Sister, Cis-ter: A Sibling’s Syllabus for Trans Understanding




My sister and I sat on her bed in Baton Rouge a week and a half ago having a relationship-changing conversation. No, I wasn’t coming out to her; I did that last year.

She said something that socked me in the gut, something that I as a trans activist, and hell, as a sibling had completely overlooked, “There’s a huge difference between lending your brother women’s clothes and accepting that you have a sister.”

She’s been nothing less than fantastic about changing my pronouns from he/him/brother, which she’d been saying since our mother’s ultrasound, to both they/them/sibling and she/her/sister in the course of a year, so I assumed that she knew everything she needed to know about my transition. The biggest part of my assumption was that she, mathematically, knew more about everything than I did.

She’s nine years older than I am, queer-identified, and poly, so she must get it, right?


I didn’t know what cisgender meant until you told me,” she said.

For the past year, I’ve lived and hung out almost exclusively with queer and trans-identified people, so I’ve been in a bubble to a certain extent. I forgot what a lifetime with a disability had taught me, that accommodation and education are two-way streets.

As much as it isn’t our job to answer every probing question about our genitalia, we have, to some extent, a responsibility to speak candidly with the people who stick by us about issues that matter to us. Whether those people identify as allies or not is irrelevant.

When we were getting ready to leave for a weekend in Lafayette, my sister said, “Ty, it’s rural Louisiana, I’m not sure it’s the best idea for you to wear a dress.

I was furious.

I will not closet myself for anyone, especially not complete strangers in a town I’ve never been to at the request of someone who has no idea what it’s like to be trans.

Then it hit me, she has no idea what it’s like to be trans.

I heard about two gay men get beaten to the point of intensive care in a bar in Baton Rouge. Honestly, I’m concerned for your safety here,” she said.

Even if it’s coming from a place of concern, that kind of sentiment only feeds into violence against LGBTQ+ people. Shouldn’t she know that?

As wrong as that was to say, as quickly as she apologized, it occurred to me that we had never had an actual conversation about violence against LGBTQ+ people. I don’t get to closet myself in Louisiana and then go back to DC and frolic around in the frilliest dress I can find; that’s a slap in the face to those two men and every other out queer person in the state of Louisiana.

As I rode the train from New Orleans back to DC, I started compiling articles, videos, and songs that have made me feel more comfortable writing and talking about my transition in my head. This list is the furthest thing from comprehensive and if I believed every word of everything on here, my viewpoints would be a jumbled, contradictory mess of other people’s ideas.

These books, articles, and songs are meant to provoke discussion about what it means to be trans, not provide a hard and fast rulebook for trans identity. A good deal of the material on here is by and about people I’ve spoken to personally.

Of course, I’ve been lucky enough to talk to Ginger Coyote, Jayne County, Kayley Whalen, Adhamh Roland, and Sadie Smith of the band Peeple Watchin’ about trans issues. I got in a brief conversation and a hug with Laura Jane Grace, so I’m going to count that too. First and foremost, this list is a gift for my sister. I’m glad I have the opportunity to share it with all of you. 



Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano

Man Enough to be a Woman by Jayne County

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & so much more by Janet Mock


Blogs and Essays:

Am I Black Enough, Woman Enough, Trans Enough?” by Koko Jones

Not Your Mom’s Trans 101” by Asher Bauer

A Personal History of the ‘T-word‘ ” by Julia Serano

Ask Matt: Nowhere to Live If I Transition” by Matt Kailey

“#StandWithMonica to end Profiling and Criminalization of Trans WoC” by Kayley Whalen


Video and Text Interviews:

Laura Jane Grace on Strombo (Canadian talk show, 22 min)

Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera on Katie Couric (4 min, 11 sec)

CeCe McDonald on Melissa Harris-Perry (8 mins)

Why Atheists Should Care About Transgender Issues: A Conversation with Kayley Whalen by Chris Stedman 

Delightfully Redefining Debutantes: An Interview with Ginger Coyote of the White Trash Debutantes by Gia Lee Giles 



Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35% by Against Me! (Laura Jane Grace acoustic, live)

I’m Still Here, Asshole by Peeple Watchin’

Androgynous by The Replacements

God Has a Voice, She Speaks Through Me by CocoRosie

Man Enough to be a Woman by Jayne County

Bathrooms, Boxes, Binary by Adhamh Roland


By Tyler Vile, Summer Staff Writer


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