Saturday, 10 January 2009

A Name I Call Myself

Back in September I wrote about my frustration with my name. I compared my first name to a gray wool skirt: unambiguously female though not over-the-top feminine, plain and perhaps lovely in its own way but just not me. As a kid I remember saying I hated my name--I wanted to change it to Jacqueline and be nicknamed Jackie at one point, I recall. And throughout my adult life I've had this delayed-reaction response to hearing my name; it just doesn't sound like me, to my own ears. I'm like, who? Who is that girl? Oh, right, me. Sort of.

Anyway, when I wrote that post, I was very very tentatively trying out a nickname that a new friend had suggested for me. (For some reason it's very important to me that the nickname was suggested by someone else. And this is a particularly insightful, gentle individual too, which makes it that much more meaningful.) Over the course of the fall I tried it out more and more--giving it as my name at coffee shops, and then when meeting new acquaintances. I knew I'd reaching a turning point when someone started to introduce using my old name and I interrupted them, thinking, "Don't you fucking dare."

FG made the switch around then. (Like I said, she almost never called me by my old name, anyway.) Over the past month I've started introducing old friends to the new nickname. It's like a mini-coming-out all over again. I tell them I've acquired a nickname, that I really like it and that the old name never quite fit, and that I'd be very pleased if they'd use it, too.

At first I thought the nickname would be for friends, and the old name for family & professional contacts. But it was quickly apparent that those lines are blurry in reality. Plus, my old name started to seem increasingly alien and even annoying when I'd hear it from random people.

When I registered for the conference a couple of weeks ago, the form gave an option for distinguishing between "First Name" and "First Name on Badge". Um. Looks like a sign or something. I bit the bullet and contacted my academic advisor, who officially should win some kind of award for awesomeness. Ze wrote back immediately, using my nickname, offering total support and understanding--and then called to talk it over as well. I mean, damn. And the whole conference, whenever we talked or ze introduced me to people, ze used the nickname, as did another main mentor who was also there. It touched me so much I actually wanted to cry. (I'm using "ze" to protect hir anonymity a bit, ze is in no way queer or genderqueer.)

The nickname feels right, now. It feels like an appropriate name, something people can call me and I can respond. For the first time I wore a name tag and didn't wince when I saw it, wasn't desperate to get it off my body at the end of the day. In fact it's on my desk at home now, where I can see it. When I introduce myself, I feel like I'm actually introducing myself, not some imaginary feminine version of myself. I feel like I'm shedding the albatross of that version, slowly, slowly, and the name is a major part of that.

I haven't told any of my family yet except for my dad, who sort of stared at me and then proposed an entirely different nickname that he could call me. Whatever, that's fine, too. He's a little odd with names and calls FG by a unique nickname, too, so I think that's OK. I think my mom and grandparents are a special case; my mom chose the old name, for starters. I don't necessarily expect them to use the new nickname, but just to understand that it is my nickname, so that FG can use it in front of them, for instance. I'm planning to talk it over with my mom when she and I have dinner later this month. I think I can do it in a way she'll understand. My brothers might be more of a stumbling block, particularly the one I have more issues with (have I written about that here?). My nickname relates to our shared last name so there could be some patriarchal issues there--like who am I, youngest and female, to lay so thorough a claim to that name.

Most friends have been very cool with it, as has most of FG's family. A few friends have actually seemed touched that I'm sharing this new part of myself with them, and pleased with the invitation to use the nickname, which is sort of cool. I'm not worried about people slipping up--I mean, of course they will. One very old friend (like I've known him a long time) seemed disoriented, joked a bit, and now is avoiding using any name, as far as I can tell... but hey, we've been friends for over twenty years, we'll sort it out.

But there have been a few hiccups. Of course there have been. ::segue into rant section of post:: FG's mom was, apparently, pretty dismissive--"I don't have to call her that, do I?" "It's just--it would be like someone nicknaming you Biff!" Like, how does that analogy work? Because nicknaming FG 'Biff' would be ridiculous? De-femininizing? What exactly?

More troubling is another friend. I told him about it relatively early on, when I was still unsure about the friend/professional divide, and he wrote an email using it, but adding "I'm not sure I like this". OK, whatever. But then we were at the conference together, where it was on my nametag, and I introduced myself using the nickname in front of him. When I signed an email to him recently using my nickname, he responded: "for the time being, i think i'll stick to [old name]. don't know about this [nickname] thing, yet..."

I gotta say, it made me mad. I admit I left him an out in my initial email. I don't want to overreact, but I also want to let him know that it actually matters to me. It's not simply a question of how he feels about it, or what he thinks of the two names' merits. It's about his respect for my decision and my right to make it. I remember he was surprised when a fellow colleague changed her name upon marriage, but I doubt he insists on the 'right' to use her maiden name. More than that, it really calls into question our friendship. I've tried to share with him some of the changes I've gone through in the last year, and mostly, it's been quite unsuccessful, and I've been surprised at his conservatism, actually.

More generally, I'm angry at his response and FG's mom's response because they remind me how much of my time and energy I've wasted trying not to make people uncomfortable, trying to embody the fake feminine version of me that is named [oldname] just to please them or placate them, hiding my real self behind a fortress to prevent their rejection or ridicule getting near me. This post is too long as it is but this is a major, major issue for me and one that, nowadays, makes me just incandescently furious. I don't need, I guess, to explode that all over my recalcitrant friend, but any hints on how to react, besides "Well, fuck you, too," would be greatly appreciated.


Holden said...

Good for you Leo, I think it's brilliant that you're using a name that you feel is right for you.

For those that for some bizarre reason think it's their right to call you what they want I think I'd be polite but firm and insist they use your nickname. If that doesn't work you could always try calling them by a different name and see how they like it. :)

femmeismygender said...

Yep, what she said :-).
Actually one of my kids decided to change their name when they were still very young. Although it was a bit confusing (and maybe a tiny bit sad) I totally respected that decision and it is amazing how fast the new one 'stuck'. As with H - her old name is now the 'odd' one in my head.
Ok I'll stop rambling, hugs fimg xx

Britni said...

I'm so glad that you no longer feel a disconnect between you and your name. I think that people should be more open and respectful, and call people what they wish to be called. What does it matter what I call someone? It doesn't change how I feel about them.

Also, may I suggest submitting parts of this to Genderfork? I don't know if you've seen it, but it's a great site that explores gender by letting people express their own gender variance. You can submit your own thoughts on anything gender related, and they feature beautiful pictures of androgynous or ambiguous people. Check it out if you haven't already!

CAB said...

I recently had a fried who changed her name. She was actually trying out a few different ones to see how they felt. It seems that for years she had felt something like you. That the name just did not "fit" and frankly she hated it. Me, I had lots of questions as to how she chose the name etc, but was more than pleased to refer to her by her chosen name. Congratulations on finding one that you feel comfortable with and "feels right".

As for your friend who has an issue with it, I would send him an email, explain that you can respect his being uncomfortable with the change but that out of respect for you and your friendship you want to be referred to by said name.

You say your peace, he doesn't have an out and if he continues to refer to you in other terms he obviously isn't a friend and shouldn't count anyway.

Anonymous said...

Choosing your name is such a powerful thing! My younger sister was teased relentlessly through elementary school, and when she started middle school in a new district she decided to go by her first name rather than her middle name that reminded her of all the teasing. For her, I think it was a very important part of starting over and choosing her own identity. Though her way of enforcing it - punching me whenever I slipped - was a bit harsh, in my opinion. But perhaps this method could be effectively employed with the irritating friend?

Kyle said...

Leo, you are brave and amazing and an inspiration. I don't use 'Kyle' except for some situations. For now, I like the split, it works for me.

Some people take more time, just keep doing what your doing. As more and more people convert to your new name, the friend and FG's mom will be farther and farther out of the loop. Maybe peer pressure will work in our favor here, over time.

MLC said...

Your friends will call *YOU* by *YOUR* first name. So choose it and use it - is my advice.

Friends can be replaced, new ones discovered - your identity cannot be.

Be YOUR beautiful self whoever that is.

Anonymous said...

huh - the only friend i can think of who's changed the name she goes by is my ex. except she had already ditched her first name for an unfeminine nickname when i met her, and now she kind of uses both depending on how folks were introduced to her. it was always hard for me to remember to use her first name around her family, and it still is a bit odd to hear people call her by it.

not sure if that's related. but i think it is awesome and cool that you're attaching yourself to a name you like and identify with. i think names are so cool and important that everyone ought to love theirs =)

Jess said...

Leo my friend, you know I feel you. I have yet to make the legal change to my name and still continue to correct people when they refer to me as my government name. It's annoying and someday, hopefully, it will stop.

I think your new name suits you.

Oh and genderfork is a cool site. I stumbled upon it recently and really like what I've seen so far.

Leo MacCool said...

thanks, everyone. i emailed the recalcitrant friend: "I don't know if you noticed, but I decided this professional/friend line is untenable, and used [nickname] at the [professional conference], on my nametag, with [advisor], etc. So I would prefer it if you made the switch, as well." hopefully it will be a tempest in a teapot and resolved easily. if not... well, sarcozona, i don't think i'll punch him, but i do feel much better for your reassurances that i'm not being unreasonable in expecting a friend to respect this decision.

britni-yeah, i love genderfork, espcially all the new text/profile/commenting stuff. of course the photographs have always been amazing. i used to stare and stare and stare at them, back at the beginnig of my own awakening in these matter. i should add them to my blogroll, i guess!

thanks jess, my buddy, it's good to hear positive feedback about the new name. it's a big transition as you know.

LL Cool Joe said...

Names are such a tough one. It seems really hard for family and friends that have known you as one thing to change that.

One of my daughters wanted to change her name, and I thought "shit I'm never going to get used to calling you by another friggin name". I had that when she was adopted (her name on her birth certificate is different), but I would have if that's she wanted but she dropped the idea. I was lucky because my name is actually an abbreviation of my birth name, with an addition of one letter to go with my corrected gender, so I was lucky. Wish everything else had been as friggin easy as the name! :D said...

Ok Hildegard (just kidding) -- what I think -- if you don't mind -- is that you need to INSIST... their feelings be damned.

Doesn't sound like they are considering your feelings right about now.

Every time they say the wrong name... correct them.

Every. Single. Time.

Annoying? Yes.

But hopefully it'll annoy them enough to cut the crap.


I'm off to look up what the hell "recalcitrant" means...

Leo MacCool said...

hey there, matilda, i mean tina. ;)

you're right.

just to keep you updated, cuz i know you've been hanging on the edge of your seats, i heard back from recalcitrant (adj: stubbornly disobedient, obstinately defiant) friend who says, "Thanks--I'll try to figure out this switch, too." so far, so good. i'm glad. said...

awwww sheeit (ehem, throw back to the old days)!

I like Matilda!

And yay! Glad to hear/read that that's looking like it's going in the right direction.


p.s. How I didn't know another word for stubborn boggles the mind.

QueerRose said...

Happy for you Leo QRx

Sublimefemme said...

A belated comment just to say good for you! I agree with everything that's been said, including Matilda's advice ;-)

SF said...

Hildy -- I think we hit on something here! :P

Maria said... the fuck is the name?

And for what it's worth...I always wanted to be named Lydia. Always. I never liked my name.

cassiopeia said...

I had to change my name to feel more comfortable with myself. I don't consider myself of gender or sexual preference and for whatever reason, hearing my childhood name always reminded me of gender (even though the name is quite gender neutral! I think that alone bothered me).

I really liked your post because it pinpointed a lot of what I have gone through in the past 6 years. It wasn't a big jump but it was enough to make people tilt their heads and say, "What are we calling you now?" I went from Casey (long A sound) to Cas (short A). And when people call me Cas, I finally feel like I have an identity... silly how something so small can be so significant.