Review: “My Brother My Sister” by Molly Haskell

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“My Brother My Sister” by Molly Haskell

c.2013, Viking

$26.95 / $28.50 Canada

213 pages

Mom always said you were two of a kind.

You and your favorite sibling: yin and yang, two halves of a whole. A lot of film was spent documenting your lives. A lot of memories are shared when you get together.

Once upon a time, you knew exactly what your sib was thinking – or did you?  Read the new book “My Brother My Sister” by Molly Haskell, and you might wonder…

Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, in the post-WWII years, Molly Haskell, her brother Chevey, and their friends enjoyed the same clubs, schools, cotillions, and churches. She remembers a childhood of “privilege” and happiness.

Her brother remembers sneaking up to Haskell’s closet to try on her clothes.

Of course, that was unknown to Haskell until years later, when Chevey came to her in New York and told her that he’d decided to act on something that had vexed him for decades: nervously, he explained that he had gender dysphoria. He’d been on hormones for months. Years ago, he’d thought of himself as “Ellen,” the woman he knew he was inside.

It was something that Haskell never saw coming.

Chevey had been married twice. His first wife knew of his feelings, as did his second wife, but the latter was struggling with acceptance. So, in fact, was Haskell, though she was also curious to know the particulars.

When did Chevey know? (At age seven). How did he decide to do this? (The urge was so strong that he could do nothing else). Why did he wait 50-some years to transition? (Many reasons, including family). He likened his gender to a “birth defect.” It was time to make things right.

As Chevey became Ellen, Haskell mourned the loss of her brother. When Ellen informed the rest of the family of her news, Haskell kept “waiting for the sky to fall” but nothing happened. Yes, there were slips, gaffes, hurts, and a few surprising revelations, but the world didn’t end.

“Lucky for me,” says Haskell, “my newly minted sister is still the magnificent human being my brother was.”

There’s an awful lot of Poor-Me-ing in the beginning of “My Brother My Sister;” a lot of hand-wringing from author Molly Haskell, and too much fretting about how her brother’s transformation would affect her. While some readers might imagine how they’d feel in the same situation, it’s pretty tedious reading here. And angsty, almost.

Thankfully, the book gets better.

Once Haskell’s story gets around to acceptance, readers are treated to a more relaxing read, one of discovery (both on Haskell’s part, and that of her sister), devotion, and of delight. That’s the raison d’etre of this book. What you’ll find from there to the end is why you’d want to read this book in the first place.

Aside from a bumpy beginning and some surgery descriptions that are TMI-overload, I thought this was a good enough book. If you, too, are curious, or if your family is dealing with these same issues, “My Brother My Sister” may be one of a kind.Terri Schlichenmeyer


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