Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why is My Sister a Boy Now?

When a loved one comes out as transgender, it’s hard to understand. They’ve lived their whole lives as the gender they were born into—why would they suddenly want to be the opposite one (or even more confusing, why would they suddenly invent a third gender?)? Are they mad at you or your family? Are they seeking attention? Is it a point they have to prove? Is it just a phase?

Coming out and transitioning (changing one’s appearance etc) is different for everyone. There are, however, a few practically universal tips you can keep in mind to help make the process easier for you, your transgender sibling, and the rest of your family.

ONE: It’s not that sudden. Sometimes your buzz-cut, makeup-phobic sister comes out as a guy and you go, “duh!” Other times, the news is a complete shock. Maybe she’s worn dresses and dated boys her whole life, and is suddenly unrecognizable to you. Remember, though: although it may feel like everything’s changed overnight, in reality your sibling has probably been dealing with this for years.

TWO: S/he’s still the same person. It may seem like a stranger has taken up residence in your sister’s room, but I assure you, the person you shared secrets with and stole Halloween candy from is still right there. Just because they look different doesn’t mean they have changed or their feelings for you or your family have changed.

THREE: It’s not about you. Often, someone will come out during a difficult time—a divorce, a family move. Coming out during a tough time is NOT a malicious move. It may mean the stress of the event on top of the ‘secret’ was too much to take; it may mean they want to start this new phase of your lives with a more open identity. Whatever the reason, it’s not about attention or upsetting you.

FOUR: Ignoring it won’t make it go away. The only thing you will accomplish by refusing to acknowledge or respect the change is making your sibling feel more alienated than s/he probably already does. Do your best (no one’s perfect!) to respect the new pronouns (and name if there is one). Doing this will help your sibling feel safe and appreciated.

FIVE: They still need you. Coming out is hard. The fact that they’ve talked to you means they trust you, value you, and want you in their life. It’s hard to understand, but do your best to keep an open mind. You’ve no idea the gift you’ll be giving just by being there.


ELS said...

My sister has just told me s/he will be transitioning to the male gender. While I always knew her/him to be a tom boy, I was surprised but supportive.

I still am supportive but as I've had a few days to think about it, I just really find it painful the idea of "losing" my sister. I still can't handle the idea of saying "him", or using her/his new name. I really do want to help and do the right thing. I am extremely worried how the high school s/he attends will react.

While I am so glad that my sibling now feels more emotionally at ease, I really feel at a loss how to adjust to the new identity. It is more difficult because I'm older and have moved out of the house so we don't see each other often so this is not a gradual, daily transition I can witness.

Does anyone have any tips for how to shift the identity in your mind? How to shake this feeling of loss that I am ashamed to even have?

Mel said...

Hi ELS! First of all, thanks for commenting! ^_^ Second of all, I think your feelings are really entirely normal and par for the course. A transition is a huge change, not only for the trans person, but also for everyone around them. New name? New pronouns? New look? And, very often, a new personality of sorts… how overwhelming is that?

It’s natural to feel like you’re losing a member of your family, because the person you’re used to is changing so much. However, in reality, what you’re doing is GAINING the more true and complete version of the person your sibling was always going to grow into. A transition is more of a gift than a loss; wait a year or two and let me know how much happier/more comfortable/etc your sibling is. Maybe try thinking about it this way: your sibling used to be a little kid, who was probably annoying but really cute and, at least sometimes, fun to have around. As your sibling got older, you “lost” that little kid—but you gained a sibling you can have a real conversation with. Transitioning is similar—you “lose” the sister you grew up with, but in reality they’re growing into someone you will really be able to connect with, because they’ll be more connected with themselves.

Another thing that will probably help is talking to someone else who’s gone through, or is going through, a similar experience. You are CERTAINLY not the only person! Try searching around blogs like this one, or searching for trans ally networks and organizations online. We’re everywhere, and there’s no reason for you not to take advantage of it!

Lastly, as far as the identity shift in your mind goes--- practice! Take your time but make a real effort. It’s okay to mess up as long as your overall progress is heartfelt and genuine. ^_^