When your Sister is not Really your Sister

My older sister had always been more of a tomboy.  My dad routinely kicked me out of the shop where he would work on cars – I don’t know if I just got in the way or what.  But my sister, she was allowed to stay in the garage and help.

In the thick of winter, when I would pirouette in my pick-bladed figure skates, she would aggressively skate to the goal, in hockey skates, and fire slap shots on our older boy-cousins in the net.  And she appeared fearless in the net herself.  Me, I just quivered.  Please, oh please, do NOT put me in the net.

As a young child, my sister was also fearless on the little yellow Yamaha Zinger motorcycle that we would ride up and down our little farm road.  Me, my nickname was ‘turtle’.  Slow and steady wins the race.

None of this phased me.  I had a cousin who was equally as intimidating as my older sister.  Women are strong in our family – physically and mentally.  We are obstinate even.  But the event where I first fully realized that my older sister was not really what I thought a sister should be shocked me.  It appalled me beyond understanding.  On one late weekend night, I awoke from sleep to hear odd noises coming from her side of the bedroom that we shared as teens.  She had a female friend staying over and they weren’t making noises anything like what I comprehended two girls should be making together.  I was flabbergasted.  I was quiet as a mouse as I forced myself back into sleep, trying to simultaneously block out and comprehend the event all at the same time.

This was my first real introduction to issues around gender and sexual preference.  Since then, the world of humanity has educated me that things are not always as they seem.  Boys may not be ‘boys’ and girls may not be ‘girls’, as conventional understanding would have us believe.  We are all born differently, with our own unique attributes, we are shades of gray.  Humanity does not contain black and white.

I recently read the compelling novel Middlesex, written by Jeffrey Eugenides, in which gender issues are explored through the context of a Greek family which is forced to flee Turkey, emigrating to Detroit, Michigan.  By a series of circumstances, a grandchild descended from the family ends up with the unlikely combination of genetic material that results in hermaphroditism.  The child is mistakenly raised as a girl, later discovering she is not what the world has told her.  Her pubescent body has made some undeniable changes and a physician discovers she is genetically male.

When I was in utero, my mother was informed that I was supposed to be a boy.  Ultrasound technology back in the mid 70’s was not as sophisticated as it is now, so more ‘mistakes’ were made.  (a quick internet search turns up that ultrasounds today are anywhere from 50-95% effective in determining ‘outward’ gender characteristics.  Something to dwell on if you are dead set on decorating a baby room in conventional pinks or blues). I, in fact, did not turn out to be a boy.  I do happen to have a boyish shaped body – straight hips, rather flat chested, and seem to have a bit more hair on my body than desirable.  But genetically and hormonally (and subsequently, sexually), I am female.  I find it ironic that it was predicted I would be ‘male’ while my sister turned out to be more ‘conventionally male’ in terms of her sexual orientation and personal identity.  And FYI, my cousin, who was equally as daunting as my sister on the ice:  heterosexual AND married with 3 kids and 1 stepdaughter.  Obviously this gender thing is not clearly cut and dried.

So far the medical community has not developed a test or procedure to determine what a person’s gender preference will be.  I don’t know that we ever should.

Currently, I am gestating my third child.  With my two previous children, I never had an interest in discovering the outer ‘gender identity’ (ie presence of penis vs vulva) on my children via ultrasound technology.  This time around, however, I had a feeling I may want to find out.  Some dear friends of ours lost a baby (who was stillborn) and my husband’s brother and his wife’s son was born seven weeks early (thankfully, he is growing well after spending almost a month in the NICU).  Shaky emotional times for first trimester me, when risk of miscarriage is at its greatest.  I felt, somehow, that knowing what my baby was would help me become more connected, and less emotionally distant with all the tragedy around me.  However, giving my child a label as ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ in a society that is still struggling with gender issues and which still (I believe) has not overcome traditional gender roles, seems just plain wrong and counterproductive.  I don’t need to know if my child is going to have a penis or a vulva in order to develop an attachment to it.  I need to deal with and process the grief and trauma of the other circumstances around me.

What I do want and need, however, is for my baby to be human.  And above all, healthy.  I pray for health.  I want my baby and children to understand that they come from a larger group of creation, and that perhaps we don’t have all the answers, and that perhaps we can hope to have the capacity to understand other people for who they are, and not what their gender or gender preference entails.


~ by urbanwandernlust on December 7, 2011.

6 Responses to “When your Sister is not Really your Sister”

  1. Awesome post Tina!

  2. What a thoughtful post. I totally agree. Humanity comes in all shades of gray, as you said. I think it’s one of our greatest responsibilities as parents to teach this to our children! Of course, some of it is nature and some is nurture. I didn’t find out the sex of my babies before birth, and I am striving to parent them in gender-neutral ways, but my dear 2.5-year-old daughter seems to naturally gravitate to all things feminine. Each kid is unique, and I hope to support both my daughter and son in pursuing whatever interests (and people) are most compelling to them, whether it’s fixing cars, dancing, or wrestling.

    • I like your last line. I totally agree.
      Similarly, with your daughter, at our house we have a whole array of different kinds of toys, but for some reason, our toddler daughter always gravitates toward wanting to play with her ‘babies’. She does, however, appear to have a great handle on how to hold a hockey stick! I only wish they had hockey leagues for girls back when my sister was growing up. I’m sure she would have went far in that domain.

  3. Thanks, Tina. This was so nice to read.

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