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Defining yourself. Incorrectly.

July 29, 2009

Sorry for being pretty negative lately. School starts again on Monday, so that will probably distract me — or drown me in stress and wrong pronouns. I’m hoping for the former! But right now, I need to take a load off my chest.

There are lots of details in life which can become issues when you’re trans. Like when I wanted to sign up for an extracurricular class at school, and then I realized I would have to use my legal name. In that particular case, I happened to know the teacher, so we managed to work it out. But there are dozens of other little moments where things like old names can get in the way.

Before the holidays, a few teachers assigned homework that we had to send in via email. When I decided to change my name, I also changed my email address because my old one included my girl name. I kept my old one, too, although I only use it when communicating with family members. After finishing my homework, I had to be very careful to send it from my old account; I double- and triple-checked to make sure I was signed in with the correct user name. And then I couldn’t sign my messages, because there was no way I was signing my old name.

Being called by my girl name does hurt –depending on who says it, how, and how many times I’ve had to put up with it recently– but it’s nothing compared to having to introduce myself that way. Now that is corrosive. When someone else names me incorrectly, I feel misunderstood, or even detached: “oh, you mean me?”. When I name myself incorrectly, I’m betraying myself. I’m putting up with the way others define me.

In class, even though I have to passively accept the name that appears on the lists, I never have to actually assert it. I sign everything with my last name, and my very appearance is partially indicative of my gender. But the simple act of sending an email is an identity declaration, and in this situation I didn’t know how to declare myself without hurting my feelings or my grades.

Yes, I may have blown this slightly out of proportion. Maybe I’ve just been angsty lately, but sending those emails was painful, as was putting up with the teacher’s answers, which were fine, except for the name they called me. I actually abandoned my most important school project — it’s hard enough as it is, and I couldn’t bear the added strain of discussing it with my teacher via email. I’ve had that in the back of my mind for weeks, stressing me out, but right now I can’t deal with it. Not as a girl.

I hadn’t realized how important my name was for getting on with my daily life. When I see myself as a trans genderqueer boy, or whatever my identity is at the moment, I feel much more confident. That’s why the whole struggle to get my name recognized is worthwhile: it’s easier to sustain my identity when people aren’t using a name that denies it. In the meantime, I’m trying my best to hold my ground.

To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else— means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. —e. e. cummings

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 29, 2009 11:57 am

    i really like the e.e. cummings quote.
    reading your blog, i was thinking back to a time before i started hormones and how frustrating it was to feel male, but to not be out (or not be able to be out) and to be seen by the public as something else. at that time i felt very betrayed by my own name and pronouns used. this in-between time was hardest for me. keep your head up buddy.

  2. July 29, 2009 5:59 pm

    Thank for the honesty of this post. It is an important narrative that, in daily conversations, I find incredibly puzzling to challenge especially when individuals are so set on the need to define another based on the identifier’s standards. Best of luck as the school year begins.

  3. gunk permalink
    July 29, 2009 10:06 pm

    A lot of what you’re saying resonated with me. I’ve been having my own name struggles lately, having recently come out as genderqueer to friends and family, and having changed my name. It’s hard knowing that in some spaces I’m still not “out” (at work, at school, etc). It’s hard being referred to as the gender I appear to be, rather than what I am. It’s even harder when I have to refer to myself as my old name, and when I have to use a set of pronouns that don’t feel right, because in my small town, people aren’t really ready for gender-neutral ones.

    Anyway, good luck with everything, I’ll be thinking of you and sending some solidarity your way.

  4. July 29, 2009 10:59 pm

    Thanks for the good wishes, people! The fuzzy time between understanding oneself and getting others to understand can be tough.

    Luke, that quote is great, isn’t it? I have it up on my wall. And, it’s good to know things get easier later on; thanks for giving me perspective.

    g531, I like how the word “identifier” points out the roles in interactions.

    gunk, it must be tough coming out as genderqueer. Since I use traditional male pronouns, and because I can bear being seen as “just a boy” by most people, I have more experience coming out as (trans) male. But I have tried to explain the genderqueer aspect of my identity, only to be answered with blank stares. Good luck to you too! (You don’t blog, do you? I’ve seen your comments on genderfork, too; I’d definitely read anything you want to tell the world.)

    • gunk permalink
      July 30, 2009 5:55 am

      :) No, I don’t blog. I’ve been thinking about it lately, and it’s definitely tempting, but I’m not sure if I’ve got so much to say that hasn’t already been said (and I also worry that what I’d write would be overly self-indulgent…. and maybe too exposing. Huh). But I’ll definitely let you know if I start!

  5. Johnny permalink
    August 8, 2009 7:34 pm

    this is the very reason why i don’t sign emails or leave my name on answering machines when i leave messages. i think it confuses the heck out of people, but i find that it just reduces the hassle and people seem to figure out who i am anyways, so they never ask why i did it.

  6. nome permalink
    August 16, 2009 5:31 am

    I really connect with this post. I too will be starting school soon and it will be my first semester using “ze” as a pronoun. I’ve barely gotten my housemates to use it and now I’m going out into a world that is ignorant and doesn’t care. It’s rough. So hopefully we’ll both find a happy solution. :)

  7. August 31, 2009 8:26 pm

    i agree that it can be incredibly hard to deal with name things, especially via email. the tech admin people at my university refused to change my email address and system login name (girl name, last name initial) because they are lazy fucks, but luckily i started teaching and got an email and username that was different (last name, new first name initial). the time in between was difficult – even when i signed off using my chosen name, people still wrote back using the name in my email address. grr.

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