Amy Tries Again

Brother of mine
April 30, 2012, 8:37 PM
Filed under: Miscellanea

This is probably about the sixth time I’ve started to write this.  It’s not an easy one.  Once upon a time, I had a sister.  I don’t anymore.

It’s okay, though.  Nobody died.  Nobody’s estranged, and nobody’s parentage has been called into question.  I just have an extra brother now.  I’ve been wanting to write a post about it for some time, and he’s told me it’s okay.  My problem is this: most of my efforts have turned into me apologising in circles, not wanting to generalise or assume things about anyone who identifies as trans, or the people who love them.  My hypersensitivity is probably fairly offensive in itself, so I’ll just say this, and get on with it: this is the story of one person only, told through another person’s filter.

My sister’s name was Elspeth, and for the first 25 years of her life, she was female.  My brother’s name now is Edmund.  He kept the same initials, and, I think, the same sort of feel to his name – old-fashioned, Scottish, and slightly storybook.  (My other brother is Alistair.  I managed to escape the festival of tartan.)  For clarity, I’ll refer to my brother, in his time known as Elspeth, as ‘she’ and ‘her’, and, since his change, as ‘he’ and ‘him’.

I don’t want to start theorising about her childhood.  She was an absent-minded professor who loved dinosaurs, ancient Egypt and Xena, Warrior Princess.  Does that mean anything?  He’s laughed to me that he never once picked up on the homoerotic subtext in that particular show.  She preferred unusual sports, archery and fencing (for which she came second in the state, at one point).  I want to see patterns, indications that this was always going to happen.  In retrospect, I think I can see them, but if things had turned out differently, I’d think nothing of them.  I don’t know.   A primary school teacher told my mother that her daughters were both bright, but in different ways.  Apparently, with my love for stories, languages, making things and arguing, I was ‘smart like a girl’.  Elspeth liked construction, precise technical drawings and machines (combining the two in her obsession with the display of a wrecked biplane at the museum.  Drawings of the ‘broken plane’ once took up a great deal of her time).  She was pronounced ‘smart like a boy’.

As she grew up, the feeling I got from Elspeth was that her skin didn’t quite fit.  I thought she might be gay, but I wasn’t sure why.  She had an atypical geek-typical tortured adolescence.  She kept drawing, teaching herself above and beyond anything that was taught in school art class.  She poured over tomes of art textbooks and anatomy books and tore through visual diaries until her art was technically brilliant.  It was also just brilliant.  After school, instead of studying art, she began an engineering degree.  Like Dad.

Over the next few years, she started to find herself.  Her manner of dress became more and more gender-neutral.  She talked about androgyny and asexuality.  Then, suddenly, she had a boyfriend.  Then she talked about a crush on a girl.  Signals were mixed, and I’m hardly delicate – I asked her.  A bunch of times.  I wanted to know to what category she’d be assigned.  Boys?  Girls?  Neither?  Both?  I didn’t object to any of the above – I just couldn’t figure her out, and it irked me.

My mother, smiling bravely, wasn’t sure either.  Determined to be supportive, she did her best to find out.

‘Elspeth, it’s just…well, how do I describe you?’

‘You’ve got three kids.  Just tell people you’ve got one of each.’

Life went on.  I guess I assumed that this was the finished version of Elspeth – a creature of fluid gender.  This wasn’t it, though – a few years ago, she had an announcement to make.  Like her art, like the fencing and the origami dinosaurs of her childhood, everything she did was deliberate and purposeful.  She researched.  She planned.  When she told us, it was the result of years of consideration.  She had conducted a vast internal audit, based on feelings she’d always had – and realised who she – he – was supposed to be.

I first saw Edmund in Elspeth’s drawings.  He looked a lot like her, but more so.  He was drawn with skill, and I knew exactly who he was.  At once strange and familiar: not my sister, but not someone else.  The process began, and it made me a bit nervous.  I sort of wished Elspeth could step into a machine.  Strange beeps would sound, a blinding light would flash, and presto-chango! Edmund would appear.  I was all for him appearing, but the prospect of my sister slowly vanishing made me feel uneasy.  How would I feel the first time my little sister sprouted stubble, or the first time her voice cracked?

It was both more and less dramatic a change than I was expecting.  Edmund looked, particularly at first, a great deal like Elspeth.  My sibling’s fondness for stereotypically masculine dress, barbershop hair and Buddy Holly glasses hadn’t changed.  He bound his breasts.  My mother got out the sewing machine to adjust the binders Edmund had bought online.  He started undergoing counselling – he had to, before he could receive hormone treatment – and I began to get used to saying ‘Ed’ instead of ‘Ell’.  When the hormones started, though, things began to change more quickly.  His voice dropped with shocking speed.  It just wasn’t as different, as – other – as I’d thought.  It wasn’t Elspeth’s voice, but it was a voice that sounded ‘right’ to me amazingly quickly.  It was my brother’s voice, and once it was in place, everything else seemed natural.  The stubble that appeared was – well, logical.

Every time I see him, he looks more like himself.  He’s finishing his animation degree next semester, and is sorting out stuff like changing his name and organising ‘top surgery’ – a double mastectomy.  He ‘passes’ now to the point where, on seeing his official (for now) name on the roll, a uni tutor declared that they hadn’t realised ‘Elspeth’ was a guy’s name, too.  He thoroughly enjoys running into old school friends who haven’t heard, and revels in innocuous statements by those who don’t know.  Something like ‘You blokes can give us a hand with the furniture’ leaves him grinning for hours.  He is who he wants to be, and it delights him.


7 Comments so far
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Having a brother who came out many years ago I find this story lovely. It’s not entirely the same I know but it’s similar. Seeing them finally find themselves and be their true selves is a beautiful thing.

Comment by aarondoyle

This was truly lovely, Amy. You have such a good heart. x

Comment by Raynor

I hope he enjoyed running into awkward ‘old school friend who hadn’t heard’ me last week! Beautiful piece Amy. Just lovely.

Comment by Kate

I get upset when I hear people reducing the experience of trans* people to just being unhappy with their bodies in the same way that a woman might want larger breasts because it totally denies the life lived by that person. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a body that doesn’t feel like it’s your own, or to have a family member experiencing that, but hearing the experience of trans* people and their family and friends certainly helps.

This was genuinely touching, Amy. I wish Ed all the best.

Comment by Sam Clifford

Good job, kiddo. I shed a very happy tear 🙂

– Chicken

Comment by Chicken

Hi, I went to school with Edmund, formerly Elspeth. I just wanted to say that i am really happy for Ed. I think Ed is enormously courageous and wish him lots of happiness, peace and success in his future. Thank you for sharing a bit of his story. I hope it helps people to be less judgemental and see people for people and not by their gender, sexual orientation or colour of their skin or religion.

Comment by CSS MBC

Thank you all for your kind comments. I’m so pleased at how supportive everyone’s been. I’ve told Ed he’ll just have to face it – he’s downright heartwarming.

Comment by Amy

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