I have a nine-letter legal first name.
It’s the kind of name that was once masculine but is now considered feminine in Western society. Even the abbreviated form, my use or preferred name (I don’t consider it an nickname because it is my name) is more feminine-leaning than masculine (‘Kim’ is technically gender-neutral but in practice a shade feminine-leaning). I have, in fact, been told by people (more than one) that I should change my name to something less feminine. While I’m all for people choosing whichever name makes them comfortable and happy, I’m morally opposed to the notion that a trans man must have a masculine name, a trans woman a feminine one, or a non-binary person a gender-neutral one. Names don’t have to match gender. We shouldn’t have to change our birth names to conform to some notion of what is and isn’t appropriately gendered if we’re happy with or have some connection to the name given us at birth. I don’t like my full name, but I do like its shortened form, and I don’t see why I should have to change it because it’s not gender-neutral enough.
In fact, I am not wanting to change my legal name because it is feminine. I am wanting to change it because I have changed as a person, and my old name symbolises the person I was, a person I don’t like, want to be or even relate to (for all that I am afraid of her); I have a connection with that person (hence the shortened version) but I am someone else entirely, and a new name reflects that.
(Name change will happen when I have money and when my currently-severe depression is sufficiently managed for me to be able to do things.)
I know: society lumbers under the misconception that things need to match (or be gender-neutral).
I am tired of the oppression of matching.
What kind of awful message are we sending trans people when we’re holding the expectation that changing one’s name, something powerful and personal, is an essential part of the process? That we now, already, as we are, are not enough our true gender?
In fact, I feel like that undermines my entire attitude to genderlessness. I don’t see my body as anything female or male. I own my body, so therefore it is not feminine, not a woman’s body, not female. It has sexual characteristics, but those bits of skin and tissue are just bits some people have and some people don’t, bits available to people in various combinations, various options. (We have a social misconception that there are certain ‘standard’ combinations of bits and these correspond to binary sex and consequently binary gender, but to believe this misconception is to disregard science and evidence.) Some people like or don’t question the combination they got; some people do and want to change them around a bit or a lot for varying reasons that result in an end goal of happiness. None of this has to have anything to do with gender or binary sex unless the owner of said bits feels it does. Gender does not have to have a relationship to any so-called standard or non-standard possession of characteristics or how one goes about changing them.
Unfortunately, a lot of people, because of Western society, don’t realise that gender and sex, which is itself a highly-gendered concept, are connected in a personal, not universal, relationship.
My body has certain characteristics, yes, and my personal relationship to those bits is that they’re as lacking in gender (and even sex in a way, because sex, in this society, carries a weight about identity; it is not disentangled from gender, although I believe it should be) as I am.
My name follows the same rules. It is mine, and I am genderless, therefore my name is genderless because I own it and I get to say what my personal relationship to my name is. Again, we suffer from the misconception that people’s relationships to names are universal when they are in fact personal and individualistic.
Yes, it means a lifetime of correcting people, but that’s not actually my problem; that’s society’s binary and gender-essentialist assumptions. The only person who gets to decide if my name is wrong for me is me, and this applies to everybody regardless of sex or gender. In a way, it’s not so different from pronouns. I’ve had well-meaning binary trans people tell me I shouldn’t use gender-neutral pronouns because nobody will ever get them right. I’ve had people tell me to my face that my pronouns are too difficult to remember. It’s all a pretty horrible thing to say, even if the speakers are not objectively wrong: they are saying that I should conform to society’s flawed way of perceiving people and the world. They are saying that it’s better to pretend to be something I’m not. They are saying that I should give up on the idea of being seen and accepted as myself, that I shouldn’t fight to be me, that I shouldn’t be real.
I don’t surrender with grace if at all, and sometimes this is a strength in me.
There are people who look at me and see a real, vibrant, important person irrespective of my name. I have a friend who remembers and corrects her daughter with such ease and simplicity and respect for both of us that I am awed and thrilled by the reminder that I can be real without the pain, struggle and fear of reminding others I am not a woman. There are people, a scarce handful of amazing, precious people, who don’t seem to think my words are too much to ask. There are people who care about my comfort, my happiness, my gender. They may not understand, but they know that understanding isn’t a requirement; they just accept. I wish there were more people like them, but I am glad they exist; they are amazing.
This is why I write about trans characters whose names don’t match their gender. This is why I’m currently writing about a genderfluid character who remains Steve, a bigender character called Oscar whose name does not encompass the entirety of her gender (and neither does her chosen pronouns), a trans man who chooses Valentine as a name despite it being one of those technically-masculine-but-contextually-not-always names and a trans woman who likes being Henry thank-you-very-much. This is why, in my current project, I have men named Molly and women named Bill. This is why, in my fantasy novel Something They Call Glory, the vast majority of cultures don’t gender personal names. (Those that do are considered to be very strange by the trans protagonists – because what if someone transitions? Are they actually expected to change their names, something with resonance, meaning and connection to family? Weird.) This is why I love Jayne in Firefly – who is never, ever, treated as anything less than a man because he has a name that is conventionally feminine. (I don’t love his character, but I love his concept.)
I am tired of the idea that my name, something as personal as my pronouns – another decision people shouldn’t question for the same reasons – somehow genders me.
I am tired of the idea that others get to have an opinion on the gender inherent in my name.
We need to let go the idea that sex, gender, presentation and the words used to describe one’s state of these things need to, at any point in time, match. We need to understand that we don’t get to tell anyone else, ever, whether or not their words are sufficiently of the correct ‘gender’ to reflect their identities. (Or if those words are too complex, misunderstood or difficult for social usage.) We need to understand that we don’t get to have an opinion, at all, on someone else’s relationship to their gender and its expression. Sure, anyone who wishes to change their name should be able to do so simply and easily, and that change should be respected and accommodated by everyone (none of this ‘what’s your real name’ bullshit), but the lack of a change should also be respected without commentary.
There is only one thing we need to do: respect a person’s gender, name and pronouns without comment or question.
If a trans woman’s body is a woman’s body, which any decent human being knows as truth, her name is a woman’s name, whatever it happens to be.