The Older Brother

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My older son, S, is approaching seventeen years old. Through this whole process with E, I’ve always had S in mind. S was fourteen when E first verbalized his claim that he was a boy. I thought, this is not the kind of attention a teenager wants on his family. When a child is gender non-conforming or transgender, it affects every member of the family. In a way, we all transitioned.

S is a solid, intact kid with a very clear sense of self. He keeps his emotions close and is not one to do a lot of sharing about his internal world. So it’s often been hard to know how this experience has been for him. I interviewed him as we were driving to E’s hockey game, an hour away. S was driving the car he recently bought with the money he saved from two solid summers of working his tail off. He loves this car, was feeling good and I thought it was a good opportunity to talk to him. I had asked him in advance if I could interview him for my blog and he agreed.

As I expected, S didn’t have a ton to say on the topic, but I think he really spoke his truth. He really is okay, it’s as simple as that. The only time I saw a glimpse, and I mean a glimpse, of discomfort was when I recalled his reaction to being told. I think he was bristling a little to my insinuating that there was a moment where he didn’t accept E. But I didn’t see it that way. It was just the beginning of his process and he needed time. He never once treated E in a bad way over his gender identity. Not once.

And it’s true, regarding E’s name and pronouns: S has never made a mistake.

 

Me: When E was little, did you have a sense there was something different about him?

S: He always thought of things in a more masculine way and associated himself with masculine things, like the activities he did. But I never thought it was him being transgender. I felt it was more a phase he was going through.

Me: When did you stop thinking it was a phase?

S: Once you told me.

Me: So when he was little, before I told you, how did you relate to him? How did you think about him?

S: I guess as a little sister, but it was never a real baby sister thing. It was never that “playing with dolls” thing or anything like that – that would be annoying. It was a little different.

Me: Did he ever say anything to you about his gender feelings?

S: I’ve been part of conversations but he’s never approached me directly about it.

Me: Not privately?

S: No.

Me: Do you remember when I first told you that he told me that he is a boy? What was that conversation like for you?

S: Yes. You told me that you had a talk with him. It wasn’t something that was that crazy of an idea, seeing how he acted. But, um, I don’t know. I still thought: he will outgrow it. He’s only eight years old. It’s only a phase he’s going through now.

Me: I remember your reaction was sort of like – yeah that’s fine but I’m never going to call him “he” or say he’s a boy. Like, he can do what he wants but leave me out of it.

S: I guess I did that but that was before I really knew what it was and more about it.

Me: How did you learn more about it?

S: I talked with you a lot about it. That was pretty much it.

Me: Was there a moment when you gained more acceptance or did it happen over time?

S: Definitely over time. It wasn’t a light bulb moment where I thought, “Now I get it.” It was more a gradual, over time thing.

Me: Can you describe your process of learning? How it went for you over time and how you came to be more accepting?

S: I think it’s just as you hear more stories about other kids that went through it and as you learn from people who really know what they are talking about – about what it is and what goes on, something inside just changes.   I can’t really point to one thing but there’s a change. Gradually, but it changes.

Me: So when E decided to actually transition, how was that for you?

S: It seemed fine. I was pretty confident that it would all go well. I knew he had a really good core group of friends. I didn’t see what could go wrong. We did just about everything possible to help him out, help out everything he would have to do. So I thought he would do well.

Me: Did you ever have any feelings about the attention he was getting during that time, or at any time during his gender identity issues?

S: No. That’s not really a big issue for me. What’s there is there. Obviously, he’s going to get attention for it. It’s well deserved attention, honestly. I’d rather him get attention for it than not get attention for it.

Me: Has your relationship changed with him since he’s transitioned?

S: I mean, not really. I don’t think so. It’s still relatively the same. It’s not like before our relationship was bad or on a different level. I think it’s been relatively constant.

Me: Do you think of him differently now?

S: Not really. There’s obviously the fact that he’s a boy now, officially. But he’s still the same. He’s just my little brother. He’s still the same.

Me: Did you have any concerns about how your friends or your teammates where going to react to the news?

S: No, not really. I think we had a really good core group of people and I think the core group of people that needed to know before the transition –they all knew.   So there was a good support system behind the transition.

Me: What about your friends? Did you ever have anxiety about them being judgmental in any way?

S: No, I really didn’t. I thought – if they are going to think something they are going to think something and there’s nothing I can do about it and so be it.

Me: Have any of your friends had a negative or positive reaction?

S: I’ve had some nice talks with kids who were asking about E and making sure he is doing well. Nothing negative has ever come up.

Me: Do your friends use the right name and pronouns for him?

S: Yes.

Me: Has anyone ever made mistakes in front of you?

S: Yes! Everyone makes mistakes. We all make mistakes.

Me: Not you…

S: Everyone besides me makes mistakes! We lived with him for 10 years with one name; it will take time.

Me: Do you correct your friends when they make mistakes?

S: They realize themselves that they made a mistake – so I haven’t had to do it yet.

Me: Do you feel like it’s had a positive or negative effect on the community around us?

S: I think it’s definitely had a positive effect on the community. So many people are opened up to a new idea. A lot of people who now know about E – it didn’t even occur to them about kids being transgender. But now that they’ve heard E’s story, it’s something new that they’ve learned and experienced.

Me: How about for you personally – do you think it’s been good or not good for you?

S: It’s definitely been good for me. It’s one more thing that I know about and I can properly handle. There’s nothing bad that happened about it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of and nothing bad went on.

Me: How about the effect on our family?

S: It’s been something that has been stressful and a lot of time and hours have gone into it. But I think it’s been something positive in our family. It’s something we all know about and bond over. It’s a commitment.

Me: Do you have any concerns about E’s future?

S: Not short term. There are definitely long term things that he will have to deal with but I see over the next three or five years that things are going smoothly and I don’t see things going wrong between now and then.

Me: Is there anything else that you want us to know about your experience in this process?

S: No. All is going well and there has been a lot of positive support around it. That’s really it.

Me: Thank you, S.

S: You’re welcome, Mom.

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