Brigid Bergen: Welcome back to The Takeaway. It's Pride Month and we're highlighting stories of queer families. I'm Brigid Bergen in for Melissa Harris-Perry, and this-- [opera singing] Wow, this is Brenda Rae singing with the Seattle Opera in 2015 and making very clear why she's one of the most sought-after singers in opera today.
Melissa Harris-Perry spoke with Brenda and her identical twin about music, family, and pride. Brenda, you've had a pretty big season two roles at the Met Queen of the Night of the Royal Opera. How are you feeling? What's it been like for you?
Brenda Rae: It's been pretty go go go the whole time. I love my job so much but my life has to be all about balance. Yes, now, I'm back with my family. It's feeling like it's coming back into balance a little more, even though I leave in five days for another work trip.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Brenda, I want you to introduce someone. You've got somebody with you. Will you provide us a bit of an introduction?
Brenda: I've got my twin brother, Drew Klinkert with me. He is the absolute best. There's his introduction. [chuckles]
Melissa Harris-Perry: Drew, welcome to The Takeaway.
Drew Klinkert: Hi, there. Thank you so much for having me here with Brenda.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You are the absolute best. That's a pretty great introduction.
Drew: Well, I mean, I'm the second-best. I came out second so it's something that I've learned to accept and I feel really good about it because she is really also the absolute best.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Okay, do you do that twin thing where the matter of moments, seconds maybe minutes who is oldest?
Drew: Gosh. Brenda, what would you say? Do you ever hold that over me?
Brenda: Do I hold it over you? I mean, I think we hold it over each other depending on the situation. I am a minute older and it is very clear that I'm the older twin. [chuckles]
Drew: Yes, absolutely.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Drew, as much as you all are doing really-like standard twin stuff with the older-younger, you also are doing some maybe less standard twin stuff. Tell me a bit about your transition story, Drew?
Drew: Yes, well, I think I've been thinking more about it, especially time a year. It's all about pride and my identity and how growing up in my family shaped that and being able to recognize a trans identity when also being so very accepted and loved as whoever I was. Having a twin sister is sort of an extra mirror in the house. I say that because one of my earliest memories is looking into a mirror and conducting a fake interview with myself about what it was like to transition. I was like six years old. It was clear that I felt different than my sister did or at least we didn't talk about this.
It just came out and I was like the tomboy twin and I think that's a pretty common, growing up trans story when you don't have the language to speak to your identity. Even though I knew I could do whatever I wanted to do in my life, that my family was accepting. It didn't really matter if you're a boy or a girl or something else, you got to be who you were. Having those supportive conversations was great and then it got to a point where I was like, "But something is still missing." It felt, I don't know, if I had talked about certain things with my sister about things that I wanted.
I remember it was a lot clearer to me that I wanted to get a top surgery before I started having a trans identity. It always felt I was like, "I'm genderqueer, that works with me." When it finally hit that, I was like, "No matter what, I think this is me. I'm going to start asking people to call me Drew. I think I'm going to start taking hormones," and then it just-- You take that risk, and you hope that your family follows, and luckily, they did.
My sister has been incredibly supportive as my folks, but man, I do think it was interesting to have a twin sister who did-- we were very similar, I would say and have similar interests. I went to music school and we have very similar singing voices, and that gave me a lot of value. I felt a lot of pride in my voice and my singing, and was a little considerably nervous that my voice would change and that I wouldn't be good anymore but I turned out I am still a worthy human being.
My sister and I still get to sing together and we really like how we sung so that connection has been maintained.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Your singing voice changed, but still is in harmony with your sister or did it not change your singing voice?
Drew: It did. Oh, yes. My singing voice changed and actually, I think that it just got harder to sing. Singing I think has always come pretty easy to us and now if I want to sing without getting tired, I have to actually practice and know how to use my instrument.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Brenda and Drew, this is so profoundly unfair and you can totally say no, but I don't know if there's a song you all sing together or verse that you often sing. I would like-- I'm sorry. You got me thinking once you said, "Oh, we were still singing together." Now, I want to hear it. I would love to hear you two sing together.
Brenda: Let's see. Do you want to try something though? Do you want to sing some Both Hands or something?
Drew: Both Hands, yes. Yes, let's sing Both Hands.
Brenda: Give me a pitch?
Drew: No, I want you to give me a pitch. [chuckles] You're at the professional.
Brenda: [singing] I'm walking-- Would that be good?
Drew: Sing and then I will come in with the mic off just so I feel relaxed and then I'll let you know when to stop.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I love it. It's such supportive sibling energy there, but of course, syncing up singing over Zoom, that's hard. Brenda and Drew sent us a little recording of the two of them singing together the last time they were in the room together.
[Brenda and Drew singing]
Brigid Bergen: We'll be right back for more of our conversation with Brenda and Drew in just a minute.
[Brenda and Drew continue singing]
Welcome back to The Takeaway. I'm Brigid Bergen in for Melissa Harris-Perry. We've been celebrating Pride Month by featuring queer families like Brenda Rae and her identical twin brother, Drew Klinkert. Let's continue listening to the conversation Melissa had with the twins about their connection to music and to each other.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Brenda, I want to come to you because I'm wondering as an identical twin, what it means in both cases, you are a sister, but a sister, initially, perhaps you're thinking of this sister of another sister of an identical twin, and then you become the identical twin of someone whose gender identity is different than what you first expected.
Brenda: Yes, this might just be a very personal way of thinking about it but I've never had a real identity with having a sister. I think one of the special things about having a twin is that the word twin is non-gendered. It really doesn't matter to me what gender this person has. What matters is that they feel right in their gender. The fact that Drew has now discovered like, "Oh, this is actually who I am." That feels right. It doesn't change our relationship. I think people might expect things differently when they see a boy and a girl twin versus two girl twins or two boy twins.
They expect that relationship to be a little different but Drew has continued to be my twin and our relationship hasn't changed. We're incredibly close. I think people when they meet us, they don't know that we're identical. They're a little weirded out why are they similar still but they're not identical. Well, we are identical and so I get to educate people a lot in a gentle way, of course, always but yes, I remember back when we were growing up as twin sisters, to me, I knew that Drew never liked to be the stereotypical girl.
Not that I like being a stereotypical girl, I was just never exactly bothered as much by the stereotypes that I was shoved into by society. [laughs] I'm like, "Yes, I can be a princess." I remember one year at the Parks and Rec Department, we were crowned park princesses at the end of the summer, and Drew was like, "Uh-uh, I'm not a princess." This has never been a real surprise to me either, but for us, it has never really mattered if it's a surprise because Drew is my twin and he's going to continue to be my twin.
I'm going to love him and continue to have that same close relationship with him no matter what really happens in our life.
Drew: Going back to that princess thing, that's a really important moment in I think our twinness and just going different ways because, to be a princess, to be royalty in the Parks and Rec Department, you got to go to a restaurant. It was Chi-Chi's. Well, they got Chi-Chi's and I refused to go. I was like, "Absolutely not. I am not a princess," so I did not go, and she came back and she told me it was wonderful and she got to eat fried ice cream, and I was like, "Yes, that's too bad that I missed that, but I made the right choice." [chuckles]
Melissa Harris-Perry: Brenda, where would you rate Drew telling you about his desire to transition and the clarity of his identity among the things that have been revelations for you?
Brenda: It was a gradual shift. For a long time, I knew that he didn't really feel like he fit into one certain gender, but when he finally did ask me to call him Drew, I think it was on our 29th birthday. We had a conversation, I was in Bordeaux, France. I was like, "Oh, how was your birthday?" He's like, "Great. I would like you to call me Drew now." I was like, "Oh, cool. Okay." [chuckles] I was like, "You've liked that name for a long time. Great."
He still wasn't asking me to use male pronouns that came-- Was it just a few months later, I think, if I remember correctly. I feel even though I tried to communicate to Drew that I was always going to be there for him and accept him as he was, I think there's probably a lot of nervousness even. I mean, it's a big moment, and yet it wasn't really a big moment because it felt like it was always coming. I remember feeling happy that he finally felt he knew who he was.
As a twin worrying about her twin, as we do about loved ones, I felt much more at ease just with who he was as a person, just because I knew he felt better about himself.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Drew, did you feel afraid or nervous to tell?
Drew: Yes, absolutely felt nervous. More so because I knew I didn't have all the answers right now. It would be gradual. I'm like, "Okay, so today, I'm going to ask you to call me Drew, but I don't know about pronouns right now." Like, "Don't change anything right now. That's not something I'm feeling ready for." Then, a few months later, I'm like, "Yes, you can start using different pronouns with me." That continued for at least a year with everybody that I knew. I wasn't saying please use these pronouns for me. I'm like, "Whatever is okay."
Then, finally, I was like, "Yes, I'm ready to say, this is what I would like you to refer to me with." That felt good. Yes, sometimes there's a pressure to know everything because it is such a big change. It's a big change in that we use language to communicate. I think a lot of people want to respect me and other folks when things change and they want to know. Like, "Okay, just tell me what to do." It's like, "Yes, I'm trying, but I don't know, so please be kind with me."
I had the luck to have Brenda as my twin, and she was always very kind with me and walked with me as I was ready. She didn't force anything out of me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It is Pride Month, I'm wondering what the two of you are hoping people will take from your stories?
Brenda: I think back to when Drew transitioned and talking to the rest of my family about it, I remember some family members were worried about Drew because they hear these stories about a lot of trans people experiencing a lot of depression and suicidal thoughts, and that is absolutely true, but what I tried to express was like, "Well, this is huge for them. If we let them express themselves as they truly are, and we're there to support them, it's actually going to improve their mental health vastly."
I think that's the message that I want to get out during Pride and every month, is that we just need to be supportive of who people are, and make sure they know that we love them as they are.
Drew: I feel lucky that I feel safe enough to give Brenda permission to share that I am trans. She has a very different job than I do. She gets to talk about that in different circles. I think that education is really valuable, and I'm super, super grateful that I feel so safe, and that she loves me so much and wants to talk about me. This Pride Month, we're just sharing the stories that intersect with ours.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Drew, Brenda, thank you for being yourselves. Thank you for giving us so much. Thank you for joining The Takeaway.
Brenda: Thank you so much for having us.
Drew: Yes, thank you.
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