent strength for Richard: leaping, thrusting, and striving as a well-knit frame in an armor of self-reliance and resilience that absorbed bumps, knocks, cold, heat, swift changes in direction, and sudden bursts of energy. “Look how Flinny throws himself into it all!” he remembers his father’s cry of admiration and encouragement.

The discordant note in this recollection arises in Richard’s memory of what happened when they returned home. When he saw his mother and his sisters, he felt a struggle in himself; and without understanding why, he was comparing their movements and the sound of their voices with those of his father and of Flinny. But the incident passed as a shadow.

The three boys were tall and dark in coloring. The girls were small, narrow-waisted, and blonde, like their mother. A family trait shared by all six children with their mother was the uneven earlobe: the right earlobe was noticeably smaller than the left one.
The girls gravitated, in younger years, to their mother, who never lost a certain apparent dourness, even in her smile and affection. But she had, as well, a hilarious sense of humor sprinkled with irony.

Each child was sent to kindergarten, then public school, and afterward to college. In their world there was no hint of the social developments which were to mark the 19605 and 19705. Coast-to-coast television was just on the drawing boards. Female liberation was unborn. Later trends such as unisex and bisexuality were hidden. Homosexuality was still in the closet. Sexual permissiveness and the wholesale dilution of the family as a unit were unknown. The young had not yet been seized by the radicalizing passions of 20 years later. They had not yet started that quick and hazardous trek from infancy into immediate adulthood without any childhood and youth in the traditional sense of those words. Little boys were still little boys, and little girls were still little girls. Nobody had voiced any doubt about that.

It was Richard himself who felt the first doubts. The first time a change made itself felt in him always remained clear in his memory. One afternoon in the late 19405, when Richard O. was almost nine years old, he had the first remote intimations of another world utterly different from the one to which he was accustomed.

Until his summer vacation that year on a small farm belonging to his mother’s brother, some 40 miles outside St. Joseph, Missouri, Richard had never known a day not spent in the asphalt streets, among the city buildings, on the cement pavements, accompanied by the continuous hum of traffic, in Detroit, Michigan. He had never seen geese, turkeys, or chickens. Black walnuts, hickory trees, hazelnuts, sweet corn, pumpkins, rabbits, alfalfa hay, timothy, wild ducks, all the commonplace elements of a farm were novelties that crowded his mind and sensations for the first time. It was, above all, the immensities of the place that seemed to awe him-the clear sky, the Missouri River, the unblocked view of huge stretches of land.

The incident took place three days before he returned to Detroit. It was about five o’clock in the afternoon. He had spent most of the day on the tractor with his uncle sowing soybeans. Now there remained one more field to be done. It was a long field with a sloping hump running at an angle across its middle. On one of the field’s long sides there was a small pond. On the other side there was the thinning edge of a wood which stretched back for about half a mile. It was Richard’s turn to rest. He lay down among the trees at the edge of the wood and watched as his uncle drove the tractor in long swatches over the central hump from one end of the field to the other.

These were the last hours of what had been a bright and cloudless day. Across the field and beyond the pond to the west, Richard’s eyes could see the sun setting slowly over the Kansas bluffs. His eyes followed lazily the light of the sun already beginning to slant over the bluffs, down across the 20 or so miles of fields and woods that bordered the Missouri, then across the river and back to the black-brown stretch of the field. He listened to the meadowlarks singing on the edge of the pond.


High up in the sky, balancing against the wind from the southwest, a bird hovered. Two sounds, both with their own peculiar rhythm, filled his ears. The noise of the tractor, at first mechanical and clashing, became a lovely thing for him. It rose as his uncle passed by where he lay, then sank again as the tractor climbed the hump, went out of sight on the other side. Then it started to rise again as the tractor climbed the far side of the hump, came into view, and rolled down past him and on to the far right, where it turned and came back to cut another long furrow.

The other sound was the light evening wind in the elms and maples around him. At first he did not notice it. Then it thrust itself on his consciousness as a rising and falling series of lightly breathed notes. When he lay on his side and looked up, he could see nothing but the gently moving foliage of the trees and the blue sky as a dappled pavement beyond them.

Almost with no break in his own sensations, he became peculiarly aware of his own body as it lay on the moss and ferns at the edge of the wood. The smell of wild honeysuckle and late May apple flowers mingled with the sharp freshness of some elm leaves he had been twisting and shredding in his hands. He became aware that insects, innumerable to judge from the noise, were droning and buzzing somewhere above his head among the leaves and branches. Everything seemed warm and living; and his body and feelings now appeared to him as part of, not separate from, some throbbing whole, mysterious with its own hidden voices and its shrouded secrets.

He twisted flat on his back, looking up at the waving leaves, translucent with sunshine, and watching the birds flitting from branch to branch, chattering and fighting and picking. He could hear faintly in the distance an occasional bobwhite calling out its two notes. A squirrel ran into his view now and then as it scurried from tree trunk to branch. All his muscles and sinews were relaxed. There was no tension. He was sharing through body and mind in some unperturbed softness and wholeness, but not an immobile or silent wholeness. All and everything was moving, doing, becoming. And, as he now remembers it, instinctively he listened to the wind in the trees as a voice, as voices, as a message of this great, whole softness. The rising and falling ring of the tractor became a background music. He felt unaccountable tears in his eyes and an ache that gave him peculiar pleasure somewhere deep in him.

Years later and in much more critical circumstances, he would admit to himself that those sounds and sensations, particularly the wind, had been the vehicle of some news, some information. It seemed, in retrospect, as if he had been told something and later remembered the secret meaning of the message, but could not recall the words used or the tone and identity of the messenger.

The tractor finally drew up beside him, his uncle climbed down, and they both walked slowly back to the house.

Richard had two more days on the farm before returning home to Detroit. He spent them wandering in the vegetable garden, lying in the woods, or sitting on the edge of the pond. He was trying to recapture that magic moment of the previous evening. But he found only silence. He was, as he put it later, encased again in the hard shell of his body.

His uncle and aunt took his behavior as a sign of unhappiness because he would be leaving soon for Detroit. And when he cried as they turned out of the driveway onto the main road which led them to St. Joseph and his train, they took his sadness as a compliment to them: their nephew wanted to stay. The vacation had been a success. “I will come back. I will come back,” Richard remembers saying to nobody in particular. “Please, let me come back.”

On his return home, his suntan, the acquired strength of his arms, his healthy complexion, his new and detailed knowledge of farm and country delighted his family. His father was proud: “Now, Richard, you’re becoming a real man!”

But it was his mother and sisters who caught Richard’s attention. When they talked or laughed or moved, he had feelings indefinably similar to those moments on the edge of the wood. Sisters and mother seemed to carry some detailed mystery, some wholeness, to be supple and malleable. His father and brothers-quick in their movements, deliberate in gestures, assured in their walk, purposeful in whatever they did-seemed to Richard to be wrapped in hard shells. They repelled him. And, at the same time, he felt ashamed at being repelled by what should be his ideal. The voices of his father and brothers had no overtones for him, no wisps of meaning, no subtle resonances.

Although he could not analyze all this at that time, he felt it. Of course, he could not mention it or discuss it with anyone there. All he could do, he did. As if speaking to the wind and the trees and the colors and the birds of the farm, he thought (perhaps felt is the better expression): “I don’t want to leave you. I want to be as you.” At that age and for quite some time afterward, he did not know exactly who that “you” was.

Daily life at home and at school closed in around him. In athletics he was as good as the next boy. He always got good grades. After his twelfth year, he became an avid reader. At home and in school he was known as a normal boy, more studious than outdoor, not overly gentle, not exceptionally shy, not in any way a “sissy” or a weakling, one who easily joined in groups and teams, and exceptionally affectionate and warm as an individual.

Nothing ever obliterated his memory of the farm incident, but he never returned to St. Joseph. Subsequent vacations were spent with his father and brothers in Canada. And it was only toward the end of his seventeenth year that another incident occurred which again effected a profound change in Richard.

He had joined a group of his own classmates who, under the supervision of an ex-forest ranger named Captain Nicholas, were to spend three weeks camping out in Colorado. The purpose of the vacation was to learn some of the arts of survival in the wilderness. Their schedule was a full and very active one. When it was over, they would know something about mountain climbing, swimming, life saving, gathering food, making fires, cooking, trapping, scaling trees, first aid, and seemingly anything else that Captain Nicholas could manage to teach them in those few weeks. When the vacation was finished, the eight had been invited to spend a last evening in the ranch house belonging to Captain Nicholas and his family.

As part of survival training, each boy was to spend one night alone at some distance from the base camp. When Richard’s turn for a night “out there alone” came around, he was instructed to spend it in a small clearing on a hillside overlooking a lake about a mile from the camp. He was given a whistle and told to signal in case he needed help. According to camp rules, the other boys and the forest ranger left him at nightfall.

As their footsteps and shouts died away, Richard turned around to gather some brushwood for his fire. He was facing the lake about 150 feet above its surface. It was ringed around with mountains covered with forests. The moon had already appeared full-faced over the rim of the mountainside and cast a sheen of light on the water below and on the silhouettes of the trees around him. The smell of resin was an abiding atmosphere in which he felt as a welcomed stranger. He was aware of very little sound except for the wind shaking the pine trees and skimming the water’s surface with light ripples. The air was still warm, with a little chill just creeping into it.

He stood for a moment to take his bearings so he would not get lost as he gathered his firewood. But the hush all around him seemed in a sudden instant to have opened. An invisible veil fell aside, and he was no longer a separate and distinct being from it all.

His first reaction was fear and he groped for his whistle. The rule was: any sense of fear or apprehension must be signaled to the base camp by one long and one short whistle. No stigma was attached to this. It was part of the training program to recognize and respect such feelings.