Monday 26 February 2018

Rowan Pelling: When my beautiful sister declared herself lesbian I wasn't really surprised

I SIMPLY cannot remember a time when my younger sister (the baby of five siblings) did not express a distinct and vehement desire to dress like a boy. Aged two, she was found advancing upon her new smocked Viyella dress with a large pair of scissors. By four, she was standing at the gate of our country cottage in a cap and cords, asking passers-by with a poker face: "Do you think I’m a girl or a boy?"

A year later, she asked Santa for a punchbag, some rope and a mask. She also put in a plea for a penis, but I didn’t know that until this week, when I asked her if she recognised anything of her younger self in Zachary Avery, the five-year-old who feels he was born the wrong gender. Zachary’s family, school and friends have all accepted his desire to live as a little girl, allowing him a good chance of the happy childhood that comes more readily to those born feeling relaxed in their own skin.

It wasn’t so for my sister. “I felt desperately wrong being a girl,” she said. “I asked Mum for a sex-change operation, because I didn’t know there were any other options.” She was given some pamphlets on gender reassignment, mainly in order to terrify her about the major surgery. My mother was the most empathetic woman on the planet, but she dreaded my sister suffering the ostracism that accompanies marked displays of difference. In the event, my sister suffered it anyway. The bullying was low-level, but insistent: girls at her school asked her if it was true she was a boy and one tried to force her hand down her underwear to check. One July, she attended a summer camp and decided it would be easier to introduce herself as “Michael”, which worked until a neighbour’s child blew her cover.

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