Earlier this week, my brother and sister-and-law were in San Francisco on a short visit. It was pretty fantastic – the weather was nicer here than it’s been all summer, my sister-in-law was completely ecstatic at all the gluten-free dining options in the city, and I actually found myself getting really into the Giants game we went to Tuesday night (I am generally not a sports person at all). I don’t get to see either of them very often, and I loved being able to show them my house and neighborhood here.
The first night they were both in town, my sister-in-law invited us to their B&B to hang out in the hot tub, which sounded like a great idea after all of the walking we’d done that day. While I was digging out my swim trunks and getting ready to go, I had a sudden thought – my brother hadn’t seen my chest before. I had chest reconstruction surgery in 2007, but haven’t been swimming or otherwise shirtless with family since before then. Even though I’m close to my brother and my sister-in-law, and have never had any sort of conflict with them regarding my body or gender identity, there was a moment where I was worried that I or they would feel strange about them seeing my chest. I know dudes see each other topless all the time, but I don’t have any real history of social toplessness outside of a swimming context (which happens maybe once a year for me) and it felt a little weirder when it would be my brother seeing my flat chest complete with “HEY THERE WERE BREASTS HERE ONCE” scars and nipple piercings. When this thought came up, I held it in my head for a moment, voiced it out loud, and then realized I didn’t have anything to worry about. When the time came to get in the hot tub, I didn’t feel nervous at all when I stripped down to my swim trunks.
As I expected, my chest was a complete non-issue. I didn’t say anything and neither did anyone else, and I certainly didn’t feel like I was being scrutinized while I sat in the hot tub. It made me think about how my brother’s handled my transition. As much as we like to talk to each other, we haven’t discussed this part of my life very often. He was, however, the first family member I came out to: when I was struggling with exactly what to call my shifting gender identity, I had a talk with him about feeling genderqueer/something other than female and my recollection of that talk is that he was honest about not entirely understanding where I was coming from but expressed his support for me. He had no problems calling me by what is now my legal name and using male pronouns for me when I made that switch, and when my coming-out talk with my parents went so badly, he was sympathetic and did his best to comfort me. We don’t talk about my gender or my transition much, but he seems perfectly happy to now have a brother and I haven’t noticed any awkwardness between us. Being asked to be his best man was really wonderful, and I still feel all sappy about being a part of his wedding.
Sometimes, in the same way that my fleeting worry about my chest popped up this week, I wonder if I can really be so close to my brother when we rarely talk about this huge part of my life. But then I think about the conversations we do have, about our plans for the future and quantum physics and our favorite Mythbusters or MST3K episodes and music we want to share with each other, and it’s hard to imagine that we’re not incredibly close. It’s a different type of closeness than what I share with a lot of friends (particularly my “gender-friends”), but that doesn’t make it less real. I think of myself as a talker; that’s how I like to process information and share myself with people I’m close to. But there’s something reassuring in having my interactions with my brother change very little. My body and some of the words I use to describe myself have changed, but my personality’s not much different than is has been for most of my life. He and I relate to each other just as well as we always have, and there’s a comfort in that that’s different from what I feel when I have an hours-long discussion with a gender-friend. Maybe this is different just because we’re family; maybe it’s just the way we relate to each other. I’m just glad to have the reminder that his support, while mostly silent, is just as strong as the support my more vocal friends have given me.