From the community | “THERE ARE ONLY 2 GENDERS CHANGE MY MIND”: An open letter to SCR

April 10, 2022, 8:46 p.m.

The author has requested anonymity for fear of harassment and doxxing.

Content warning: this article contains references to suicide, self-harm and transphobia.

My sibling’s mind had changed by the time they were 11. 

That was in 2015. Neither of us understood the concept of gender or nonbinary yet — or even what it really meant to be trans, for that matter. But my sibling told me, “I don’t think I can be a ___. But I know I’m not a ___, either.” 

For a year after that, my sibling fought their gender. They tried on different clothes and different pronouns. None of it felt right. Then, when they were 12, we were introduced to the concept of nonbinary. 

I don’t need you to understand what it means to be nonbinary. 

But can you understand the smile on my sibling’s face? The way their back straightened, the way their voice got stronger and clearer in an instant? 

Life was not easy for them. This world is not tailored to trans people; this world beats them down and does its best to undermine their sense of self. 

Teachers at my sibling’s middle school refused to call my sibling by their name or pronouns. We were lucky enough to have supportive parents, who went to school administrators and asked that my sibling’s chosen name be noted on official documents. At their middle school, students’ nicknames were listed alongside their given names. Teachers used all of these “nicknames” except for my sibling’s. When my sibling asked their history teacher why, the teacher said, “that is not your name.” 

There were no non-gendered bathrooms at their middle school. Admin told them they would simply have to use the ___’s bathroom. My sibling did, once. They went back to class and smiled through it. Then they came home and cried. They chanted, over and over, “I’m not a ___, I’m not a ___, I’m not a ____ — they’re going to say that I’m a ___, they’re going to say I did it once and I’m wrong, I’m lying, I’m a stupid lying ___, but I’m not — ” 

Our grandmother sent them emails with articles explaining to them why being trans and nonbinary was not real, and how they would grow out of it and “be normal” again in a few years. 

Some of their friends ceased being their friends. Some of their friends were told by their parents to stop spending time with my sibling. My sibling’s pronouns were contagious. My sibling’s identity was dangerous. Their existence was disgusting. Their existence was not allowed. 

Their existence was debated, again and again, in front of them, on national television in political and pop cultural debates, in the hallways where they were told over and over that they were wrong. 

When my sibling was 13 they were hospitalized for a suicide attempt for the first time. 

Thirteen. 

13. 

10 + 3 years. 

Do you know what that means? Do you understand that my sibling was in so much pain that when they were 13 years old, barely in puberty, they attempted to end their life? 

Are you a big sister? Are you a big sibling? Do you understand what that means? To come home and be told they are in the hospital? They had wanted to not be alive. They were never going to smile or laugh or annoy me again. 

Do you know what it is to be terrified? Guilty? Do you know the shame? The rage? 

They would never smile or laugh again, but at least they would never have to experience being told that their identity was not real, that something as tangible and true as the pavement under our feet was a lie. 

My sibling was in and out of the hospital for years. My baby sibling wanted to die for years. Do you understand that? 

So help me understand. Why does it matter if my sibling is not one of two genders? 

Please don’t come to me with religion. It’s not that. 

My sibling found shul comforting, but they did not go for five years. Religious life as a queer person is scary. Hebrew itself is a language with two genders — it does not accommodate for them. I’m not angry at Hebrew for this. 

My rabbi rewrote a prayer so that it used conjugated words of both genders and unconjugated words wherever possible. 

He rewrote the parents’ blessing, so that my parents could bless my sibling in Hebrew words that applied to who my sibling was. 

If my rabbi can spend hours delving through liturgical Hebrew to make synagogue a little more accommodating for my sibling, you can manage to not have a sign that calls them meaningless. 

My sibling is not one of two genders. 

My sibling has never been one of two genders. 

And why does that matter?

Why is it so important to you what pronouns my sibling uses? 

The lives of trans and nonbinary people are not a debate. They are real. They are real people and you would tell them that they do not exist.

Why? I want to understand. I really want to know why. 

How does it hurt you if my sibling gets to smile?

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