Note: Thank you to Cathy Browne who has kindly allowed us to share her letter.
The things I shouldn’t say.
First of all, my love for you is never going to change or diminish. Our bond is as permanent and deep as the roots of our Climbing Tree, and nothing is going to change that.
Our teenage years and twenties has seen us walking down different paths, we are pulled in different directions and I know that has been painful for you. I don’t think I have every told you in plain English but I am full of respect for you for being true to what you believe, for being compassionate and tolerate of me even when I believe in things that you fundamentally disagree with. I am proud of your courage and admire your independence; I am really glad to be your sister.
Through all of our differences and changes that have come our way, there has always been this hidden hallow that we can retreat to together. We may only visit it briefly, but you and I never lost our fluency in the language of imagination. There is a door to those magical worlds that still opens whenever we are together. We know where the fairies feast and the giants sleep. When we are together, or when we send each other artwork and stories that feel like childhood, I am flooded with gratitude for our sibling connection all over again. It is so very special to me.
We have so much good between us, but there is also awkwardness, I know it can’t be easy for you to have a God Squader as a sister, and I know I get tied up in knots when it comes to talking about your transition. I am very conscious that I don’t want to cause you pain or embarrassment by being clumsy or unthinking with my words. We’ve come a long way, and you are very gracious and gentle towards me, and I hope I am the same towards you.
This piece of writing is first and foremost to sort my own head out. I’m aware of the things I am holding myself back from saying and it is making me awkward and distant. Maybe if I write it all here, I will stop having the compulsion to try and say it to you. I don’t know what I’ll do with it once I have written it. Maybe I will decide that there are things that I need to say out loud to you after all or more likely I maybe I will save it in a file and leave it alone, maybe I’ll delete it the moment I’m done.
I honestly don’t know what I’ll do, but for now I am going to pour out in to this keyboard the things I have been desperately not saying….
I miss calling you ‘brother’. Adopting the new language has been more difficult than I thought it would be. It’s not just a thing to remember to do, there is a sense of loss every time I stop myself from saying the B word. I know that you are still here and still you, but every time I edit myself from saying brother, it also feels like I am deleting you. I long to refer to you as my little brother again. I have so many happy memories and loving connections to that word; ‘brother’.
I now say ‘sister’, I say ‘she’, and I say ‘her’ but each time I do, it feels like lying. But I would rather lie than cause you further pain, so now I say sister, even if the word rings false. I know that you have decided not to use compelled speech and accept that some people use ‘he’ and ‘him’ and you don’t fight to correct that. You do so because you believe it is wrong to enforce people to say things that they don’t believe to be true. I wondered about asking you if it would be OK if I went back to the male pronouns, but I decided against it. I think you would say yes, that I should use whatever language I wanted but on the inside I think that would hurt you too much. I’d rather use the wrong word if that makes it easier for you and I to relate to one another. So, I am doing me best to learn to like the word sister but I think it’s going to take me some time.
Anyway, if I started using the male pronouns again, I would just confuse my daughter, who at three years old accepts you as a woman with no questions asked. She knows you on a first name basis. We don’t use ‘Aunty’ often because again it feels a bit like the wrong word, I’m sorry about that, but she knows you are my sister and she is always happy to see you and she knows you are the one who spoils her rotten at every opportunity. You do have an Aunty and Niece relationship so I know I should get better at using the language.
It’s weird. With my daughter, I decided I would tell her the truth about the tricky things in life and not confuse her by brushing off her more difficult questions. She knows that the cat died and isn’t coming back. She knows the correct names of the human anatomy. She knows that even Mummy and Daddy make mistakes and sometimes have to say sorry. But I can’t tell her the truth about your transition. I haven’t told her that you used to be my little brother but now you identify as a woman and are my sister. If I did that, she would ask ‘can boys turn in to girls?’, and what will I say in return? I can’t say, ‘yes’ because that feels like a lie too far. I could maybe say, ‘No, but some people are really unhappy being a boy or a girl and it makes them feel better to pretend that they are the opposite sex. But for the pretense to work, everyone else has to join in and also pretend that they are a boy or a girl, and to not join in with the pretense is very rude and is called intolerant. And to be intolerant is the unforgivable sin of this generation.’
I haven’t told her, because the whole mindset around transition is complicated and I am still working through what I believe about it. I’m not ready to guide a three year old through this mental minefield. I know you are still working through it too. One of the things I am so proud of you for is how you have not cemented your beliefs but have listened to everyone, and questioned each idea and belief thoroughly and repeatedly. You have taught me what it truly means to be open minded and I respect all the adjustments you have made on this journey.
During that first trans coming out conversation that we had, sat on that fallen tree in the wood, you told me that you have always been a woman, a woman trapped in the wrong body. I don’t know how that initial conversation felt for you, I imagine it was very difficult. For me it felt like a sadness and a relief. I hate that you feel so sad in your own body, but when you explained it, I also felt like at last, you had uncovered what was the cause of a lot of your pain and inner distress. Now your belief has changed since that first conversation, now you explain that you are a man with gender dysphoria and changing sex characteristics is a way of alleviating the distress of that condition. I think I can understand that position better, although I still have all these worries, and I guess this is the thing that I often feel must not be spoken out loud.
Here is the crux of the matter, the one thing that I must not say, should not say, have no right to say, will do no good to say. Please don’t transition. Please stop this. Those are the words the rise to my mouth so often and I swallow them each time. It’s a childish, desperate, fear riddled reaction. Please don’t transition. I think it’s going to hurt you, please don’t do this. I bite my tongue from saying it a lot, although I am sure the plea slips out in my expression and hesitation plenty of times. You’re not stupid. You already know I feel this way, and I appreciate that again, it must hurt and disappoint you that I can’t just be supportive and enthusiastic. I don’t think for a minute, that whether I say the words or swallow them, you don’t already know what I’m desperately trying not to say.
So just this once, I am saying it openly and plainly. I don’t want you to transition.
I am not convinced that the depression or anxiety will end on the day that you can look in the mirror and see a woman’s body from head to toe. Maybe they will back off for a little while, but I think that day will come and go and the bad thoughts will still haunt you. I’m not a doctor, or an expert but I believe that, like nearly all mental conditions, at the heart of gender dysphoria will be a hidden internalized lie, or maybe several lies tangled together like a bed of snakes difficult to discern where one lie ends and another begins. The lie leads you to believe that your maleness is wrong, limiting, binding. I know that you feel that the lie is too deeply ingrained in you to be changed, and that whilst you hope that one day society will be unburdened by gender stereotypes, you say that it is too late for you. I want you to know that I have this small unruly hope that maybe it isn’t too late for you. Maybe the lie can be fixed instead of the body. Is there anyway we could try again to find you a counselor or a therapist who would try and help you untangle the lie and it’s trappings rather than just treat the symptoms of dysphoria?
Although, even as I write these words I acknowledge that you have seemed happier since beginning the transition. And I don’t want to take away your happiness. If it’s working so far, why can’t I just shut up and let it continue to work? Because I worry that transition will turn out to be a false hope. That it will be unable to deliver on the promise it has made. And if the hope proves to be false you will be more miserable and lost than you ever were before. I would be so very happy to be wrong about this. And you know me, I hate to be wrong. But in this case, I would absolutely love to be wrong.
And yes, it’s your body, your business. And what right have I to have an opinion on what you do with your own body? Well, none. Which is why I shouldn’t be saying any of this. But I am, because I have to send these thoughts somewhere or I’m going to lose it.
I’m a mum, I grew a human body inside of my body and then delivered it in to the world. I have nurtured my little girl; fed her, bathed her, changed her, held her, just as our mum did for you and me. When you have to devote yourself day in and day out to the development and care of another body you realise just how precious, wonderful and fragile each limb is. The night my daughter tripped and fell and cut open her head was awful. Thankfully, she was fine but she now carries the first scar of wear and tear on her body. It was a sobering night to see the evidence of what I had always known to be true; this body is fragile, it can so easily be hurt and broken. The thought that one day my little girl might want to cut away and dispose of perfectly healthy pieces of her precious body is so distressing. It’s distressing when I think of that happening to you too.
Everything I have read about surgeries and medical transition alarms me further. I worry a lot about what you might suffer and sacrifice to achieve a body type that I truly believe will not bring you peace or happiness. If you had been born my sister and was considering similar medical interventions in order to look a different way I would be using all my efforts to persuade you otherwise. But because you are transitioning it is drilled in to us that to speak caution or concern is to speak hate. But I promise, none of these thoughts are coming from a place of hate, they are coming from a place of love and fear.
As I read, on an un-credited instagram post, this week, your body is not the canvas, it is the paintbrush. You don’t need to be a walking piece of art crafted to perfection, your body is the brush through which you create the masterpieces around you, and that is the very thing I believe you were made to do. You are creative and clever and intuitive, I see you painting masterpieces in what you say and do. I see the way you speak to others going through these issues. You are so compassionate and kind to everyone. Even those who disagree with you and treat you like dirt, you treat them like precious human beings worthy of kindness and patience and hope that they might one day learn to treat others better. Again, my heart bursts with pride for how you navigate these dangerous waters. You are leaving masterpieces wherever you walk.
I love you, eternally, painfully and wholly. Whatever you choose to do I am going to love and celebrate you. Wherever this journey takes you, I want to walk it by your side, with honesty, compassion and support. I’m sorry that my support doesn’t always come in the form you would most like. I am trying to do better.
When we were little we would imagine these magical worlds and carefully chose each element to add to it to make it better; a pirate ship there, an elf princess here, a hero walking through an enchanted castle. In the same way, I see you as someone who was created and placed in to this world to add more magic and love to the universe. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and I love you as you are, and however you will one day be.