My Brother, My Sister -- Story of a Transformation
After making his sister, film critic Molly Haskell, swear that she won't write about his transition to a woman, Chevey Haskell, now Ellen Hampton, has a change of heart. Again. "I do want you to write the book," Ellen says. "I want to help people."
Thank heavens for her decision. ""My Brother My Sister" is the finely-crafted, gripping story of Chevey's decision to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Under Ms. Haskell's skillful hands, this eloquent narrative serves as a compassionate primer for transsexuals, their families, friends, and, really, anyone trying to figure out his or her identity. Ms. Haskell eloquently portrays the emotional and physical complexities of Chevey's choice and the devastating fallout it can potentially have for all involved, not to mention the enormous courage it takes to make the decision in the first place.
There is, of course, the initial shock that her twice-married 'normal' brother (upon whom she depends for practical help with matters ranging from computers to finance and many in between) has always felt he was a woman. "It's not about sex," he asserts, "it's about identity."
Then there's the inevitable onslaught of questions which Ms. Haskell carefully parses, drawing upon science, literature, interviews with 'experts,' others' experiences and her own, as well as a deep introspection and honesty to help her traverse this unknown terrain. Will she like her new sister better than her former brother? Is her sibling more of a 'real' girl than the tomboy Ms. Haskell?
Gender, sex, identity, relationships, love and loss all fall under Ms. Haskell's probing eyes. As if grueling surgeries and hormonal changes were not enough, there's the learning of female mannerisms and dress, vocal pitch and speech therapy. Roiling underneath is the never-ending fear of being 'discovered' and threat of violence by the intolerant. There's the process of acceptance by friends and family members reeling from the realization that the person they thought they knew isn't. And the linguistic sleights of hand elicited by mundane social situations.
Ms. Haskell also explores past and currently fluid attitudes towards transgenders and transsexuals. Things have come a long way, yet still lag behind the legal protections afforded to gays and lesbians.
Ellen Hampton is fortunate. She remains beloved by friends and family, and even easily survived the dreaded 'discovery' by a child. As is clear from Ms. Haskell's moving book, not everyone is that lucky.
"My Brother My Sister"
by Molly Haskell