A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves—a special kind of double. -Toni Morrison
Eleven years ago, when I came out as a lesbian, one of the first people I told was my little sister Ashley. She was four years younger than me and we had always had a close relationship so I decided it would be easier to tell her that I was gay, than telling my parents.
“I have to tell you something,” I said. “I’m gay.”
What happened next wasn’t exactly what I anticipated—she threw up. “Great!” I thought. “I have disgusted my sister to the point of vomiting.” I quickly wished I hadn’t shared my secret with her. All I could think was that she did not approve.
When she was done vomiting, she said, “Sometimes I think I am, too.”
“The first thing I think I thought was about myself,” Ashley said when I asked her about it recently. “It was more like oh my gosh, shit. Like her coming out solidified any of my suspicions about myself. And then it was like okay I’m not crazy. I think I didn’t really connect many dots I just always felt like there was something wrong with me. But then Erin being gay just blew my mind/world open.”
Erin and Ashley
It was several years later before Ashley officially came out to me. She needed to identify herself on her own terms.
“I didn’t want it to be like ‘Oh my sister is gay’ and just say ‘Me, too’,” Ashley said. “I wanted to get to the point where I said ‘I’m gay.'”
In an effort to answer my burning question, “What are the freaking odds of this?” I did a little research and found one study done by Stanford University which reported that the odds that the sister of a lesbian is also a lesbian is significantly higher than sisters with gay brothers. Even though there is less data on lesbians than that of gay men, it was found that queer sisters make up about 1-2% of the female population.
While the idea of having a queer sister may sound fabulous to most, the reality is it can feel a little shocking and overwhelming at first, mainly because you simply cannot believe you are both queer. As we learned from the Stanford study, this is a very small percentage of the population and it just so happened to include me.
“She was kind of mad that I turned out to be a lesbian too,” said Ana, who is one half of the lesbian sister pair from Monterrey, Mexico,.“But our relationship got so much better after we both knew about each other.”
For Ana’s sister Monica, it was less to do with her sister also being gay and more to do with the affects it may have on their parents. “I was happy because it is good to have someone on your side in the family,” Monica said. “But also sad cause it is only me and her so I felt bad for my parents.”
Lindsay from New York didn’t get the reaction she thought she would from her sister at first. “I came out first when I was 14 or 15, and my sister didn’t have a particularly positive reaction. It was along the lines of ‘I don’t think you’re really gay,'” Lindsay said. “That was hard for a bit, but we got past it because we had always been close.”
Once the shock subsides, that’s when the bonding between sisters really begins, due to having one another to lean on in your specific family dynamic. As Monica said, she felt bad for her parents that they had two lesbian daughters. For a Chicago-based lesbian named Michelle, the bond she had with her sister Marla intensified when her mother voiced her concern about having two gay daughters.
“After coming out we got so much closer,” Michelle said. “When our mom found out and wasn’t exactly thrilled to have two gay daughters—don’t worry she’s perfectly on board now—we really leaned on each other.”
Having a queer sister and being a queer sister has been one of the greatest things I have experienced with Ashley. While our relationship was strong prior to coming out, the magnitude of respect we have for each other grew because we know how difficult it can be to feel different, especially within your own family unit.
“We know exactly what it’s like to be queer in our family in particular,” Ashley said. “We have the same parents, the same extended relatives, etc. So we just know very closely how the other person may feel in certain family situations, be it positive or negative.”