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A powerful memoir by two sisters about transitioning, family, and the path to self-realization.
When Orange Is the New Black and Diary of a Future President star Selenis Leyva was young, her hardworking parents brought a new foster child into their warm, loving family in the Bronx. Selenis was immediately smitten; she doted on the baby, who in turn looked up to Selenis and followed her everywhere. The little boy became part of the family. But later, the siblings realized that the child was struggling with their identity. As Marizol transitioned and fought to define herself, Selenis and the family wanted to help, but didn’t always have the language to describe what Marizol was going through or the knowledge to help her thrive.
In My Sister, Selenis and Marizol narrate, in alternating chapters, their shared journey, challenges, and triumphs. They write honestly about the issues of violence, abuse, and discrimination that transgender people and women of color–and especially trans women of color–experience daily. And they are open about the messiness and confusion of fully realizing oneself and being properly affirmed by others, even those who love you.
Profoundly moving and instructive, My Sister offers insight into the lives of two siblings learning to be their authentic selves. Ultimately, theirs is a story of hope, one that will resonate with and affirm those in the process of transitioning, watching a loved one transition, and anyone taking control of their gender or sexual identities.
I feel like anything I will write will not do this book justice. This is an absolutely amazing #ownvoices memoir. I really appreciated the dual perspective, and both sisters admitted that some of their memories/perceptions might differ, and they decided to embrace those differences. Which makes this book all the more authentic.
The book is separated in three parts : before Marizol, during the transition, and after. At first I was a bit reluctant to read Selenis' part, as I've often read absolutely inaccurate works on this matter, always by cis people. But it was very well done.
They are telling this story, with all of its horrible truths, so that no one feels alone and so that the world can understand the importance of support. And to STOP stigmatizing trans people. Selenis writes that they feel cheated, because their initial lack of knowledge resulted in so much pain for Marizol. Had they known all of this before, she could've grown into her true-self before. So this is why they wrote this book.
Always, ALWAYS REMEMBER :
"I want to be clear that it is never okay to call out or refer to a trans individual by their birth name [...] to do so is an act of violence, one that demeans and insults and harms."
"Though she was assigned male at birth [...] Marizol has always been a woman."
So thank you. For writing this book. It takes a lot of courage to open up in such an intimate way.
P. S. This subject is SO close to my heart, especially as my sibling identifies as trans. 💛🌈
Told in dual perspectives, two sisters share their stories of one sister’s personal journey to figuring out her identity and fully living her truth as a trans woman. In this raw and unflinchingly honest memoir, Marizol Leyva bears her soul as she takes readers through her life, from an unstable childhood and placed in the foster care system, to being in and out of homelessness and a victim of physical and sexual abuse. Through all of this, Selenis struggles to help her sister as much as she can, knowing all the while that there’s something deeper her sister is fighting, yet living in a time where neither had the vocabulary to understand. They only had each other.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this memoir. I will admit, at first I had my reservations, since this is partly focusing on a cisgendered person’s perspective on having a trans sibling, which can be a problematic narrative in sharing stories about trans people. There have been books like these in the past that have garnered a lot of negative criticism—and for good reason, as these types of stories tend to focus more on the cisgendered person and how their sibling being trans affects them, rather than on the trans person and their experiences. Thankfully, in this case, it’s handled really, really well. Selenis opens the book by describing how she and her sister had an open conversation on how best to narrate this book. While both came to the decision to use Marizol’s birth name (“deadname”) in the first part of the book as a way to tell her story as it happened, leading up to her transition, Selenis also expresses emphatically how harmful and hurtful it is to refer to a trans person by their deadname. You can feel this deep level of respect and communication between Marizol and Selenis throughout the book, and together they set the ideal example of bridging the conversation between cisgendered and trans folks—specifically how cisgendered allies can support trans people by lifting them up without trying to talk over them, by listening attentively, and by stepping back so their voices can be heard.
Marizol not only narrates a deeply personal account of her transition and living openly as a trans woman, but she uses each of her experiences as a way to open the conversation up, to highlight the many, many experiences and adversities that trans people face, from being bullied in school and having a lack of resources and support, to being at higher risks of homelessness, mental illness and suicide/self harm, to being more likely to be the victims of hate crimes and physical/sexual abuse in relationships. Marizol herself has known each of these struggles and more, and as she addresses them she includes statistics and other reference material, which altogether make this an extremely informative and educational piece on trans issues as well as being a memoir.
My Sister very much is an open letter between two sisters who grew up together but over time, and out of a series of difficult situations, grew apart, fading in and out of each other’s lives. This story that they share is about remembering, about reconnecting, about finally understanding all those words left unsaid, about building the bridge back up again and being able to say to someone, "I see you. I see you for you. I love and accept you and believe that you should be celebrated for who you are and the strength you possess.” It’s also about educating, about opening up a dialogue about queer youth, and specifically about trans women It's about speaking your truth, abut being able to carve out a space for yourself in the world and fighting for your right to exist as your true self. Marizol's story represents the experiences of what it's like to live life not only as a trans woman but as a trans woman of color, a perspective that very much deserves its own space in the LGBTQ+ community. This was an incredible #ownvoices memoir that I think everyone should read.