What came before [Trigger warning: abuse, abusive relationships, aggressive degendering, binarism, biphobia, cissexism]:
[Trigger warning: abusive relationships, cissexism]
After my conversation with my mother, I texted my brother and let him know what was up.
Me: Hey I know you’re at work so I’m not expecting a reply now. I’m wearing swim trunks and a rash guard to the beach, and I’m not shaving my legs. This is apparently so horrific for Mom that she’s refusing to see me in it, and seems to think you will be similarly horrified. Still wanna go swimming with me?
Him: What does she expect you to wear? A one piece? And I might shave your legs. Not cause I care or it matters for the beach but just cause we’re probably going nice places at night.
Me: Yeah, I’m wearing pants. The only time anybody would be able to see it is at the beach.
Him: I don’t know what she’s thinking. You know mom she just wants people to dress to conformity. I guess just appease what you can otherwise she’ll make a big deal out of it.
Me: She’s already made it a huge crying deal, just to warn you. She says vacation is going to be uncomfortable. I just plan on going and being myself and having a good time. I’m sorry if it puts stress on you or takes enjoyment out of it.
Me: And she’s not going to go to the beach with me, so it’d be really great if you wouldn’t mind doing a just-siblings beach excursion. And maybe also having a kids’ vs. parents’ room at the hotel rather than boys vs. girls.
Him: Like really what does she want you to wear
Me: A “girl bathing suit”
Me: I’m wearing what she wants to the wedding, and that’s as far as I’m compromising; I’m pretty much done appeasing her.
Me: I’m not asking you to take sides or argue with her or anything–just if I can know you support me even in private it’d mean a lot.
Him: Yeah of course! And yes I’ll go swimming with you, and we can figure out the room thing.
Me: Thanks. Thanks a lot. This has been really hard and, between you and me, I think it might be good for me and mom to stop talking for awhile. She says she’ll never accept how I dress and doesn’t have to, and she basically denies ever saying anything mean to me and… yeah. It’s really bad. So it really means a lot to have you there.
Me: I’m sorry this happened now and I hope we can still have a good time. I love you. Thanks for having my back so much over the years.
No reply after that. I told myself I couldn’t focus on it. He’s been subject to my mom’s abuse too. This would be causing him stress too. I couldn’t expect him to stand up and cheerlead for me. He said he’d support me and that was certainly something.
About six hours later, he called.
He never calls.
He was calling because Mom had called him.
He wasn’t calling on her behalf–he was calling because we grew up together diffusing her anger, conferencing on how to manage things, and trying to make the best out of it for both of us.
He said Mom wasn’t concerned about my legs or my bathing suit. He said what Mom is worried about is that we “no longer” have open communication and a good relationship [we never have], that I have no dialogue with my parents, but instead confront them with things and expect them to be accepted.
I told him everything that had happened–how Mom had behaved, what she had said the past few days. And as we talked, I went further and further back into the past, the patterns of Mom’s behavior. I repeated for him the things she had said (which she now says she doesn’t remember) when I was outed to her in high school as not straight. I went all the way back to when it started: when he was not yet 10, she started having these episodes once a month where she’d yell and scream at all of us about how we were ungrateful, and leave the house without saying where she was going or when she was coming back. Once she packed first.
We talked about our family–how he is the only one Mom listens to. About the things he does to keep her happy. About how Mom is abusive and I am worried for Dad.
We talked about him and I, about the similar things we have struggled with, about the dark times we have or have not shared with our parents or with each other.
I told him I had things that, should Mom find out, would cause her to immediately kick me out of the family.
“Eh,” he said. “Half of me wants to say… let sleeping dogs lie and all that. The other half… just go for it.” He laughed a little bitterly.
But this… this thing happened. It happened in the middle of all this, but it was a moment of such utterly unbelievable–luck? goodness? crystallization?–that I could hardly form an emotional response to it.
I was talking about offering Mom and Dad information, publications, websites, explaining gender identity and gender presentation, and how they continue to tell me they “don’t understand” me but have no desire to read anything on it.
“If you ever wanted to send me those things, I’d be happy to read them,” he said.
“What, the websites and stuff?”
“Yeah. Any groups you identify with, or anything.”
“Can… is it OK if I just tell you?”
“Are you familiar with those words? Have you heard them before or do you need me to–“
“Uh, I’m an RA,” he said. “I took eight hours of LGBTQ training. Well–six were required, but I signed up for more because I was interested.”
Oh. Oh my gosh.
“Can I keep going? You promise you’re not going to freak out about what I’m going to say?”
Genderqueer. Androgynous. Transgender.
He didn’t bat an eye.
“Can–I just tell you fucking everything?”
Nonmonogamous. Two partners, both of them trans*, one of whom I met online, who lives on another continent.
He accepted it all.
As we wrapped up the call he offered me advice–some details I could drop for Mom that would relax her–some things she’d feel better if I’d approach.
There was a moment in which I laughingly apologized that all my nonconformity was going to make Mom put so much pressure on his wedding being the perfect picture of everything she wanted.
He said not to worry, that he was planning on it being plenty traditional–and that he thinks he’s picked out the ring.
Joy. Joy in the middle of it all. He’s planning to propose to his girlfriend next spring.
Before we said goodbye, he said that, at the end of everything, he is my brother, he is my family, and he’s got my back.
“I know this is something we don’t say very often,” I told him, “but I love you.”
“I love you too. I’ll see you at the airport when you get there.”
“I hope I’m in one piece.”