My Gender Free Sister, My Favorite Bro
It can be challenging to see our siblings for the people they are and not just a symbol of all the crazy things you’ve experienced together. For a long time, I couldn’t look at my sister without being triggered. All I saw was pain, destruction and years of unresolved issues. It took time, patience and a lot of healing to start to see her with fresh eyes. The more I get to know her the more I’m blown away. She’s a force, there’s no doubt about it. I could feel her energy through the walls when we were growing up and I’ve watched the entire world bend to make more room for her. She’s got the wit of a comic and the strength of a boulder. I’ve never met anyone with so much swag. She’s like the lead singer of a boy band and a rapper rolled into one heartbreaking package. Famous for pointing out the most beautiful girl in the room, who’s usually straight, and making them fall in love with her, Erin has always dominated a different plane of existence when it came to sex and gender identity.
Growing up gender roles didn’t exist in our house because Erin and I both lived outside of what society told us we were supposed to be. Our Mom did an amazing job letting us know that we were loved no matter what. She never made us feel like we had to be anything other than ourselves. When I came out, I was accepted by my friends and family. Gay men had started to emerge in the media as a kind of hot new accessory that made it easy for people to tolerate my flamboyance. It was different for Erin- Friends, family and even Erin herself seemed to have a hard time accepting that she was gay. When she came out people said things like “Are you sure it’s not just because you’re a tomboy” or “I think you’re just trying to follow in Peter’s footsteps”. Only recently has she started to open up about the her journey towards gender and sexual identity.
“I’ve had a pretty dark experience with being gay and I don’t really know how to make it sound like there is light at the end of the tunnel for others when I am just finding my own light” Erin says
I want her to run into the arms of the queer community like I did and find herself in the faces of her peers. But it doesn’t call to her the same way it called to me. My journey towards acceptance both internally and externally seems more like a yellow brick road when I compare it to Erin’s and frankly anyone who isn’t a white, cisgendered, able bodied man. For so many years Erin and I’s relationship existed on the peripheral of my life and as we continue to heal and reconnect, the person Erin is becoming, and perhaps always has been, starts to take shape. Right before my eyes I am faced with both the depth of darkness and the blinding light that make up this incredible person who has been both by my side and mostly invisible my entire life.
After I came out, Erin started feeling out of place in the change room at school when new feelings towards girls started to sprout. Instead of exploring them in real life, Erin created a fake male identity and started forming relationships with girls online and on the phone. After more than 5 years of pretending to be someone else and racking up a $3000 phone bill, Erin took a chance and told one of her girlfriends that the person they had fallen for online actually didn’t exist. This lead to a very confusing, toxic and codependent relationship. Sexuality and gender mashed together in Erin’s life and it created a lot of chaos. For as long as I can remember she’s been angry and everyone in Erin’s life had opinions about the cause of the anger. As trans storylines started to make their way into the media and I saw similarities between Erin and the stories I was hearing. I thought the anger could be stemming from her feeling trapped in the wrong body. I confronted Erin about it more than once, usually when I was drunk and flying high on blow. But even when we were sober the response is always the same.
“I’m not a boy, I’m not a girl. I am Erin Breeze”
So maybe the anger doesn’t come from the struggle to accept her gender but the continued friction that’s created by living gender free in a world that demands labels.
“ I’ve been gay bashed to the point of a black eye and swallow face in Calgary. Finding a job, looking the way I do and being female has been my biggest struggle”
Erin tells me about being locked out of a building she worked at after they realized her name was Erin, not Eric.
“Even after I corrected them they kept showing me where the male bathrooms were. My shift was from 10pm till 6am, 2am break where I left to have my lunch in my suv but I got locked out, no one answered the phone, or door to let me back in which lead to the rest of my shifts being cut because it was considered a no show. They flat out just didn’t want me there.”
Another time she was refused work because they didn’t want to provide a separate bathroom for her once they realized she wasn’t a dude.
“I basically had the job until they figured out I was a girl and told me they couldn’t hire me because they wouldn’t let me leave the sites to use the washrooms even though I said I have worked lots of jobs where there wasn’t a bathroom available and managed to make it work”
It’s easy to judge her life from the outside. Substance abuse, reckless behavior and a complete disregard for the people who have tried to help her over the years. I’ve told her plenty of times to suck it up, get a job, everyone needs to work and If I can do it so can you. But I’ve never experienced the world from a place of prejudice or sexism. Doors have never been slammed in my face because of who I was. If I was always told I was in the wrong bathroom, mis-gendered in almost every interaction, disregarded or ignored when I tried to correct people and if I didn’t see anyone in the media like me then maybe I would get anxiety to leave the house too. I believe we create our own realities, I’ve seen first hand the power my thoughts have, but before we can start creating the life of our dreams we need to believe we’re worth it. The path to self love and acceptance can be rocky terrain when you’re bombarded by people and places that tell you you’re wrong.
“Talking about this makes me upset that I didn’t make a bigger fuss about it when I had the chance. Being rejected, not getting the jobs I want and being treated so poorly here for just being me honestly put me into a very bad depression where at one point I didn’t even want to leave the house because I felt so unwanted and disgusted with myself”
When I asked Erin what she would say to other kids out there who might be going through the same thing she said
“Be louder than I am - be braver than I have been. If something is wrong, scream it and don’t keep it to yourself. People need to know that they are in the wrong. It’s not you”
Erin hasn’t found the same refuge in the queer community as I did. When we both lived in Vancouver she was thrown into the thick of club scene by default and made a lot of fast friends but has always confided in me that she didn’t feel like she fit in. It’s a trait she shares with my boyfriend Evan who also doesn’t identify with the queer community. For them, the growing acronym and social justice movements about gender identity and political correctness have only made the divide bigger.
“The only time I think about gender is when you or your friends ask me about it” Erin has said
“So how do you define masculinity” I prod
“Right off the top of my head I think of Madonna’s biceps” Erin says laughing. It’s obvious in moments like this that my obsession with her gender identity was surprisingly one sided.
“I don’t really consider myself to be butch but everyone else does because of the clothes that I wear or the jobs that I want. I guess saying that I wouldn’t really consider myself to be femme either. Overall I don’t think I like to be labeled anything. I am simply Erin Breeze.”
My relationship with Erin is an ongoing lesson in presence and perception. The more I can let go of my projections the more I can see her for who she really is; my gender free sister and one kick ass dude. By reminding myself that she experiences the world differently I can approach our relationship with compassion. And when I am lucky enough to get some insight from her about what her life is like I am going to believe what she says. After all, reality is subjective.
“So what’s your biggest dream?” I ask her.
“I have tiny little dreams everyday of how I want my life to be but my biggest dream is to be strong enough mentally and be okay with myself enough to be able to fall in love again”
And just like that everything becomes so clear. Erin isn’t so complicated. She is just like everyone else out there. Doing her best to be happy and hoping to catch a little love along the way.