I finally got my official business cards in after ordering on the first day of work…Katherine Ayers, education reporter. I think it sounds ok and from the 25+ likes I got on the photo, I’m guessing others thought it was neato as well.
But it got me thinking about preferred names…again.
While I represent my self as Katherine (Katie) Ayers at work and in the community, at every turn I’m reminded that that’s not who I really am (yet). My credit cards, bank statements, student loans, Social Security Card, birth certificate…most everything that constitutes me as legal still requires me to be Katherine Booher which is not who I want to be anymore. Some days I feel I’m living a split-life. Half the time I’m Ayers and the other half, usually at inconvenient times when I don’t want to think about it, the government yanks me back and says “no, no…for a bit longer we require you to be someone other than who you are.”
Fortunately it’s only the government and once I work within their (stupid) rules, my preferred name will match up with my legal one.
In some ways, I’m glad it’s just my last name I want changed, and I’m doing it at a point where no one at work and in the community knew me as anyone else anyhow so there’s nothing “new” for most people to get used to. But I got thinking about folks in the LGBTQ community who, for whatever reason, want to change their first name. Maybe they’re transitioning, maybe their uber-girly name doesn’t fit them and they want more than just a nickname. I’m sure there are stories where the transition was great and the preferred name stuck with no issues, but I can only imagine how frustrating and lonely it must be for some folks to ask people to use their preferred name only to get called their birth name months later.
I’m picturing a person standing at the bottom of the Grand Canyon where everything echoes and screaming at the top of their lungs “My Name Is JANE!” only to come to the top and have the first person you meet say “Hi, Jim,” either out of ignorance or disrespect or both.
My friend Elis, who recently chose that name, wrote their thoughts about it. I hope they don’t mind I’m linking to a part of their blog post:
One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is name myself. The realization that I could have a name that genders me correctly on paper and in speech, that has never been used to abuse me, only recently dawned on me. Once I knew who I could be, though, I couldn’t turn back. Now, I face the issues of being a college student, a leader, activist, and a member of many communities, and having to come out all over again. The ability to name oneself is a privilege; often, we elect to be known by our middle names, or by nicknames, or unrelated names altogether that happen to be gender-appropriate and justifiable. My transition, though, isn’t so easily justified. The old worries of inconveniencing those that I care about with my queerity have more than returned. Who am I to ask so many to reorient their mindsets for the sake of my identity? I’ve only told a few people my name, though I’ve more than claimed it in my self-narration. I’ve whispered it to empty rooms, but haven’t yet spoken it aloud to another person. It’s been a process with new challenges and encounters of privilege and justification.
All this to say, when a person (whom you’ve never met or with whom you’ve been best friends with since toddlerhood or a sibling) introduces themselves to you, or to anyone in your presence, take the name they say as truth. Don’t question it (in that exact moment anyway), certainly don’t correct them and understand that they chose the name carefully. If you’re (genuinely) curious, ask them politely in a private setting why they chose the name they chose (and maybe, only maybe) why they did it. In the end it’s none of your business anyhow and if they choose not to share there’s probably a reason for that. In time they will, or not.
Your only job responsibility is to love them exactly how and where and who they are.