Earlier this month, actor Elliot Page came out as transgender. In a moving post on Instagram, he wrote, ‘Hi friends, I want to share with you that I am trans, my pronouns are he/they and my name is Elliot.’
The 33-year-old, who has starred in several films, including Juno, continued, ‘I can’t begin to express how remarkable it feels to finally love who I am enough to pursue my authentic self,’ although he acknowledged, too, the fear he now feels. ‘I’m scared of the invasiveness, the hate, the “jokes” and of violence.’
Like Elliot, my twin chose to come out on social media. We were 16 at the time and I was blindsided. I didn’t see it coming and it left me alone in the darkness, scrabbling about, trying to piece together all the parts of his story I’d missed.
Vince came out on Facebook in 2015. No explanation, just, ‘call me Vince’. I found it incredibly hurtful that I hadn’t heard it from Vince himself, but what hurt me even more was that it was apparent we had become so lost in our own lives that we had ignored the other’s need to confide in the person who knows them best. Me especially.
People have always marvelled at the fact I have a twin. So much so, in fact, that I’ve used it as my ‘interesting fact about me’ in a number of group job interviews. ‘Do you look alike? Do you act the same? Can you read each other’s thoughts?’ is what everyone always wants to know.
To be honest, it does sometimes feel like we can read each other’s thoughts, or at least know what’s going on with one another; whether it’s a break-up, a god-awful work shift, or even a bout of anxiety. It isn’t uncommon to receive an out-of-the-blue ‘How are you?’ or ‘Love you’ text at exactly the right moment. Even when you’re worlds apart, you know what the other is going through. This is something I believed – lbeit foolishly – would always be the case. Now I understand how hard it must have been for Vince to come out to me in person.
He told me recently that I was the only one who needed to accept him for him to be happy. That’s a lot of pressure. Luckily, his casual announcement gained an equally nonchalant acceptance from me. But so relaxed, in fact, that I didn’t bother to ask any questions – I lived under the misapprehension that it was a phase that would soon pass (much like his teenage obsession with Jack Sparrow).
Obviously, this was damaging. I was so uninformed and, although I didn’t realise it then, unwilling to learn. Although I was never transphobic – I was always the first to defend another trans person who had fallen prey to others’ ignorance – Vince and I just couldn’t relate to one another any more; not in the way we used to.
The rest of our family reacted in a similar way. We were accommodating and accepting, superficially, but nobody wanted to believe it was true because it felt like we were losing someone, someone we’d known and loved and understood. It was confusing and scary, especially for our mum. These feelings are normal but, with more than 13,500 transgender and non-binary adults currently on waiting lists for NHS gender identity clinics in England, Vince being one of them, it has never been clearer that it is required due diligence for a family to do the work to at least try to understand their loved one’s situation and educate themselves.
I learned that myself. I finally let go of all my concerns about offending Vince, treading on eggshells while trying to say the right thing, and accepted my need to be educated. When I summoned up the courage to ask all the questions that had been brewing in my mind for around two years about Vince himself, as well as the wider trans community, only then did I truly accept his new, true identity. Finally, we were free of the ignorance and distance.
So, whether it’s an admission of your own ignorance, an attempt to understand, or merely a way of safeguarding your loved one’s wellbeing, please, just talk. This will make all of the difference. To echo the words of Elliot Page’s groundbreaking post, ‘I see you, I love you and I will do everything I can to change this world for the better.’
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