Happy Birthday Keren
Today, July 13th, is my childhood best friend’s 23rd birthday. Keren has been a huge part of my journey to self-acceptance, and I cannot imagine my life without her. I want the world to know about her beautiful soul and what an extraordinary friend she has been to me through everything. I want to celebrate you, Keren, and our friendship.
Keren, you, (and your family) have been there for me since I moved to New Jersey in the second grade. We first bonded over eating french fries (breaking them in two or eating them whole), playing dress up, making up fantasy worlds (The Blue Princess), and baby sitting the Rugrats (I once lied and told Keren I babysat the Rugrats… she believed me for years). As time went on we each grew up with struggles most people could never understand. As my struggles intensified in high school, and I started to transition into a woman, you were there for me, no questions asked.
You stood by my side through it all: the hateful comments, the awkward fashion stages, and of course winning prom queen (literally by my side.) When my transition began, and everyone started to catch on, you never second guessed me. You never questioned my authenticity or thought any less of me. When our classmates started to spread rumors, speak poorly of me, and even shun me, you stood up for me, no matter what. You even gave me your own prom dress and found a new one just because I couldn’t find anything that made me feel good about myself. You came to visit me and lay by my side while I was on bed rest right after my surgery. You weren’t scared of having a friend who was “unconventional” and most importantly, you never treated me any differently. To be honest, the only effect my transition had on our friendship was making it stronger. We often forget that I’m transgender, and that, to me, is most special. You treat me as your best friend and your sister, and nothing less than that. I’m not sure it even crosses your mind anymore that I used to be a “boy,” you see me as me, and that is remarkable.
Sometimes, transitioning results in the loss of respect and relationships with family, friends, and other loved ones. I have been lucky enough to have the Brender family in my life both before and after my transition. Keren’s siblings are my siblings, and her parents, my second parents. Aba and Sharon have treated me like their own child for almost 16 years now, and that will never change. Although her parents are on the more conservative side, they’ve accepted me and loved me for the person that I am. They have never made me uncomfortable, or made me feel any less a part of their family after my transition. For the generations before us, the idea of being transgender is intimidating, confusing, and almost unbelievable. It has been very eye opening for me to be able to open up their minds and help them learn about the nuances of gender identity.
I wish more people had close interactions with transgender people because I have first-hand seen the impact it can have, and has made for the Brenders. Because a large majority of the population hasn’t (knowingly) interacted with transgender individuals, they are intimidated and scared of us. Until recently I hadn’t realized the positive impact I had on Keren’s family, and the impact they had on mine. Her parents could have easily said “You’re not allowed to hang out with Corey anymore, (he) has poor values and isn’t mentally sane.” But they didn’t, they chose to open themselves up to a different perspective.
What I want everyone to take away from the Brender’s, is that when you open your mind, you can learn to love anyone just the same as you love your own family. For me, Keren and her family are proof of this. I am so happy to have them in my life and to be celebrating her birthday today.
To showcase how amazing this woman is, here is a quote from a birthday present she gave me: “I am beyond blessed to call you my best friend. We’ve grown closer every year. I think of you not only as a best friend, but as family, as a piece of my childhood that I hold in a very special place in my heart. I love you beyond words. Corhor (high school nickname…), you are an incredible woman and I’ve loved seeing you blossom and grow into a beautiful woman. I can't wait to stand next to you at your wedding, visit your California home, and celebrate many more birthdays to come. I can't wait to be best friends forever.” Keren’s love is endless. She is kind, caring, thoughtful, and has always put others first, but today is all about her. I can’t wait to see you and celebrate as we always do. (You can watch along on my Snapchat tonight @coreyrae3)
Happy Birthday Keren, my best friend, my sister, and more. I love you forever.
Written by Corey Rae --- Edited by Emily Turner