Long Reads

Being a trans ally: "An overdue conversation with my twin changed both of our lives"

How do you find the ‘right’ way to talk to your twin, best friend and most important person in your life about their experience transitioning? There’s no one-size-fits-all. But here, writer Ella Glover explains how finding a place of honesty, security and comfort with her twin brother was a crucial turning point in their relationship. 

Our bedroom in my grandparents’ house is my happy place. The walls are etched with memories of broken bunk beds, Coca-Cola fuelled tantrums, 3am wake-up calls ahead of family holidays and many other stories of me, my twin and my cousins coming of age. I can almost guarantee that each of my cousins, with whom I spent almost every Wednesday and Friday for the best part of 12 years, will always consider that room their home, too.

My twin brother Vince and I slept in that bedroom every Friday night from as far back as I can remember until we turned 18. Even now, the opportunity to dive into the identical, wooden, single bed that sits opposite my brother’s is one that I never take for granted.

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Our nights in that room used to be spent listening to my nan’s rendition of a very tired sounding cat – the main character of a storybook I fear I’ll never remember the name of. But it didn’t take long before we reached almost-adulthood and the world of social media engulfed us, leaving the make-believe and family time waving longingly at us from the shoreline. And as excruciating as it is to admit, conversations between my brother and I began to dwindle as our rigorously unidentical sleeping patterns had us passing like ships in the night.

So maybe that’s why this one particular conversation remains so strikingly significant. 

It was 2017, on one of those almost-Autumn nights when the violet sky peeked through the crack in the old, blue curtain, and the faint roar of traffic from the main road could still be heard. It was just like any other night I’d spent in that safe space – I was laughing with Vince and settling down after the departure of our cousin, Rachel. We were both laying with our heads at the foot of our respective beds when I plucked up the courage to ask a question I’d been meaning to for years but hadn’t, for lack of a compassionate way to do so. Still, I fumbled my words – something you don’t expect to happen while in conversation with the one person you’ve been in conversation with for your entire life.

“So, erm, Vince? You’re trans, right? Not gender fluid, anymore. So… how long did you know before you came out?”

Two years had already passed since my twin came out as gender fluid and, subsequently, transgender – a turn of events that (although I hate to admit it) I really struggled with. 

Coming to terms with the idea that my best friend, my soul mate, my literal twin, was someone completely different was difficult to deal with. I understood the notion, of course, but I let the idea wash over me quickly and abided by the new rules regarding his name and pronouns – but I didn’t fully commit. I hadn’t done the work that was needed in order to at least try to understand, accept and support Vince’s transition.

Vince told me he had always felt a little bit different. He didn’t know how he was different, or what was “wrong”, but he did feel it. By the time he was 14, Vince had come to realise that he was simply born in the wrong body – he was a man. It was the support of his online friendship group and the wider online trans community that allowed him to come to this conclusion organically. That Vince had such a strong support network is relieving; he had a place to relax, to be himself and he learned a lot about himself by speaking to people with different experiences and perspectives than his own.

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“Why did it take so long for you to tell me?” I asked.

The answer? He was scared. Who knew how his family would react? He told me about his first try at a male name – Ben – and how, somehow, it just didn’t fit.

I’m so thankful that Vince was happy and comfortable enough to discuss the things I hadn’t known how to bring up. He told me that he didn’t feel like a girl and he never had. He didn’t conform to the gender roles placed on us by society. He didn’t fit that mould and he desperately knew it. 

Vince and I spoke about his sexuality, getting his period, how he felt now and what the next steps of his transition would be. Vince was nervous to answer, he said, but appreciated the care and support that I was giving by showing an interest.

Typical to all of our conversations, this chat wasn’t particularly emotional. It was straightforward, almost neutral, in fact, which was perfect for what we didn’t know we needed. My fear of offending, or getting it wrong, had stalled a discussion that ended up being life-changing. It needed to happen without pressure, without Vince feeling obliged to discuss something he wasn’t comfortable with, and we managed to find that in the familiarity of our childhood bedroom. It was only recently that Vince told me that this conversation was a turning point for him, too, which meant the world knowing he feels loved for who he truly is.