At first I asked myself: Does this mean I am losing my sister? My beautiful, complicated, brilliant sister? This amazing person who worked their way to Senior Software Developer without formal education or financial backing? This self-taught beacon of women’s accomplishments?
I feared that our history would be wiped clean, and I would be starting with someone new. That I would lose the person who helped me celebrate my first holidays and recover from growing up in a cult. Who gave me nephews so I could see my bloodline reverberated for another generation. And offered me unconditional love when my own mother chose religion over me.
I was wrong, and as I got to know my brother and spend time with him, I began to see things very differently.
It’s been several years since he began his journey of coming out and transitioning publicly, and he’s so much more assured and poised than I’ve ever seen him before. My brother lacked confidence growing up, but all of a sudden he is a powerhouse.
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During our last visit, I asked him how his life was different now. He said one big thing, outwardly, was that people listened to him. He no longer found himself being told to wait or being interrupted constantly. Instead, people would look to him to explain complex ideas and trust his years of experience.
So it seemed that what I was seeing was not my brother changing, but rather the perceptions about him changing. The outward pressure becoming positive rather than stifling. He was still the person I loved, respected, and looked up to as a role-model but not as an archetype of revolutionary feminine power.
He’d stopped wearing uncomfortable/impractical clothing in exchange for stylish ease. He no longer wore noticeable makeup (I know lots of guys who’ll dab on a little foundation to cover a doozie, but not who won’t leave the house without “putting their eyes on”).
He took up more space — by standing taller and sitting squarely but appropriately in public. He no longer faked a smile for the first part of every conversation with a stranger, rather his warm demeanor shined through.
I contrasted this with my own gender expression and the journey that I’d taken from a “tom-boy” who refused to play with baby dolls to a 30-something-year-old female who only put on women’s clothing when it was absolutely necessary.
I still have a hard time reconciling things like a higher likelihood of employment and promotion based on archaic factors like hair styling, makeup, and typically feminine (see also: impractical) attire. I don’t take part, but I still feel the sting when someone asks “what’s wrong with my face?”
Seeing my brother transition into a happier version of himself didn’t teach me that all gender expressions should be accepted and recognized, but rather that none should. Why should society at large respect him more as a man than a woman?
(Trans people are at much higher risk for suicide, especially when they are without a strong support system. In this case, I’m referring only to the perceptions of people who don’t know that my brother was not born biologically male and therefore treat him as such. I know that we don’t live in a world where my trans brother is safer/more respected at large.)
How much sooner would the world have seen his potential if no one had labeled him in the first place? And how much more comfortable would we all be expressing ourselves if there weren’t preconceived notions about the boundaries of those expressions?
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Why do we cling so hard to the idea that an infant’s genitalia determines their sexual preferences and the expression of an identity that is yet to be formed? Why is it okay to offer separate clothing, toys, recreation, and at times education options to children based on what’s in their pants?
Wouldn’t we all benefit from a society that recognizes and encourages merit over trivial factors like gender, age, religion, race, or sexual preference?
A society that no longer excuses bad behavior with “boys will be boys”? Or convinces men that they are out of control of their own facilities and their sexuality is by its very nature predatory?
A society that trusts biological/adoptive parents equally, and gives them equal rights and access to their living children. A society that lets those children develop their identities naturally, without forcing preconceived notions on them before they take their first breath.
I know many people might disagree (my brother is one of them, but we still love each other deeply), but I think it’s only out of fear. Once we look a little closer, we start to see the spectrum of gender expression for what it is — a fantastic rainbow that simply won’t fit in two boxes.
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Jenée Fowler is a writer from the South. For more of her writing, check out her Medium account.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.