Hide Caption. Story highlights Molly Haskell recounts her brother's transformation into a woman in her new memoir Ellen Hampton, formerly John "Chevey" Haskell, came out as transgender at age 59 Hampton had facial reconstruction and gender reassignment surgery Haskell says there was emotional fallout, but their relationship stayed close. Molly Haskell will always have brotherly love for Ellen Hampton.
Until , Hampton lived as John -- or, as his family called him, Chevey. It makes you revisit your whole past. Haskell details the experience with a critical but compassionate eye in her latest book, " My Brother My Sister. At the time of the announcement, Chevey was married to a woman, Eleanor, and a loving stepdad to their two children. Author Molly Haskell. Hampton, now divorced, lives as a heterosexual female after gender reassignment and facial reconstruction surgeries, hormone therapy and a wardrobe overhaul.
Haskell recently spoke to CNN about her own familial and emotional journey with her transgender sibling.
Dear Prudence: My brother and I kiss and cuddle.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. CNN: You've obviously come to terms with Ellen's decision. What did it take on your part? Haskell: First of all, I realized very soon that it's very overwhelming. I knew I could never say 'don't do this. Watching her go through it and evolve -- not only was she radiantly happy, but she was completely upfront with it. Seeing how she handled it -- she would talk about it if people wanted to -- showed me this was meant to be.
CNN: Yet, you do candidly write about having unexpected anxiety about the news. Haskell: I was afraid for her.
I was flabbergasted that this was going on. There was shock and apprehension. I had been all for more diversity, and challenging binary roles for male and female behavior, but it didn't somehow include my brother changing sexes. The one thing is that we are born male or female, and we need those boundaries to rub up against. I think one interesting thing a feminist said to me is that I seem to embrace these binary principles in the book.
I do believe there is such a thing as a male and a female; we need these dichotomies, like good and evil. We make these divides to keep our footing in the world. The sex we're born is not immutable, and that is very hard to grasp. You can't really call her decision a choice. It's too painful, too perilous, it has to be an urge that we don't even have a word for.
Haskell: I think a lot of people who are transsexual emphasize the strangeness of it all. My sister is so not like that. This book is an attempt to "unweird" the whole subject. I think it's more unnerving to people when the person does just seem so normal, but I do think we have to remember that it's not that many people. So much changes, but so much doesn't change.
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Sometimes multiple times a day. I've watched as one of my friends answered a call from her sister, laughed for several minutes straight, then just said, "Crazy! OK, call me tonight," leaving me baffled by their secret language. A coworker of mine couldn't go a week without meeting up with her younger brother.
I'm half jealous of their relationships and half weirded out by their freaky codependence. And they look at me like I'm the worst sister ever when I tell them I usually see my brother only over the holidays. I got married recently, and it wasn't until after my husband's bachelor party that I realized he should have invited my brother. I've received all sorts of shock, pity, and dismay, and it's easy to understand why. It's a survival instinct. Even more: Study after study shows just how much child siblings can affect one another as they group up they may informally teach us social skills, help shape our personalities, and influence our paths to success or failure.
It seems the most nuts to our mother. She'll ask every Sunday, "Have you spoken to your brother? I get the updates I need from her, so why does she care so much? As much as people freak out when they hear about my relationship with my brother, I know we aren't the only siblings to work this way.
Unfortunately, there's not a lot of data on the "typical" relationship for adult siblings. Karl Pillemer, PhD, a professor of human development at Cornell University, estimates 20 to 30 percent of siblings have a relationship that's "congenial but distant," like mine.
Jo, 26, a public relations specialist in Buffalo, New York, can relate. Despite living just about an hour from her brother, they see each other only when they're at their parents' house. And even then, those meetings don't get past basic pleasantries.
Book club discussion questions for My Sister's Keeper
Looking back at our childhood, my relationship with my brother seems pretty textbook. We were three years apart, so we had our own friends, but sometimes they'd mix together, and we were happy to coexist at the same party.
Although I don't remember having any heart-to-hearts, we spent plenty of time together and he's always help me with homework or vouch for me when I wanted a later curfew. Sure, we'd bicker, but none of it ever seemed to exceed the appropriate amount of sibling arguing. When he went to college, we surprisingly grew closer, which goes against what researchers sometimes find. I had tons of questions for him about college, I'd complain about being left with our parents, and he'd invite me and my BFF a few times a year to check out the party scene.
When I started college, he's visit me once a semester. Now that we're in our 30s, the momentum we developed in college has slowed to a substanceless crawl. In terms of sibling closeness, there's what Pillemer calls the hourglass model: "You see your siblings a lot when you're living together, and then you often reconnect when your own kids are grown," he says. In between, it's natural to have less contact: "So much of your energy is focused on figuring out a career, establishing independence, and making other relationships," Kramer says.
If my brother were my sister, Kramer agrees things might be different. Studies have found that sibling sets made up of two sisters tend to be closest, although obviously there are exceptions. What if I did want to strengthen our bond?