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.