Contemplations on queerness, transness, and other Otherness.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

what's in a name?

       Name's are tough. Well, i think they can be anyway — maybe they're not for other people, i don't really know. But a name is a stand-in for a person. A name is a group of letters or syllables that is used to represent a necessarily complex and dynamic being with hir very own nuance and drive and passion, etc.

       How can a name possibly do a good job at that? And that's just the, ostensibly universal, philosophical bit. God forbid we add gender to the mix. Most of us, by which i mean people, are given names at birth based largely on genital shape.

       i don't want to do the boring, standard trans discourse about how sad it is that our society teaches us to assume gender based on our perception of someone's name. It's important. But it's been done to death. And frankly, there are painfully obvious conclusions to be drawn from the above use of the word "assume." Please draw them and read on.

       So, obviously, some of us are left with names that don't work for us. Surprise, some of us even change them.

       i've been thinking about this a lot lately because i have found myself wishing i could somehow exist in society without a name. i want people to just know me for me. No assumptions. No baggage. Just me. All other barriers to someone truly knowing me aside, there would be some hefty logistical issues to not having a name. How would i cash checks? How would i call service providers on the telephone? How would i fill my prescriptions?

       So, since i've chosen not to completely abstain from society, i've got a name. i tried to craft one that fits, and that may be the best i can do.

       My given name was technically gender neutral. The first time i heard it used for a cis-woman was about five years ago. i was only out to a few people at the time, but i knew then (and beforehand) that someday i would transition. i didn't know when or how or what that would look like. But to learn that my name was neutral-ish was jarring and odd. It was also kind of revelatory. It helped me internalize the idea that my assigned gender was not essential. It made me feel less isolated.

       That said, i still chose to leave that name behind. i liked it, and felt close to it, but for me the process of self-actualization begged for a new name. i see it as an emblem for myself. Something to remind me that i can self-determine. i also wanted to remind other people to see me differently too.

       i chose the name ellie. Yes, i use lower case. i did that with my other name too. This actually started as a rejection of privilege, masculine and otherwise. i don't want to lend myself authority or propriety within a power structure. i want to disarm any power or privilege i have. Lower casing my name places me on the same plane as all other words and leaves significance to the action i take (you may have noticed that i do this with "i" as well).

       Even though i needed a break from my given name, i still chose to modify my given middle name into a first name. It was elliot — also technically neutral. i liked it better than my old first name and often wished people would call me that instead. Even though it was neutral, i wanted to feminize it. People so often ignore my transness as is, so i don't want a namethat lends credence to people's avoidant tendencies.

       The real boon of cropping elliot into ellie though, is what it represents. For me, it emphasizes that, even though i can change/become/self-determine, i am still very much working with what i have. i can shape my present and future in a lot of ways, but i do have a past and i don't want to pretend otherwise. i'd lose a lot of growth if i did. i am proud of my history, it brought me here. And i'm proud to be trans, so i bear it in my name.

       My middle name is june. It sounds nice preceded by ellie and i like that. i only use it sometimes. i only sometimes feel it. But, i'm from the Midwest, which is in a lot of ways culturally like the south. Sometimes people use two names here. i like having the capacity to do that when it suits me. i like being able to claim a home, a history, a bit of culture in an introduction. And i like that June is in the middle of summer, because i'm often made of pure sunshine and that should be reflected in my name.

       i also adopted a new last name, navidson. i borrowed it from a character in a novel i like a lot. It's a book most people haven't read. i'll maybe tell you which book, but only if i know you and trust you. The importance for me here is twofold.

       First, when i came out to my parents things got weird. i didn't know if i was welcome. It's not about rejecting patriarchy (although that's definitely a valid thing to reject) so much as asserting my independence. My gender and my identity are my own and do not originate from a biological clan, so neither does my name.

       But, it's mostly about the idea of fiction becoming real. I've always known about my queerness, but it often seemed fantastic or impossible or out of reach; fictional in some way. I mean, it wasn't fake, it merely felt that way because it wasn't outwardly apparent. Now it is. The name is fiction realized.

       It's also important to me that it's an obscure reference. And this is not because i'm some sort of pompous hipster. Transness is not a thing that most people experience. It's not a thing most people get or can associate with, at least immediately. It would feel disingenuous to have a readily accessible reference for that reason. That said, there's not an intrinsic link between the book and my gender or identity; i just liked it a lot, and that's enough.

       i recently made this my legal name. i hate the idea of reifying "realness" in legal terms; i don't feel a need for juridical validation for any aspect of my identity. But, like the question of marriage or gender markers, there are pragmatic complications that arise. For example: jobs. i love my job and am glad to work where i do, especially since i'm fortunate enough to have a job where i can be out as ellie, a queer trans person. But i probably won't be a barista for the rest of my days and will need to apply for other positions. Frankly, it will just be easier if my legal name is also the name i use. Although, that assumes i will still be using this name when that happens — who knows what turns a life will take? But, until otherwise noted, i'll be ellie june navidson; but mostly, i'll be me.