“We’re Style Rivals, But Closer Friends”: How My Sibling’s Transition Has Brought Us Together

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“We’re Style Rivals, But Closer Friends”: How My Sibling’s Transition Has Brought Us Together

Words by Mr Tom Ward and Mr Jack Ward | Photography by Mr Paul Hempstead | Styling by Ms Sophie Watson

5 November 2021

The first time Jack turned up with a new tattoo, one similar to one of my own, I tried my best to believe it was a coincidence. The second time it happened, I made my accusations of copying known. It did not go down well. Then there were the clothes. Since Jack had come out as transgender in 2016 and started presenting more masculine, I’d noticed more and more similarities in our style. So much so that, at the height of the lockdown Zoom-quiz mania, I wore a new adidas sweater on screen and, sure enough, Jack was wearing a very similar adidas T-shirt in the next quiz…

“Tom and his adidas sweater can, quite frankly, get in the bin,” Jack says, when I confront him over this extremely similar style move. He claims that he has never taken any sartorial inspiration from me. That I am being overly sensitive and claiming every piece of clothing as my own original idea. Admittedly, he may have a point. And, if I’m being honest, he looked far better in his T-shirt than I did in my sweat.

“I own so many adidas items that my friends make jokes that I don’t wear anything else,” Jack says, giving me some severe side eye. “So, the real question is, who is actually more likely to be gaining style inspiration here?” Jack does, however, acknowledge there are similarities in how we both dress. “Where once Tom and I would turn up to family gatherings looking very different, I have now gravitated to such a style that when we turn up to Grandma’s birthday, it appears that we’ve spent the day coordinating our outfits,” Jack says. “I never wanted to be a twin, but here we are.”

“It took him explaining that, all of his life, he’d felt mis-gendered and struggled with his assigned gender for a proper bond to emerge between us”

I’m really pleased that our recent sartorial overlaps have formed the basis of a friendly rivalry and that we can now jibe each other about these things, because it wasn’t always this way. Growing up, we weren’t particularly close. I was quite introverted, and we were both seemingly happy to exist in our own worlds. As I got older, I did regret not being closer to Jack, but it took him explaining in 2016 that he was trans and that all of his life he’d felt mis-gendered and struggled with his assigned gender, for a proper bond to emerge between us. Hearing this, I felt as though I’d let him down. I wanted to understand what he was going through and to be there for him now. And I hope he felt that I was now someone that he could talk to.

Jack also felt that his coming out changed our dynamic. “After I came out as transgender, our relationship began to shift,” he says. “We began to have more frequent and more honest discussions. A conversation we had about a year after I came out was particularly pivotal in bringing us closer together. Sat in a small London front room, I talked in depth of my experiences growing up. We talked for a long time.”

We haven’t stopped talking since. We’ve talked about how our lives have been different – how things have been far easier for me as a privileged cisgender man, how Jack was often struggling with issues our family knew nothing about – but also how similar we are.

The relationship improved and, five years later, has evolved to the point where we can now rib each other about the things we do have in common. Of course, it’s natural that, now we look more alike, our tastes have grown closer. As a teenager, Jack seemed content with the baggier end of the denim spectrum, while I don’t really ever recall having a “style” per se. Now, as adults, there are certain overlaps in the clothes we choose, something Jack puts down to environment.

“We grew up in the same household in the 1990s with very similar musical and cultural influences,” he says. “In my eyes, it comes as no surprise that we like similar things. Heck, sensitive thirtysomethings that like to read and were once into pop-punk, what other choice is there but to wear the uniform of cuffed black jeans with white socks, a pair of old Nike SBs and a beanie?”

We aren’t quite at the stage where we shop together or swap clothes. But we do discuss style more and more. Mostly along the lines of “Oh, I like that, where did you get it from?” We’re slowly moving on from a period of sartorial detente to a mutually replicated thawing. I do often appreciate a pair of Jack’s trousers, or one of his short-sleeved shirts. But Jack is reluctant to admit that he’s learned anything about style from me. He says his tattoos, for example, are not in any way influenced by mine, though to my mind they certainly look it. Mine is a woodcut-style leaping hare on my right thigh, Jack’s is a woodcut-style leaping pig on his left thigh…

“Popular tattoo styles are suddenly only for Tom to sport, harking back to our younger days when I could only listen in secret to bands that he had claimed for his enjoyment and his enjoyment only,” says Jack, giving me another one of his side eyes. “Would he feel like this if one of his friends got a tattoo in a similar style? I imagine not.”

Where our sibling rivalry has taken on a more constructive course is sport. I’m possibly the least athletic person on the planet, so Jack’s assessment of my teenage skateboarding abilities (“I thought you were shit”) is right on the money. Now an accomplished skateboarder himself, I’m happy to say Jack surpassed my skills in his first few days on a board. I’ve also become more aware of Jack as a runner, too. When, on my birthday this year, I said I might do 21km but only managed to do a paltry 10km, I was dismayed (but also impressed) to see Jack complete 22km the same week.

“We haven’t stopped talking since. We’ve talked about how our lives have been different… but also how similar we are”

“There’s nothing like a heavy dose of sibling rivalry to kick you into shape,” Jack says. “This year, my perseverance of running through the cold months was solely due to my brother asking if I, like him, was going to do the ‘100km in February’ challenge. (I absolutely bloody was, if that meant having the chance to do better at it than him.) Spoiler: Tom crushed me at it and then went on to do 100 miles in March while I took the next few months off recovering. There was something nice, however, about having that connection and motivation throughout.”

But if sibling rivalry means arguing about clothes and a kick up the backside in sports for me, it has been a much tougher challenge for Jack to deal with. “The difficult part of Tom and I becoming closer throughout transition is that he is a reminder of the life I could have led,” Jack says. “He’s the closest male blood relative of mine, and seeing his taller frame – he’s 6ft 3in and a half – bigger hands, and larger build, it’s difficult for me to not think that that is how I should be. I’m 6ft tall, much taller than a lot of my friends, cisgender and transgender alike, but around him, I suddenly don’t fit the bill. I see his hair, unaffected by ageing, and compare it to mine, thinning by the week, an unofficial effect – I believe – of my testosterone treatment. I see my face, narrow in comparison to his, and it begins to feel feminine. I see the fullness of his moustache and think, ‘God, I can’t wait for mine to become that damn spectacular.’”

Like any sibling, any sense of rivalry with Jack is driven by my own insecurities, especially when confronted with a younger, in many ways better, version of myself. These insecurities seem self-indulgent compared to Jack’s experience, but I’m happy we’re now able to joke about the fact that his narrow face is unaffected by my persistent double chin, or that his slight frame means he doesn’t have the stubborn belly I do. And, while Jack’s hair may be thinning, his facial hair is a beautiful sight to behold for someone like me who has never been able to summon up more than a little bumfluff on my chin.

Now that Jack has come out, we’re undoubtedly closer and have a lot more to talk about, as well as a (very) few more things to argue about. But the important thing is that, in many ways, Jack has pushed me, and continues to push me, to do better. Not just in sport, obviously, but in life.

“Tom’s greatest strength is how generous he is when it comes to small insecurities I have,” Jack says. “When I mentioned my voice being too high pitched, he told me he thinks it’s deeper than his. I ask him endless questions about facial hair and he always says that mine is more evenly distributed across my face than he could ever hope for. I don’t think any of these things are true, but it does feel good to hear.”

Jack’s greatest strength is patience in explaining the nuances of being transgender. My overriding thought about Jack’s coming out is pride. I’m really proud that he’s had the courage to come out and live his life openly as the person he should have always been. Equally, I’m proud of his strength in the face of persecution, archaic laws, pettiness and outmoded ways of thought, all of which unnecessarily hurt the LGBTQ+ community. And, as a cisgender man, I’m immensely aware of my privilege, of how easy life has been for me, and how difficult it has been for Jack and other trans people.

A lot of learning has come out of Jack’s coming out and he is, in many ways, an inspiration. Through our improved relationship, now Jack feels like an ally. I just hope I have been one to him.

The Lion And The Unicorn (Unbound) by Mr Tom Ward is out now