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Mr. Hen, the Trans-gendering Chicken

When the a world famous athlete televises his struggle with being born a woman trapped in a man’s body, our awareness levels, and hopefully our compassion levels, are acutely elevated.

I didn’t need to watch television to get a close up of this complex and difficult condition. I had privy to it in my own backyard.

Stanley, our purple rooster took Violet as the hen out of his flock of six his first wife. She was the only purple hen. The others were mixed breeds and admittedly not as beautiful as Violet with her silver mauve, gold tipped feathers.

After a year of seemingly normal husband and multiple wives relationships, trouble brewed when Violet began to demonstrate some strange behaviors. If I had to describe what was happening, I would say she seemed to be developing a desire to imitate Stanley. She’d practice his call, which at first was a croaky cock a doodle do that sounded more like a crow with a bad cold than a rooster. She improved with practice.

She also began to change in shape and size. She grew a larger comb, developed longer tail feathers. She was slowly turning into a carbon copy of Stanley. When I photographed them in the garden, people could not tell them apart.

Stanley had always had a veracious sexual appetite and routinely visited all of his hens more than once daily. This began to infuriate Violet. She was especially jealous of a sweet blonde hen named Goldie Locks. Stanley’s sexual advances were anything but gentle. He would grab the hen with his huge beak, dig his talons into her back and have his way with her.

As if this assault weren’t bad enough, Violet would then leap on Goldie’s back and repeat the beak biting and clawing. Though Violet had gained a male body, she was not really endowed with male genitalia, well not yet anyway; nor did she any longer lay eggs. She was living in the world of in-between and it was making her a bit nuts. As a result, Goldie began looking like a chicken ready for the roasting pan. Her only feathers were those on her wings. Lift those and she was plucked clean.

I tried everything to bring peace to the farm. Both Stanley and Violet had time out rooms (pet crates from when we flew with our dogs). I purchased sweaters to protect Goldie from the talons. I even wrapped her with a kotex and duck tape to cover her sides. A huge mistake. Violet caught her claw inside the bandage under the pad and ripped Goldie wide open. The wound was so deep you could slip your whole hand into the space between skin and flesh.

Goldie and I rushed to the vet’s and Violet was sent to live with my friend, Loretta, who loved and knew more about chickens then anyone in the area. We all wondered if Goldie would live and if Violet would be rehabilitated.

Goldie did heal and returned to the flock. Interestingly, Stanley respected her space. In fact, Stanley respected everyone’s space. He lost his virility. Could he be longing for Violet? And Violet, isolated at Loretta’s, seemed to also long for Stanley. Her bad moods worsened. Not even Loretta could find a way to bring her joy. Violet was returned to Stanley.

The reunion was heart warming. The noises they made. The way Violet followed Stanley around. At night, they slept so close to one another you couldn’t tell where Stanley began or where Violet ended. The fear of another separation forced them to leave Goldie in peace.

We all felt a deep sense of peace and communion. Until horror fell upon the farm. A tenant put out some mouse poison and Violet ever the curious one, ever the one to investigate everything, sampled it and bled to death.

Stanley found her. His anxious cries brought us to her side. We buried her in the back yard under an azalea bush. We placed a chicken statue at one end of her grave and a wire rooster at the other, for Violet was both.

The desperate rooster stayed by her grave all that day and well into the night, ignoring his routine duty of collecting his flock and bringing them into the coup for safety. He did not roost. He just sat on the grave, as if protecting his mate.

I’ll never know why or how Violet turned herself into a rooster. Was she a male, born into a female body? Was she one of those rare birds who undergo what science calls a spontaneous sex reversal where one ovary fails and the other becomes a gonad? Was she just so in love with Stanley that she became his exact twin?

I’ll never know for sure. But I am sure of this: A beautiful hen who laid eggs and lived with five other hens began to change physically. She slowly and surely turned from being a hen to being a rooster. And the change process was not an easy one for her or for those around her. She became unsure of herself, jealous, angry. She felt desperate, vulnerable and turned into a lonely creature who savagely pushed others away.

Only one creature seemed to understand and accept her. His name was Stanley and they were mates. They were mates when she was a hen and stayed mates as she became a rooster. Though they no longer had sex, they were inseparable. Violet began to return to her former lovely self only as her body turned closer and closer to her desired state – as a he. He is remembered in our garden with great love and admiration.

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