Editor’s Note: The following piece is a half of a point-counterpoint regarding libertarian and traditional conservative perspectives on transgenderism. Find the other half, written by Alex Jacobs, here.
For me, it all started one afternoon after school last May when my then-brother asked me to come meet with him and my mom downstairs in my parents’ bedroom.
“What I’m about to tell you will change the way you see me forever,” he told me. Within ten minutes, he proved himself right.
For my twin, it had started long before. What he revealed that afternoon was that over the past two years he had slowly begun to realize that he was a transgender female. My brother talked about the private and group therapy sessions that he attended with my mom to help with the gender dysphoria he had been dealing with for the past several years.
To cope with these feelings, he had gotten a separate room in our house not because he wanted his own room (which he told me at the time), but because he wanted to crossdress in private. Additionally, my brother said that he prioritized trans-friendly dormitories on college tours.
Before that day, I had given little thought to transgender issues. It would have been easy for me to say to a transgendered individual, “I’m fine with you identifying as whichever gender you choose.” But it’s quite another thing to say that to your twin.
At first, I was open to it, but as time moved on and as my sister’s transition moved forward, I realized that my adjustment was going to be hitting speed bumps very quickly.
The first time I saw my sister dressed as a female was when we went to her therapist as a family. She was determined to cosmetically resemble a female. She wore her most feminine-looking clothes, put on some makeup, and wore a wig. On the way to the session, my sister kept asking me how she looked and if she “passed” (successfully looking the part of her desired gender).
I was torn, and for the greater part of the car ride and the session, I didn’t want to look at her. I just couldn’t; it was too much to digest at once. I chose to stay silent and look the other direction. I remember thinking, “This is going to be a lot harder than I expected.” That was putting it lightly.
After the session with her counselor and throughout the summer, my sister rarely dressed as a female, which made it more difficult for me to begin to understand and accept her for when she would begin to physically transition to being a female. She still went by her birth name and male pronouns, which made me doubt her commitment to her transition. Perhaps I needed another perspective.
I consider myself a political activist, so it was not enough to simply accept my sister as transgender. In other words, my aspirations to be involved in politics would become more complicated as others might see my twin as a source of controversy. I wanted to be educated to prepare myself for the inevitable debates I would be involved in, so I delved into reading various articles and even attended a transgender family support group. My goal became to know as much about the issue not only from a personal perspective, but to understand transgender political and cultural issues.
I watched debates on YouTube. I started seeing a counselor at my university. I looked at peer-reviewed studies from top scholars. I prayed to God, asking Him for help and guidance on an issue that my church has failed to adequately and extensively address—much less accept. My inability to make headway with reality coupled with my own grief over ‘losing’ my brother translated into more anger. Nothing seemed to satisfy me. I started to resent being a member of the 6% of American adults who have a transgender family member. I realized that turning to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community would not help; after all, I believed in the gender binary (a thought crime in LGBT circles), so that avenue wasn’t an option.
Eventually, I expressed this emotion to my sister; I had to let her know how I was feeling, and I needed somewhere to vent. I was driving us both back from a restaurant when I voiced my anger about my shortcomings in coming to grips with her transition. I will never forget what she said to me in reply: “Original thought is not easy to come up with, and I can only tell you to do more research.”
It was the last thing I wanted to hear; it pissed me off, but she was right. I had to think more. But, not just that: I had to think smarter. I happen to be someone who believes in the “live and let live” mantra, so I worked from that approach.
I tackled the issue from a religious point-of-view. I am a Roman Catholic, so I looked to the Bible for support, and, since it has nothing explicit to say about transgenderism (although Genesis 1:27 says that God created “male and female”), I looked to its teachings about tolerance, of which there were plenty.
One verse stood out to me: Luke 15:2, which reads: “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” There is also a point in the Gospels where Jesus sits down with several people whose lifestyles were considered abhorrent at the time and has dinner with them (Matthew 9:10). What’s striking about these people is that, in society’s view, they were considered the lowest of the low: thieves, prostitutes, tax collectors. I realized that no matter how many genders I believe exist, I had a civic duty and a religious obligation to see my sister as she has always been: a person with the same inalienable rights as every other human being. That’s how Christ viewed the so-called ‘social deviants’.
Over the past several months, I have realized what tolerance is and is not. Tolerance is recognizing another person’s right to exist, regardless of differences of opinion or belief systems. I made it clear to my sister that I would not play an adult version of ‘pretend’. An effort had to be made on her part to look, breathe, act, and talk like a female. If she was to be treated and addressed as a female, she had to look the part.
We mutually agreed that I would address her by her proper pronouns whenever she presented as female and that I would respect her decision to transition, despite my viewing her transition as morally questionable. This, I believe, is tolerance at its best: a compromise that is founded on mutual respect for one another’s opinions and livelihoods.
Furthermore, tolerance is what I believe our country is about—people with mutual respect and acceptance for one another who recognize every other person’s right to live their own lives as they see fit without interference from anyone else.
Nowadays, I would say that my sister and I are much closer in our relationship as siblings than we were before she transitioned, and we get along well. This is what I want to reflect in our society, one that is predicated and built on individualism, human rights, and tolerance. I want to work for a future for my sister, myself, and my country which is more tolerant, more understanding, and more free for all of us.
At the end of the day, we’re all Americans with the same inalienable rights. As St. Paul said to the Ephesians, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).