A Conversation With My Transgender Sister About Change

Jasmine has been my sibling for the last 28 years, but my sister for the last four. As the youngest and eldest, we sandwich our two middle sisters, Meg and Lucy. Jasmine and I share many things: a mutual loathing for cantaloupe, a covert obsession with Kim Kardashian, identical handwriting. We’ve always been extremely close.

In 2013, Jasmine transitioned from a man to a woman, a decision I’ve often labelled “brave” but she dismisses as “survival.” Every day, I feel increasingly proud of and happy for her. However, I’d be lying if I said the whole experience has been simple and straightforward for myself and the rest of our family. It reformulated many of my thought processes — from things like the importance of pronouns to relationships and their ability to endure change.

We live 10,000 miles apart but chat regularly — or as often as our work-heavy schedules permit. Over the past few years, our transpacific conversations have covered many topics, including how she’s doing and her most recent experiences after an incredibly formative few years. During a recent phone call, between discussing bogus presidential policies and the obscene price of avocados, the conversation turned to us, to our relationship.

As much as I’m able to listen, hypothesize and sympathize, I will never truly know what she’s gone through. But I feel lucky that she’s so open and willing to discuss her experience with me to help me better understand; I’ve learned so much about identities and relationships in that process. Below is a excerpt of that recent discussion, which she was generous enough to let me share with you (the Kim Kardashian bits omitted, obviously).

Molly: Do you get tired of sharing your story?

Jasmine: Sometimes. Most days I forget things were any different to what they are now, so if I am talking about it, I’m either talking about it for a purpose or because in some small way it’s relevant to the here and now. I think people are genuinely fascinated when they find out – if they find out. I am generally open and honest about it, because once people find out, they’re going to wonder, and they may as well wonder correctly.

Molly: I was thinking about something the other day after an older male colleague called me “sweetheart” — is there anything you’ve been described as, as a woman but never as a man, that’s surprised you?

Jasmine: For starters, no one calls me “flamboyant” or “eccentric” anymore. I’ve also been described as “ambitious” and “competitive” lately and was never described that way before — it was just a given, part of who I was.

Molly: Ambitious? I never considered that a gendered adjective.

Jasmine: You know how you can know things in theory but not in practice? In some ways, I feel like I’ve gone from being a spectator to being a participant in my own life, and it’s probably taken me a little while to get used to the bombardment of messages towards women in society, like that you’re not pretty enough, rich enough, chic enough…good enough. That full reality has hit me in the last couple of years.

Molly: Do you feel that pressure?

Jasmine: I do. I feel those messages more and more.

Molly: Do you miss living without that? Do you miss anything about your life before you transitioned?

Jasmine: Well, it goes without saying that I feel a lot happier with my life now, a lot more content. And because I didn’t have that contentment before, I was a little bit wilder and more willing to just say yes to everything. Sometimes I miss that reckless abandon. Then again, I could just be getting old and boring. Do you miss anything?

Molly: Well, yeah. There are parts of our brother-sister relationship that I miss, but I don’t know whether to attribute that to the transition you’ve gone through or the fact that I moved to New York around the same time that this entire process began.

Jasmine: I feel a bit the same. I think it also coincides with the fact that I really started to hit my stride professionally. What about our “old” relationship do you miss?

Molly: I miss some of the things that we used to talk about. The real-life stuff. Jobs, relationships. I feel like we don’t really have those conversations anymore. I know it’s probably because you have more important things to talk about, having gone through so much, and I always feel so glad and privileged that you do tell me what you’re going through. But I suppose the depth of our conversations isn’t what it used to be. And I miss that depth. I feel like the focus of all our conversations has been on this topic, but again, I totally get that.

Jasmine: See, it’s interesting because I feel it’s not a topic I’m constantly talking about anymore. I don’t feel like I’m searching for something like I once was, so I don’t really have those existential conversations anymore! Perhaps at the start, but not so much now because talking about it now is a bit of an effort for me. I’ve gone through my struggle for identity, I’ve undergone all the major surgeries and now I get to just live my life as a woman.

Molly: I guess I want to say I miss having a brother, but I feel like I’m not allowed to say that. Do you feel upset when I say that?

Jasmine: No one can tell you what to feel! But I don’t feel upset by that because I’m not the person I was four years ago — I’m not your brother anymore. I can’t be upset if your perception of me has changed and that change has caused you some sadness. I also miss people for who they were four years ago who are now different people, and that has nothing to do with gender — it just has to do with life and personal evolution. Sometimes I even miss how I was four years ago, when I was carefree enough to be hungover during the week. Now, I’m, like, lucky to have a glass of wine with dinner. In four years’ time, I will probably miss who I am now! I think that’s just life. Part of us dies every day.

Molly: I don’t think this has happened to us per se, but I do think one of the great conflicts of human relationships is that crucial individual growth often occurs at the expense of other relationships. In that scenario, is anyone really in the wrong? Despite the probability of both parties being hurt quite high? I don’t know the answer to that.

I don’t like it when people offer that “you’re still the same person” — like as a consolation prize — because the whole point is moot. You did this to be a different person. Do you still think you’re the same person?

Jasmine: No, and thank god for that! I think we’re all constant reinventions of ourselves and are evolving. My evolution is just a lot more outward-facing than most. Isn’t that the core of a steadfast, everlasting relationship, though: Would you still love me if I changed?

Molly: I think change comes in varying degrees. There’s change and there’s change, and a big part of that comes down to people’s willingness to deal with, and be adaptable to, change. For example, Mum and Dad. Probably not the most fluid and malleable of sorts when it comes to social progression, but they try!

Jasmine: But that said, I love our parents for instilling the qualities of hard work and resilience in all four of us because I think I have drawn from them in spades throughout the whole process. And had I not had that, I don’t think I would have done it as successfully.

It was nearing 8 a.m. in New York by the time we wrapped up our conversation, around the time Australia begins to fall asleep. I hung up and turned her comments about change over in my mind. On my way to work, I picked up a fruit salad for breakfast, found a piece of cantaloupe hiding at the bottom, chucked it and laughed. I knew precisely one person who would understand my sheer disdain.

Feature collage by Emily Zirimis.

Molly O'Brien

Molly O'Brien

Molly O’Brien is a freelance writer and editorial journalist based in New York. She enjoys crossword puzzles, pizza and oat-milk lattes. Not all at the same time, but is open-minded about stuff like that. Some of her thoughts and the occasional pun can be experienced via her Instagram.

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