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March 31 is Transgender Day of Visibility. A day dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of transgender and gender-nonconforming people while raising awareness. And as with any trans holiday, I’ve been deeply reflecting on my older sister Joz, who came out as trans in 2018, before she passed away later that year.
To this day, I remember how nervous she was. We were sitting outside on my mom’s patio watching our family dog Arthur run around the backyard, and her legs were shaking. Even her speech was fast, which indicated that something was off. I didn’t say anything for a while, and finally, as the day was turning into dusk, she turned to me and said, “Jackie, I have to tell you something.” I said, “OK,” and she responded, “I want to start transitioning.”
“Go for it,” I said quickly. “The family is going to have your back.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them. Joz looked uncomfortable, like a kid whose security blanket was taken away. It wasn’t a proud point in my life, and I wish I could go back, hug her and say “thank you for trusting me” or “how do you feel right now?” But I can’t. However, she did open up after some time: she shared her thoughts about her body dysmorphia, how she saw herself and her fears about coming out to our family.
Joz’s fears were completely valid — especially regarding our mom. I love her to death, but according to my therapist, she is a narcissist. She loves her children, but we are simply extensions of herself to her. She never really, and still doesn’t, see us as separate beings with unique identities. On top of that, when my mom suspected my sister was a lesbian as a kid, instead of asking her compassionately, she almost interrogated her until she finally broke. My mom’s motto for our life choices is “as long as you’re happy,” but her actions and negligence about our community say otherwise.
The sad part of this story is that Joz never had a chance to come out to anyone else. About two months after she came out, she went missing. On October 21, 2018, we eventually found out where she was after two police officers came to my mom’s house. I wasn’t there, but they notified my mom that my sister had taken her life in her ex-partner’s basement. It was a shock. After 29 years, she was gone. I couldn’t believe it.
I remember screaming until my throat hurt alongside at least 10 family members in my mom’s bedroom as we all cried. It was the most heartbreaking day of my life. Joz was my best friend, my older sister and the only person I felt myself around.
Fast forward to 2021, and I learned that Joz also came out to our younger brother Jay. After sharing and exchanging stories about Joz, we acknowledged her bravery to come out, her pioneering spirit and her courage to be vulnerable. We discussed how our mom and family refuse to acknowledge Joz’s transness — even after we told them — and how we don’t know which pronouns to use when mentioning her.
In the end, we decided to continue to use she/her pronouns because that’s what she was comfortable with at the time of her passing. To assign her different pronouns didn’t seem right. That would’ve been a part of her trans journey. But we do remind everyone that Joz was trans at any and every chance.