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My long-lost transsexual sibling

David Waters was shocked to find out that his mother had given up a baby, born before her marriage.But there were more shocks to come...

entertainment Updated: Apr 15, 2010 16:01 IST

David Waters was shocked to find out that his mother had given up a baby, born before her marriage. But there were more shocks to come.

I was shocked when I found out about my adopted half-sister. I was 15 when, during the course of my parents’ bitter divorce, I found out that mum had had a child with another man when she was 17, and that this daughter, Lisa, had been adopted. My older brother, Steve, and I were dumbstruck.

When things had calmed down a little, mum told me about the summer romance she had with a jazz musician, the accidental pregnancy, the limited choices she had at that place and time — in the conservative west country of the late 1950s.

Drop it
She had been sent away to a nearby town when the pregnancy began to show.Then she had to hand over her baby girl to an older couple who couldn’t have children of their own. It saddened me to hear of this. Mum had contacted adoption charities and agencies that acted as go-betweens for adopted children and birth parents, but there were no guarantees that Lisa would appear.

But 25 years later, she did. Mum got a call to say that Lisa had been in touch.But the representative refused to give information over the phone and suggested a meeting first. They said: your daughter is no longer your daughter — she’s your son and his name is Stephen.

He has been living as a man for the last 10 years. He has multiple sclerosis (MS), which he has had since his teens.Over the next weeks, mum spoke to her new son on the phone — he was a PhD student writing his thesis on female to male transsexuals. He asked about his siblings.

The big day
Finally, Stephen met us. He was a small man, not much taller than mum, with sandy hair and a wispy beard. His illness made him shuffle when he walked. Stephen drove us to our hotel, and he and mum went off together.

That evening we went to a restaurant for dinner with Stephen.As he sat down, his hand caught a fork on the place setting and it fell to the floor.It was an awkward moment — so much seemed to be resting on this meal, the first meal together as… what? A family? In photographs from that weekend — the only time I’ve spent with my brother — I see a fixed grin on my face.

The graphic photographs that Stephen showed us of pre and post-operative female-to-male transsexuals in his study and the jokey conversation he and mum had about who was responsible for his 38DD breasts, which he’d had to have removed with a double mastectomy, flare in my memory.

Was I the golden brother — the man who hadn’t had to transform himself to make himself whole, the one who wasn’t given up by his mother for someone else to bring up? If we had been born in a different order, we might now be sitting in each other’s places.

For mum and Stephen, the reunion was breathtaking. He was at last able to hear that he was conceived in love rather than indifference – or worse. And Mum finding out that Stephen's adoptive parents (his father was dead and his mother in an old people's home) were kind, loving people helped to soften the guilt she had long felt about giving him up.

Dead or alive?
Yet there was a problem. Where was Lisa? Mum had said years before we had contact with Stephen that she felt Lisa was dead. When she met Stephen, she found out that the same year she had experienced that gut feeling, he had started out on the road to becoming a man. That was the year Lisa had, in a sense, died.

When I returned to London and my ordinary life, I spent an evening mourning for the Lisa who was no more, and my demolished family idyll. I had deluded myself on that train that I was prepared for anything and anyone, when clearly I wasn't.

And yet, though I have not seen Stephen since that first meeting, we have had more contact via Christmas and birthday cards than I have with my full brother.So, in that sense, maybe he is the brother I'm closest to after all.

–The Guardian