My younger sister and I never got along.
We were about as different as it was possible to be while still managing to share DNA. Sometimes, I wondered whether or not we did share DNA. I preferred to play on my own, and she needed other people around her at all times. I was possessive of my things, and she firmly believed that (me) sharing (my things) was caring. I locked myself away in my room when I was upset, and she screamed from the end of the hallway, loud enough so that everyone knew exactly how she was feeling. For years, we could hardly be around each other without shouting or hitting or something that drove us further apart and, likely, drove our parents up the wall. I remember dozens of nights spent talking to my mom while she leaned in my doorway, trying to figure out what was wrong. What wasn’t clicking. What we could do to make it better. She loves you, she’d tell me. Shannon admired me; she wanted to be with the big kids—no matter how many times my mom told me that, it felt like a partial truth.
We were furthest away from each other when Shannon was a teenager. I was completely involved with my friends and their problems, in the show we were working on for my theater class, and in having my first girlfriend and what that meant. It should be said that Shannon’s temper had always been a dormant landmine, waiting and wildly powerful when detonated. The glory that is puberty increased the magnitude and the sensitivity tenfold. She was almost always blaring music from her room or brooding in the corner when people were over or stomping through the house when she got home from school. What we were all unaware of was that it wasn’t just the presence of the hormones playing with her brain—it was that what they were doing to the rest of her felt wrong. That she never felt right in any situation because she didn’t even feel right in her own skin.
We were in my old car driving down the road that would take us to the little apartment we shared with our mom and her friend when my sister told me she didn’t feel like a girl.
I was 21 at the time and I did what almost anyone would do when a 17-year-old says something like that: I dismissed it. There’s a lot I could say about how wrong that reaction was, but that’s another post on its own. I told myself that she was spending too much time on the Internet and was saying that just because she had never been what society considered “feminine.” I thought that would be the first and only time it was mentioned, but then a few months later, she asked me to start using male pronouns. Then he was talking about finding a new name. He bought a chest binder online and even though he complained about how tight it was, he never left the house without it. I was shocked.
It wasn’t that I was prejudiced against the transgender community. It was just a distant thing that happened to other people; I’d never tried to relate it to my own life. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. If I’m being honest, I still don’t entirely understand it, but I don’t think it’s something you can fully understand unless you’ve felt it yourself. What I do know is that Shannon was angry that she didn’t feel right inside herself, and that she lashed out at the people around her because she was constantly lashing out at herself. I know that Shannon was a facade that had been built by other people, painted pink and decorated with lace all because of one body part. I know that beneath that landmine was Noah, screaming and biting and kicking his way to the surface.
I’ve known Noah for about two years now. He loves dogs, he works hard at his job, he makes videos lip-syncing to Beyonce, and he knows exactly what to do to make me laugh until I cry. He’s a lot like Shannon, but when he shed that name, all that anger he’d been lugging around went with it. Transitioning was never anything that he was doing to anybody. It wasn’t a phase; it wasn’t a statement he was making, and it wasn’t an act of teenage rebellion. It was something that he was doing for himself, to finally put an end to all that hurt. He’s more confident now than I’ve ever seen him. I don’t need to understand every single part of it; I look at him, and I know it makes him happy. That’s all I really need to understand.