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My Brother's a Better Woman Than I Am

Zuzu Tadeushuk

My brother’s a better woman than I. There’s no question about it. He wears make up many days; I never do. He paints his nails; I cringe at the thought. He styles his hair every morning; I haven't run a comb through mine in months. He wears belly shirts when I’ve never had the confidence needed to display so much intimate skin. My brother knows the nuances of different conditioners and what they each do to your hair follicle. I never used conditioner until this year, when a month of fashion week runway shows put dread locks on my head. 

But these are all superficial features. What I as a woman often lament not having myself are the more inborn of Nicolai’s ephemeral characteristics, such as his immaculate sense for design, an instinctive knowledge of aesthetics and artistry that he uses to make all things he does beautiful and fine, whether he’s painting pictures, designing clothes, styling photos, or arranging food in delicate gastronomical constructions. He has refined social capacities, thriving in and positively electrifying any group of people he enters, while I hew to the masculine stereotype of silent reticence. Case in point- I’m home alone on this fine summer night happily writing a blog post when most other cognitive beings are out with friends. At the root of it all, my brother has the ease in himself to flaunt his femininity. I don’t quite know what to do with mine. 

It’s a rather new dichotomy, and one that still sometimes surprises me. He’s seventeen and just recently come out: a gay, effeminate, beautiful boy who is as a rule always dressed to impress. Whereas I fit the bill for none of the above— not gay, nor straight, nor any sexual label that I’ve established so far; not exactly feminine, but not tom boyish either by any stretch of the imagination. Just careless, dreamy, geeky me, feeling slightly envious of my brother’s rapid personal evolution. Why can’t I be as effortlessly myself as he is? As certain of my identity as he? I guess I could just wake up tomorrow and decide to set up a personality I want to don, but that would likely prove a catastrophe in the long run: we as people aren’t meant to get anywhere in our spiritual lives by taking shortcuts. Cliché though it sounds, it’s the arduous and sometimes slow process, the detours and the cluelessness that conspire to make the final outcome— the fully actualized self— all the more precious. 

I’ve often wondered what all this recent gender fluidity talk means. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the progressive transformations, the openness and liquidness; I just don’t think I entirely comprehend how it all works. But I think perhaps now I may venture to guess that it boils down to one thing, and that is a conviction about your identity. Maybe it just means this: the deconstructing (or the dismissing, devalueizing) of a physical definition (male/female), and the subsequent freedom to decide, to invent, or to intuit who you are when that gender boundary is removed. I’m almost positive it’s not a two-step process as simple as 1) Discard gender definitions and 2) Discover your actual sexual stance, but maybe it’s something along those lines? 

In fact it sounds like a thing we should all be trying, straight and gay (and all the rest) alike. Because if it’s the journey that makes the arrival more triumphant, the search that makes the discovery sweeter, the question that makes the answer more certain, then why, why aren't we all searching that search and asking that question! If it makes the knowledge we have of ourselves that much more comprehensive, we should all go about sampling new gender identities before we settle on anything. Not disrespectfully— not mimicking as sport other people’s selves and lives, no. But in our mind, in our ideas, the ways we act towards others and ourselves as well as think of others and ourselves. And if we come right back to the conclusion “Hey, I really am straight as a doorpost,” then great: now we know for sure and are not just following convention.

There are many themes to weed out and ponder here. It’s something I could, and maybe will discuss at length, and with more focus on truly what it means to be female or male; on how deeply we engage—or don’t engage, in my case— with our genders; on how gender stereotypes shape us (such as the stereotype of wearing nail polish making me see my brother as ultra feminine. That in itself is a stigma in action. But is it really so unreasonable an assumption to make? I don’t always know). 

But basically I’m writing at this moment just to say that I’m amazed at Nicolai’s refined sense of self. I’m amazed at the process that brought him to find such a self in what seems to me a vast candy shop of potential selves. Basically, I’m trying to do the same, to find some self I can be equally sure of and proud of. I’ll be thrilled if I can learn anything from my brother, even if it’s just the politically correct way to talk about these sexuality/gender things, or better yet! the smallest tidbit of advice about finding my own identity in this Personality Candy Shop. Or about fashion sense. Or conditioner. God knows I could use all of the above.

Nicolai by me last month in Santiago, Chile