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A teenager who looked identical to their twin sister but spent every day in early childhood “thinking something was wrong” came out as trans at 14 after being inspired by Orange is the New Black transgender actor and fellow twin Laverne Cox.
Despite being identical on the outside to his sister Olivia Robins, 19, and being born just two minutes apart, Matthias Robins says that is where their similarities ceased.
While Olivia loved make-up sets, Barbie dolls and anything pink, Matthias loved wearing hand-me-downs from their older brother, history student Harry Robins, 22.
Yet, turning 14, when Matthias, of Barnet, north London, had a lightbulb moment, he says Olivia was the first person he told he was trans, saying: “I went into her room and said, ‘You know I’m trans, right?’
“She was so excited for me.”
A fan of the hit prison comedy Orange is the New Black, it was discovering that actor Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset, had a formerly identical twin brother that finally gave Matthias, a sales assistant and LGBT campaigner, the courage to come out.
Matthias, who uses the pronouns they and he, said: “When I saw one of the Orange is the New Black actors, Laverne Cox, a trans woman, had a formerly identical twin brother, it was life changing.
“Seeing my reality on screen meant I had to admit it. I couldn’t deny any longer to myself that I was transgender, even if my identical twin sister wasn’t.”
Childhood was a desperately troubling time for Matthias, despite growing up in a loving family, with his brother, sister and parents – who he still lives with – Anna Robins, 51, a retired teacher, and Michael Robins, 49, a wine salesman.
At just four-years-old, Matthias, who will not reveal his former name known as a ‘dead name,’ would insist to everyone he met that he was a boy.
He said: “I was always the tomboy and Olivia the girly-girl. It was how people told us apart.”
“I had my short hair, trousers and shirts and Olivia had the dresses with long hair, nail polish and dollies.”
Matthias added: “I always insisted to everyone that I was a boy.
“I remember at four-years-old my mum telling me, ‘You’re such a pretty girl,’ and saying, ‘No I’m not, I’m a boy’.
“I looked up to my brother so much and always wanted to be like him, probably because I wanted to be treated like a boy, too.”
The twins’ differences as children were accepted as “quirks,” before they started school, where Matthias was picked on for being “different.”
He said: “Everyone would assume because we were twins, we must be the same.
“Other children started saying to me, ‘You’re weird,’ or, ‘You’re different,’ and being very blunt.”
He added: “They would ask, ‘Why aren’t you like your sister?'”
Moving to an all-girls secondary school in Barnet only compounded Matthias’ sense that he was in the wrong body, but he fought his feelings tooth and nail.
He said: “I would find any way possible to tell myself I wasn’t transgender.
“I went through a period of total denial too, telling myself, ‘If my sister isn’t transgender, then I can’t be, because it is not in my DNA.'”
Trying to hide who he was, Matthias began to struggle with depression, anxiety and panic attacks most days.
And he started to lash out at school in anger – to the extent where he was even suspended for a brief period for unruly behaviour.
He said: “My panic attacks would be triggered by the simplest of things, like someone criticising my hair in school or making fun of my looks.
“It was upsetting, confusing and aggravating and I would just be filled with anger.
“I was in a school where they were constantly calling us girls and that wasn’t me. I felt like I didn’t have a voice.”
The more Matthias tried to hide who he was, the worse he felt, with things becoming so bad that, in his darkest moments, he did not want to go on.
He said: “I never imagined living past 18.
“I was so confused, I thought, ‘How can I be transgender if my sister and I are identical twins and she’s a woman?’”
He added: “I thought there must be something wrong with me and I was just suffering from some sort of delusion.
“Growing up, struggling with being myself and then seeing transphobia rants online, I sometimes didn’t want to go on.
“As blunt as that sounds, I was in such a terrible place.
“But I am 19 now, I’m doing so much for myself and I’m getting the correct treatment for my mental health and transgender identity.”
While Matthias knew his twin would totally support his decision to transition and told her as soon as he had made his mind up to come out, he was still anxious about it.
He said: “Even though we have this unconditional love for each other and a spiritual empathy I was still so nervous.”
He added: “It felt like saying I was transgender was a bad word, but she was wonderful.”
As Olivia became used to using Matthias’ new name and pronouns, he slowly started to come out to his parents and brother, before moving on to telling his peers.
He said: “My parents weren’t sure how to talk about it at first, but then they helped me to get into counselling and build up my relationship with my gender identity.
“My dad was initially very unsure of the idea, but now he is my biggest supporter.
“I suffered in silence for a long time, but having my parents accept me and stand up for me is huge.”
In 2020, Matthias joined Tavistock, the Gender Identity Development Service, and began a year of talking therapy in lockdown, before turning 18 in 2021 and moving onto adult services.
Now he is waiting to start hormone therapy to kickstart his physical transition, before considering gender reassignment surgery a few years down the line.
While Matthias is happier than ever, he admits it can be challenging seeing Olivia, who is studying International Disaster Management and Humanitarian Response in Manchester, as a version of himself that he is trying to move away from.
“I have said to my sister a few times that sometimes looking at her makes me feel bad about myself,” he said.
“It’s such a harsh thing to say, but it’s hard having this constant reminder of what I would look like as a woman.”
In 2020, Matthias was also diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and then with autism, a developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world,
But he is adamant that these conditions must be viewed as inherently separate to his relationship with his gender identity.
He said: “Being Trans and having ADHD and autism are big parts of my identity that I am proud of.
“They are also things I have often been ashamed of.
“But I have always kept them very separate, as there is this false assumption that there is a connection between my ADHD, autism, and gender identity and there is not.”
Meanwhile, Matthias is exploring his new identity and discovering himself as a trans man.
He says he first really felt like he was becoming his authentic self at 18, when he cut and dyed his hair.
He said: “I turned 18 and I finally started living. I cut my hair and dyed it red and started getting into relationships.”
He added: “I had been so scared of my identity for so long and finally, I was like, ‘Screw it, who cares?’”
Identifying as ‘aromantic’ – someone who has no romantic attraction, but can, as is true with Matthias, still experience physical attraction, he is dating for the first time in his life.
He said: “It is definitely interesting being trans on the dating scene because you can often be fetishised.
“I mainly find comfort in dating other trans men or non-binary people.
“I have had instances on dating apps where people have misgendered me as a woman and when I explain I am a trans man, they insist, ‘You have a vagina, so you’re a girl to me,’ which is hard.”
Sadly, alongside these brusque rebuttals, Matthias has faced shocking transphobia.
He said: “In 2019, someone threw a smoothie on me while I was walking home from a friend’s.
“I was wearing my jacket that has my pronouns on it and celebrates gay rights and trans rights and they saw me and chucked a smoothie all over me.
“It is hurtful but it is also ridiculous and you just have to laugh about it, because there’s not a lot you can do about it.”
While Matthias and Olivia are closer than ever, he said they do still face “weird looks” and strange comments when they are together.
He said: “People have told me that I cannot be trans and a twin, because of my DNA, or have claimed that my transgender identity comes from environmental factors.
“Olivia and I notice that people try to rationalise or make unnecessary links between me being transgender and us both being twins.”
He added: “Funnily enough, the comments that really bother aren’t those.
“Being told I am not allowed to be my twin sister’s twin brother has hurt more than anything.”
While it is not everyone’s choice to physically transition, it has long been Matthias “dream” to.
“My body issues never go away, they are constant,” he said.
“There is always this nagging voice that says, ‘Your thighs are too big, your face is too round, your eyes are too feminine, your hands are too small.’ That is really depressing.
“Some people dream about their wedding day, but I dream about starting hormones and what it will be like shaving for the first time or hearing my voice drop.”
Aside from his part-time job as a sales assistant in his dad’s wine shop, Matthias volunteers as a campaigner for Just like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity, speaking to youngsters in schools about being allied to the trans community.
Matthias’ transition is an emotional journey for Olivia, too, as she learns to help and watch her brother grow and change.
“Because we were identical twins, we were seen as one individual, not two separate people,” Olivia explained.
“Matty was always called a tomboy and I was always a girly girl, but people were surprised we were so different.
“At school, I remember one day someone said he was masculine and he was so upset – not because they called him masculine, but I think because someone had noticed he was different.
“He asked me to do his hair and make him ‘look like a woman’.”
She added: “I was so excited to be playing with make up, but he was so uncomfortable in it and it wasn’t him.”
When Matthias came out as trans, Olivia was delighted to see her brother admit who he really was, but grappled with what his transition meant for her as a twin.
“I was 14 and I didn’t understand gender at the time,” she said.
“I was so happy for him, but I was confused because we had shared the same identity.
“Obviously, I instantly accepted that was who he is, because he is my twin, but it did make me question my own identity too.
“I am bisexual and I did explore using different pronouns, but I never went as far as thinking I was a boy, because that’s not how I felt.”
She continued: “I realised that it’s okay to be different – my twin is trans and I’m not.”
Seeing Matthias transform over the last few years has made Olivia incredibly emotional, but also protective.
She said: “I was so happy when he cut his hair. He looked so trendy and was finally being the person he wanted to be.
“I am so excited for him and it is such a joy to see him be his authentic self.
“There’s only two minutes between us in age, but I am his big sister and I feel such a responsibility to protect him, because the transgender community is so often under attack.
“We are so close now and I just want him to successful and happy.
“I just want him to be himself. He has had to deal with years and years of not being who he is and identifying as someone he’s not. Now I want him to finally be himself – out, proud and loud.”