the loss of the “sister” identity after sibling death

There is a terribly unique club that I’m part of: the Dead Siblings club. On April 30th, 2001, my older sister by seven years passed away after a 2-year fight with cancer. Naturally, this event tore my family apart and we’re still trying to pick up the pieces well over a decade later. Here’s something I’ve never anticipated though: how grief could be refreshed in the face of coming to terms with one’s gender identity later in life.
Before realizing that I was agender, I was her kid sister. Sisters: There is a good ring to that word. For my mom’s birthday one year, my best friend and I worked on a CD mix themed around my sister and I and we named it “Daughters of God.” There was a special relationship I had with her that I can only describe as the kinship that one experiences with other girls:  how girls protect girls, give each other life advice, talking about growing up. She liked to paint my nails and I would get into her makeup and mess around.
The years went by. Different things will cause the grief to rise to the surface, like her birthday or the anniversary of her death. Holidays. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are especially difficult for my parents, even with one surviving child. Still, if you would have told me “You are going to experience a strange and unsettling feeling at the loss of your ‘sister’ identity” a few years back, I’d be baffled and confused. Yet, here we are! “Sister” was how we connected. That is the defining word for our relationship. Sisters right to the end. Sometimes when I look back on the child that I was when she died, I still regard that child as a girl rather than having-always-been-agender, because I don’t want to sever one more tie to my sibling. As time goes on and memory continues to fade, the idea of dropping the “sister” label for me feels much like I’m dropping her completely. I know it’s not true, but… like I said. It’s strange and unsettling. There are other qualities to our relationship, the bits and pieces that made it important, and that’s something that I will never let go of.
She was my protector. My guide. My role-model. Fellow cat-lover and fellow artist. Inspiration. A hero. My sister, and me: her weird, non-binary sibling. I still wish that I could’ve had the chance to explore my identity further with her alive and well, but I’m sure she knows about it… wherever she is now.
There is a small amount of grief in the acceptance of the non-cis identity. For me, it has meant looking back at my whole life and seeing things that are obvious clues now, and it has meant trying to re-define the relationship with someone who has not been here to help me with the process. It’s bittersweet, but it feels much like creating new memories–a privilege that has been denied to me since her death.

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Bek is an agender artist and writer based out of Washington state.