I came back to Los Angeles for the first time after going to college and learned that I no longer had a sister. My sibling, who I had regarded as a sister his whole life, had adopted new pronouns and the name Elliot. Ever since we were kids, Elliot had been very particular about how he presented himself to everyone, including me. He always favored the masculine, and as we got into the years where our genders began to be more pronounced, this became increasingly hard for him. Elliot required more attention from our parents and the results of his experience manifested in intense anxiety or outbursts of emotion. I generally tried to keep myself separate, and this fed my own development as someone who kept their growing pains to themselves. While Elliot demanded help, in one way or another, I refused it. But at the same time I resented my sibling and anyone else who I perceived as presumptuous enough to ask for assistance.
When I returned from college, my tolerance was tested, and I failed. I refused to change the pronouns I used or the way I behaved around my sibling, because I felt a need to let Elliot know that the world would not change for him, and that, outside of our family, no one would go out of their way to make him comfortable. To put it simply, I was wrong. But I wasn’t wrong about my assertion that the harshness of real life would not adapt to Elliot, I was wrong in my understanding of Elliot’s identity. Elliot always knew who he was, and the person I perceived him to be for the majority of my life was not exactly him. That identity was an assumed name, it was who Elliot had to be while he was understanding himself and gaining the courage to share that with all of us. By changing the way I behaved around Elliot, I was not adapting to some alternate reality to conform to his preference; I was correcting the misconception that I held for so much of my life, which was no small task. Things about the way I think and make judgments became clear to me throughout this process, and this reflected onto every aspect of my life. A big part of the reason I found it so difficult to be understanding with my brother was that I struggled to understand and accept the dissonances in myself. This is what “Brother X” is about.