My Sister Became My Brother 50 Years Ago, Before Many Knew What ‘Transgender’ Meant
His marriage inevitably ended in disaster. His wife was furious their relationship was founded on a massive lie. And my brother’s shame and guilt eventually led to a suicide attempt.
Twenty-five years have passed since then. My brother got needed support from groups and therapists that became increasingly available to trans people, and he happily remarried a woman who knew his story from their first date. Now he lives a peaceful small-town life under the radar while I live out loud and openly as a married gay man.
But whenever I wanted to tell the truth about my family, I felt I was betraying the sacred rule passed down from our mom: accept but don’t talk about it. Although we scattered her ashes in 2009, speaking about this part of our past still felt disloyal. The last thing I wanted was to reopen old wounds. But wasn’t this my story, too? Didn’t I have the right to speak about it?
“It’s a good story,” my brother said when I called him recently to let him know I was writing about our lives.
I was relieved and grateful he didn’t try to stop me. I knew this wasn’t exactly fun for him. My brother was never a trailblazer by choice. He became a pioneer out of necessity. Transitioning saved his life. And my life was forever changed because of it.
He was never able to teach me to be the handyman he is, although he impatiently tried, rolling his eyes when I handed him pliers after he asked for a socket wrench. But our relationship taught me something more important — how to not get hung up on the external and to be able to recognise the humanity in others. When I see how much time the world wastes demonising the “other” and causing unnecessary strife and pain, I know now is not the time to be timid. I need the same courage to take the kind of action that he and my mom showed me all those years ago.
When my brother remarried, my husband and I danced at his backyard reception with him and his wife. It was a bright spring day and we were surrounded by supportive relatives. My grandmother died without ever speaking to my brother again. Others in the family took a few decades, but finally came around and now adore the man they’ve come to know. Their kids and grandkids weaved through us as we danced, playing a game of tag, unaware that the groom had once been thought of as perverse and disgusting by many of the people around them. I marvelled at this wholesome family scene. This was all my brother had ever wanted.