October 2016-It’s bright and early. Too early. It seems modern innovation has only made people crazier. Take modern transportation: a mere century ago, most people would consider a trip across the Atlantic to be the most revolutionary act of their lives. Nowadays, just drop a couple hundred bucks and poof! You’re halfway across the country. But this ease of transportation just makes people all the more impatient to get places. Of course, I’m guilty of this as well. I mean, come on, we’re flying to New York City. Why would I not be in a hurry?
So now, here I am, cursing the barely rising sun and waiting in a ridiculously long line to get my grossly expensive espresso from an overly cheerful barista who has absolutely no business smiling so brightly at every person that goes by when the sun isn’t even up.
I finally reach the front of the line, give a pitiful reflection of the barista’s cheery smile, and make my order. I give my name for the drink then go stand among the milling throng of fellow insane travelers and wait. I pull out my phone, tap meaninglessly at Facebook, then put it away. Wait a few seconds. Get bored. Pull out my phone. Tap. Wash, rinse repeat.
While this is clearly starting to look like a critique of modernity (a subject I love to harp on about), there is something special about this series of events. In October of 2016, I finally figured something out. I’d been tossing it around in my head for a while, jumping between various options, seeing how they sounded in my head. Even going so far as telling some of my close friends which one I was leaning toward at any given time. You see, what was special about my seemingly innocuous, if inane, visit to an airport Starbucks was that I had just used my name for the first time.
No, not my birth name. We all have one of those. I mean my name. The one that means me. Through the five or so months that it had been since I started publicly coming out as transgender, I’d just been going by my birth name, because I hadn’t landed on the right one. While my birth name was fine, it was also singularly masculine. I don’t begrudge any transfolk who decide to never adopt a new name, I know y’all are out there. But just like anyone’s transition is unique to them, so is their name.
In general, transgender people kinda get the short end of the straw. Almost by definition, our bodies aren’t right for our minds. We struggle through coming out to our family, friends, eventually the entire world, and spend the entire time worried someone important will reject who we are. We have to deal with discrimination in the work place, in society at large, and elsewhere. We are all far behind the curve in learning how to present as our proper gender (learning makeup is a daily process for me). Among all these problems, and many more, I truly, truly believe that transgender people have one singular advantage over all other people.
We get to choose our own names.
On the surface it’s kind of basic. ‘Of course. You don’t fit into your assigned gender any more, so you want a name along with your pronouns to help identify you as another gender.’ But it’s so much more than that. When a transfolk chooses their name, (or names, because this can happen multiple times to the same person) they are searching for one word that identifies them. They get to find the perfect name that fits who they are on the inside and then shout that name to the world. People who can’t pass easily, they have their name. People who are closeted by work or family, they have their name.
The central struggle of being transgender really revolves around a dissociation between your physical self (your body) and your internal self (gender identity). All the efforts that a transgender person goes through in coming out is in an effort to bring these two selves into harmony. The common stereotype for trans people is that they are overly picky about pronouns and labels that they assign to themselves. I agree in some respects. We are very obsessed with trying to define ourselves. But this obsession is almost part of the package of being transgender. If nature won’t give us the bodies that we want, then we’ll do what we must to change that. Picking a name just goes along with all of this. It solidifies your internal self and lets you tell the world who you really are in one short word.
“Americano for Blake!” Ah, yes. The overly cheerful barista strikes again. This time, my answering smile is genuine.
Blake. Yes, I think it fits.