A reader writes: “I transitioned more than three years ago. I got my new legal name and gender, surgeries, and social acceptance. I’m very happy with my new identity and life. Even though it was hard at first, my mom and my sisters eventually came around and are loving and supportive towards me.
“But my brother is not. He still uses my old name and the female pronoun when talking about me. Mind you, he doesn’t do this in front of me. I talked to him and explained the situation when I started my transition. He seemed supportive at first. But now, it’s as though I don’t exist and he still clings to who I used to be.
“I feel hurt, and I’ve explained this to him, gently, then more firmly. But he hasn’t changed. His wife and kids accept me as I am. He does not. This makes family events at best awkward for me, as he does not call me by my name, nor hug me, nor look directly at me. If my mom wasn’t around, I actually doubt that I’d keep in touch with him, as I feel utterly detached from him now. Do you think I should try to reach out to him one more time? Is it worth it?”
I think it’s always worth it to reach out one more time. And then I think that it is also worth it to let certain people go.
I don’t know what the best way to reach out to him is – phone call, e-mail, letter, in person – but maybe you do, because you know him and you know what he might respond to. Also, I don’t know if it would be beneficial for you to talk to his wife, who accepts you as you are, and ask her for suggestions. It’s possible that he has opened up to her about how he feels. It’s also possible that she could nudge him in the right direction if she knew your intention.
The same thing might be true of your mother. If she and your brother have a close relationship, and if she knows that you are going to try to work things out one more time, she might be inclined to bring it up with him again herself or to give him a little push.
But even if you are able to enlist the help of others, it might not do any good. He might not budge. There are probably a lot of things going on here, but the biggest is likely the big brother/little sister relationship that he has in his head and that he has spent a lifetime forming. Now that is gone.
It’s possible that he felt protective of you, or that he felt you “needed” him as his little sister. Just like fathers sometimes have a hard time losing “daddy’s little girl,” big brothers might have a similar response. In his eyes, it’s possible that you don’t “need” him anymore. It’s also possible that he has been forced to come to the realization that the relationship he has always had with a “little sister” was not the relationship he thought it was.
Regardless, these are his problems. He can decide to work them out or not. You can try again for your own sake, and then you can let him go for your own sake. You can’t do all the work here, and you can’t spend any more of your time mourning for this relationship. You have to move on.
And the only reason I suggest making one last attempt at some kind of reconciliation is that it will allow you to say to yourself that you have done everything that you can, and it will hopefully allow you to let go if it doesn’t work.
Although family gatherings are awkward for you, they might be less so once you’ve made the decision to move on. You don’t have to worry about how he feels or whether or not he will hug you or speak to you or even look at you. You are already gone. You can enjoy the company of your mother, your sister-in-law, and your nieces and nephews, and he can sit there and look the other way. That’s his choice.
This is not about you, and don’t let it be about you. This is about him, and he has to make his own decisions and then deal with the consequences. You do not have to be held hostage by this. Let him be miserable if he wants to be. You’ve done what you can, and once you’ve made your “last stand,” you need to go live your life.
(In addition, you said he is using an incorrect name and pronoun for you when you are not present, so obviously he is using these with your mother and sister-in-law and they are telling you this. If they are concerned enough to tell you, then they need to be concerned enough to stand up to him, to correct him, and to tell him that they will not have conversations about you until he is able to use the correct name and pronoun in reference to you.
This is something that you might want to discuss with them as well, because if they refuse to acknowledge your old name and pronoun at any time, that will send the message to him that everyone has moved on – everyone but him. He can stay behind if he wants to, but it will be his loss.)
Readers, what do you think?