My journey with my gender started when my identical twin sister came out as gay in the 8th grade. Suddenly, things made sense for her. Why she felt the way that she did about the lady at our church who taught us Japanese, why she didn’t want her Barbie’s to marry Kens.
For the first year that my sister was out, she thought I was a raging homophobe.
I didn’t know how to explain to her that I wasn’t angry that she liked girls. I was angry that this person, who was supposed to be my clone, had found the answer to why she didn’t feel “like other girls” and I still hadn’t.
As we got older (and as she dated more women), my sister grew more and more feminine. Suddenly her favorite color was pink and our shared room needed a pink wall. Gone were the days of the tan room with palm trees that our best friend’s mom painted for us. She got good at makeup, too. To this day, my sister can draw on winged eyeliner so sharp I’m convinced she made some sort of deal to get it that perfect.
I tried to match her at first, step for step. After all, we always switched classes on April Fool’s Day, and if she wore a dress, so did I. I had her do my makeup for special occasions for years, where the two of us would really play up our matching features. And then, perhaps as suddenly as her favorite color became pink, I didn’t match her anymore. When she got an undercut, still hidden by a long ponytail, I chopped off 15 inches of hair until it barely touched my shoulders. And then a few months later another 10 inches — I had asked my hairdresser to give me something to the tone of Ruby Rose.
It was freshman year when my sister introduced me to the friend who would first tell me I didn’t have to be a girl. It was my sister who made me realize I wasn’t a girl. Because I wasn’t her. We didn’t match anymore. I came out as trans and turned myself to “as-close-to-a-boy” as I could get, because I so desperately needed to not be the girl I had been asked to be for years. And I could still look at the girl I had been; I could see her clear as day when she sat next to me in the car or when she fought with me. The girl I didn’t want to be.
And then there was my sister. My identical twin sister, who’s favorite color was pink, who would only wear pants at work but opted for long flowing skirts everywhere else, who applied the sharpest eyeliner wing —my sister represented all of the things that I wanted for myself, yet denied myself, because they were “girl.”
And my sister fought me on that, because that’s who she is.
When I cried over our round cheeks and weak chin, she showed me how to contour myself into our father. When I couldn’t stand the sight of my own body, she took me to the department store and demanded that I not have to use a gendered dressing room (the employee was very kind and directed us to a single stall sort of situation, right near the men’s department). She helped me turn my female body genderless through all of the tips and tricks she had learned as a woman. My sister’s femininity had ended up shaping my lack thereof, where it used to directly beat against it.
Now, I’ve grown to steal her eyeliner, hoping that I can figure out the magic spell she casts to make it so perfect. And her red lipstick, that now neither of us can find and both blame the other for its loss.
No one guesses that we’re twins anymore, my sister and me. How could they, when I carve my face into the one she showed me how to create and she paints her eyelids with pink glitter? When she dresses in skirts that spin around her and blouses that drape off of her shoulders like a fairytale and I wear the stiff slacks that keep my hips a secret and printed button downs that hide the rise and fall of my chest? But, I’m no longer afraid to look like her.
I was, for a while. For years.
But we dress me in her clothes when I meet her friends and we call it drag, because there is something funny and secret about me playing pretend that we get to share. She borrows my blazers when she needs to look like society’s definition of professionalism. My masculinity and her femininity are interchangeable, because neither of us care so much about what the rest of the world thinks.
When I first came out, I needed to be “not girl,” and, at the time, that meant “boy.” But I hated “boy,” and my sister looked like she was having so much fun with “girl.”
My comfort level has changed as I’ve come out. For each person who learns my name and pronouns and sees me as them, I feel more comfortable reclaiming the femininity my sister has guarded for me. I still have dysphoria, and it’s changed the way I feel about things like medical transition over and over again. I imagine it will always change.
It’s difficult navigating things like individualism when so much of your identity is wrapped up in being attached to someone else. For years, I was a carbon copy of my sister — I was scared to not be her clone. And then I was scared to look anything like her, and veered heavily into masculinity and tried not to look back. But, the more I know myself —and the more support and affirmation I have of my gender identity — the more I steal parts of my sister that I think, on some level, I asked her to keep safe. I am not masculine or feminine. I just am. And I am my sister’s identical twin.
Written by Evan Johnson (they/them)