Loving My Sister-Brother

Look at it this way: You aren’t losing a brother. You’re gaining a sister,” said my brother of 46 years at dinner one night. A month prior I had noticed the makeup on his face. When I asked about it, his response was simple: “I feel better about myself with it on.” I assumed he was gay.

As we sat on his balcony in Chicago, over salmon and focaccia, I listened as he read aloud his personal statement. The letter, written for his boss, explained his decision to transition to living as a woman and his new expectations of others. By the end of the reading, tears flowed. He waited in silence for my response.

My only sibling. My ally. As children, our relationship was a wall of defense in the minefield of our parents’ dysfunctional marriage. We escaped to the woods behind our ranch house and sailed our bathtub boats in the creek. Creating blanket forts and playing army men in our beanbag chair kept us busy after our parents put us to bed. He called me “M. M. L.” I called him “Chobey.” He was my brother, and we did things that boys liked to do. Never once did I think, He’s acting like a girl.

We grew up in a Christian family. Our father was best described as a “wildcat,” adventurous and volatile, our mother, beautiful and genteel. My brother gave his life to Christ while attending an Arkansas crusade around age 6. Billy Graham’s ministry brought me to salvation at age 7. We were both baptized and confirmed, and attended Honey Rock Camp, run by Wheaton College. Dad taught our Sunday school class. Our family was “normal.”

Over dessert, my brother told more of his transition story. After work and dinner with his family, he’d drive into the city. He’d change clothes in his car and stroll through Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood trying to make transgender friends, then change back again to travel home, say goodnight to his son, and go to bed.

As I listened, I felt the tectonic plates of my heart shift, jarred by a combination of compassion and questions. How could he live like this and why? What happened? When did it start? What would I call him now? I studied his heartbreak, respected his courage, and managed to respond with a quiet, “I’m so sorry.”

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