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‘Same Person, Different Package’

A mother and son share their story of unconditional love

Elissa Goldstein
May 10, 2015

As a little kid, Nevo Zisin identified and dressed as a boy. He wore a kippah and suit to synagogue, and went to the boys’ bathroom at school. But there was just one problem: his gender identity was at odds with how he was perceived by others.

“I’ve been trying to tell everyone for years,” Nevo explained earlier this week on the Australian radio program Life Matters, where he was interviewed alongside his mother, Sharon Swiatlo. “People just didn’t listen… I was correcting people if they referred to me as female, which created a lot of hilarious situations with my parents.”

Nevo was bullied at his first school, but eventually found a close group of friends at his Jewish high school, where he became a queer activist. Now 19, Nevo recently returned to his hometown of Melbourne after a gap year in Israel with his youth movement, where he kept a video diary documenting the latest chapter in his transition—hormone therapy. The videos are thoughtful, articulate, and frank, covering everything from Judaism and gender, to youth leadership skills, to the physical and emotional changes brought about by testosterone.

Nevo’s mother, Sharon, an English and drama teacher, also speaks with honesty and sensitivity about the challenges of parenting a transgender child. Nevo came out to her twice—first as a lesbian, then as male. The second time Sharon was “in complete shock, so much so that I couldn’t even talk about it with him for the first couple of months.” In Nevo’s words, “we shut each other out.”

But over the course of the last few years, the duo have built a strong, loving rapport. What makes their interview so compelling is their mutual honesty and shared sense of empathy. In Nevo’s understanding of his mother’s grief, and Sharon’s understanding of her child’s true identity, there’s a lesson for all of us about compassion and acceptance.

Recently, Nevo’s endocrinologist remarked that Sharon was taking the process in stride—not all of his patients have their parents’ support. “What choice do I have?” Sharon said. “You know, I love my child unconditionally: same person, different package.”

Listen to the full interview here, and watch a Q&A (filmed in Tel Aviv in October 2014) here:

Elissa Goldstein is Tablet’s director of audience development. She also produces Unorthodox. Follow her on Twitter here.