I Always Knew She Was My Sister: On Loving My Transgender Sibling

CW: Transphobia

This is a guest post by my wonderful sister, who has supported my transition since the very start. I would not be half the woman I am today without her immense and unconditional love and support. My hero, my guiding light, my best friend, my sister.


For better or worse, I don’t remember many specifics of Arielle coming out to me as transgender. This is particularly frustrating, since I often remember things that I don’t even want to remember, in much-too-vivid detail. So, as I sit down to write this, I can’t help but feel that maybe that’s part of my story – the fact that I barely remember it. Though I recall bits and pieces, the sequence of events escapes me.

I do remember that when she was 17 and still presenting as male, she called me up and told me she had a boyfriend, but was still struggling to figure out her sexuality. She shared that she believed she was either gay or bisexual, but wasn’t quite sure. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe I said something to the effect of, “Are you safe? Are you happy? Then, you do you.” 

Shortly afterward, I remember her asking me to come home from college one evening to help her come out to our parents. I remember how after we’d called them downstairs and sat them down, Arielle looked at me, frozen, tears welling up in her eyes, and asked me to do it for her, because she couldn’t. I remember her crawling into our parents’ arms and hearing them tell her they’d love her no matter what. 

Why don’t I remember her coming out as transgender, though? In one of her earliest blog posts, Arielle mentions the story of when she first came out to me as transgender. She says that once, when we were discussing her queerness, she said something vague and I casually asked, “Wait, does that mean I have a sister?” She said, “Maybe, who knows?” and I responded, “Cool, just let me know!” I kind of remember her visiting me when I lived in Boston, and mentioning something about being female. She told me she was planning to go by Arielle. But, my memories of both of those remain fuzzy.

Recently, Arielle forwarded me emails I’d sent to a professor I’d had for a class in college called “Psychology of Sexual Identities: LGBT” after she’d first shared with me that she was questioning her gender identity. At the time, I’d asked Arielle if it would be okay for me to share with my professor details of what she was going through, so that I could reach out to find appropriate resources for her.   

Maybe on some level, I always knew I had a sister, which is why her coming out didn’t faze me (note: that is the correct spelling of that word, as ridiculous as it looks). When we were growing up, I’d braid her hair, dress her in tutus, and play dolls with her. We’d sometimes share clothing (remember those salmon corduroys?) and belt showtunes in which both parts were traditionally sung by females (cue “Loathing” from Wicked), and none of it ever seemed out of the ordinary to me. I loved having a sibling who’d happily watch romantic comedies with me and wouldn’t try to eject the DVD to replace it with Star Wars (no offense to Star Wars, of course. RIP Carrie Fisher).

 

She’s my best friend, my confidante, and my inspiration, just as she would be if she were my cisgender sister.

What’s it like to have a transgender sister? That’s a question I can answer, because I’ve lived it every single day since September of 2015, when our dad and I went to visit her a week after she’d begun her first year at Ramapo College, and she walked out of her dorm room wearing makeup and generally presenting as female (she’d presented to my family as male just a week prior). Sometimes when people ask me that question, I feel like saying, “Well, think about what it’s like to have a cisgender sister. It’s not much different.” And on some level, that’s true. I have a sister, just like anyone else who has a sister. She’s my best friend, my confidante, and my inspiration, just as she would be if she were my cisgender sister. I’ve had people ask me how I “dealt with it,” but I can honestly say that it has never been something I’ve had to “deal with.” It was a process through which I had to support my sister – period.  

Sure, there are those occasional, slightly awkward moments when I run into someone I haven’t seen in a while, who asks me, “How’s *insert deadname here*?” and I have to respond, “Well, she’s … a she… her name is Arielle … and she’s doing great!” 

On any first date I have, one of the first things I share (with Arielle’s permission) is that I have a transgender sister. Typically, I try to work it in smoothly, but at the same time I want to make sure the person has heard what I’ve said and really understands it. I say that I have very few “absolute, non-negotiable musts” in a partner, but my two most important are: (1) that they would accept my sister as they would anyone else and, of course, (2) that they think Donald Trump is a disgusting excuse for a human being. 

Over the summer, I dated a guy for about two months, who I’d told about Arielle on the first date. We were hanging out at my apartment one evening, and I brought up the dreaded, “I don’t need titles right now, but I do want to know I’m not wasting my time, so where this is going?” It was then that he decided to tell me that we wouldn’t work because he and his family could “never get behind [my] transgender sister.” My exact words were: “I don’t understand why you waited until now to tell me, or why it even matters to you at all, but my sister always comes first. You can leave.” So, I suppose one thing about having a transgender sister is it’s easier for me to weed out assholes.

More broadly, she encourages me through example to be authentically, unapologetically me.

But more broadly, she encourages me through example to be authentically, unapologetically me.  I’ve learned from her the true power of language, and the value of educating others on using proper terminology to allow folks of all sexual orientations and gender identities to feel seen and respected. She shows me that sharing our experiences is the best way to truly reach people. She teaches me that awareness is key, in pretty much everything.

It also means my future kids will have a cool, transgender aunt who will teach them to smash the patriarchy, which is pretty awesome. 

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