Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

In & Out, Either/Or, and Everything In Between

1 question, 2 meanings

“Could your sister be your brother too? Could your brother be your father?
Can your Pappy be your Pappy and your Grandpappy at the same time?” (25) 

Tyler is curious about the “rules” of familial relationships that are somehow ingrained into the way we think about normalcy. He asks his grandma, whom he calls Cigarette Smoking Nana, whether an individual family member can share/be two roles at once. This become the context for the story of Ramchandin and familial/non-familial relationships.  

Before telling the story, Cigarette Smoking Nana explains that several familial roles can be shared by one individual. This concept is an unconventional concept because society has taught us that mothers inherently assume the motherly role, the father assumes the fatherly role, etc.  

The hesitation in Cigarette Smoking Nana’s answer depicts how unconventional the concept is. It further portrays the uncomfortableness and taboo surrounding such idea of shared familial roles.  

While this concept is unorthodox, it is still evident in society. Sociology experts state that many lower-income families rely on each other. Meaning, someone’s aunt (even though not blood related) can help raise a child that is not related to them. Another example would be single-parent households. A single mom takes on both the mother and father role.  

This first part of the passage, “Could your sister be your brother too?”, could allude to the concept of gender roles and society. Being a sister is associated with feminine ideas such as dresses, makeup, the color pink, and opposition to masculine ideas such as toy trucks, jeans, t-shirts, and short hair. Tyler’s sexuality was evident through his curiosity of switching roles, familial and gender. Maybe he didn’t know that he was essentially asking and looking for affirmation for his future self, who (as it becomes evident) likes to dress in women’s clothing and is essentially sharing/alternating between 2 roles.  

Introducing the idea of one individual sharing 2 roles suggests the confusion Tyler has about his sexuality and suggests that he wants to hide it by asking the same general question but with a different scenario. Just as an individual family member sharing more than one role is unconventional, so might the concept of being trans. While both concepts are evident in society, it is not part of the “normal” narrative that we grow up with and is therefore seen as unconventional.


  1. I really like this analysis of this important passage in the novel. Comparing Tyler’s experience with Sarah McBride’s, both of these queer characters encountered questions of queerness at a young age. McBride asked her mother if a boy could become a girl. Her mother, like Cigarette Smoking Nana, responded honestly, but hesitantly, that yes people like that do exist. While both characters learned from a young age that being trans is possible, they also learned that talking about it was abnormal and taboo. Our family is our primary source of knowledge as a child, and this information can live on with us our whole lives. Unfortunately, the stigma of queerness that they learned about from their families lived on in Sarah McBride and Tyler for years, resulting in confusion, pain, and isolation.

  2. Your interpretation of the line “could your sister be your brother too” was interesting to me and connected to the subject of my post. I wrote about Tyler’s desire to dress in the female nurse’s uniform, and I discussed his need for affirmation of his new identity from Miss Ramchandin. It is interesting to me that you suggested he might have been looking for affirmation for his future self by asking about familial roles. I think this is true and it speaks to a larger concept in queer studies that gender identity is not a choice, it is a rooted feeling that is expressed once it is fully understood. It is also interesting that Tyler has been looking for validation for most of his life, which connects to the claim I made in my post about needing community acknowledgement to feel confident in one’s identity.

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