22nd July, 2021 9:27 am
Not every trans person will want to change their name and pronouns, but I did both. It’s a personal decision and, as with many elements of trans experience, the reasons for or against are unique to everyone. Not every trans person will seek surgery or hormone treatments; not every trans person will slot neatly into a different gender. There’s a spectrum of experience, of light and shade, colour and texture, meaning that people who identify as trans can be gloriously diverse in their expression.
I identify as non-binary; I explain this to people with a shorthand of “I don’t identify as either a man or a woman”, but this is a simplification of what it really means to me. At times I feel very drawn to one end of the spectrum or the other; it took a long time for me to find and understand the concept of being non-binary and recognise it as the most convenient term for myself. As I’ve said previously, my journey to identifying as non-binary started less as a “shift” from one gender to another, and more as a removal of all the gendered baggage that I’d collected over my life that made me uncomfortable or despairing. I only started to feel happy once I started offloading the stuff I didn’t need.
One of these things was my name. I didn’t have the most “masculine” name before (though, what is a “masculine” name?), but it felt mired in years of gender dysphoria and confusion. I’ve often joked with friends that my old name carried so much gender with it in my mind that it might as well have had a codpiece. After so much back and forth in my brain, so many instances where I had the truth on the tip of my tongue, it felt essential that I renamed myself. If I were being romantic, I might say that it was necessary for my rebirth, but that’s not entirely accurate. Renaming myself was a gift to myself; to claim that agency over my life was incredibly empowering, but it was also political.
It’s been some time now since I came out, and I’ve been able to re-evaluate my memories of myself through this new lens, to peel away the shame around transness. There’s instances I can remember now of nearly telling people about my gender confusion but biting it back. There’s times I can remember being heartbroken with the certainty that I was really a girl, and other times where I was relieved to feel like a boy again. Now that I’m out as trans, I feel so tenderly for that past me, the exhausting vacillations between certainty and uncertainty. My new name was a reward for surviving that, and concurrently an act of defiance. I was stamping a date on my newly discovered confidence, on my reclamation of myself. By changing the way others around me had to interact with me, I was demanding the respect that I’d spent my entire life feeling unworthy of. I had done this hard, taxing work to figure myself out, and we were all going to recognise it, and respect it. It was the line in the sand for everyone, including myself.
At times, the gravity of changing my name felt quite daunting. Sometimes it was just a word. Sometimes it was the most powerful, most important thing in my world. On certain nights I would spiral while trying to fall asleep, worrying about losing my identity when I lost my old name. Eventually, though, I realised that these weren’t my worries exactly; they were absorbed predictions of what other people close to me might feel. I came to understand that I felt nothing but excitement for the change. Eventually it stopped even feeling like a change at all and closer to a reveal. When I told my parents about my intentions, I had a similar set of contradictory arguments ready. I was ready to placate them with, “It’s just a word, nobody is dying…”, and also ready with, “This is who I am, it’s important that you use this name for me.” It was a very intense period of doublethink and self-editing that ultimately took a toll on my mental health.
You might think that it’s a terrible responsibility to have to choose a new name for yourself. Indeed, I’ve never been great at settling on names. In my few attempts at writing fiction, the burden of creating a realistic but beautiful name has crippled me. But in this case it wasn’t. I’d had the name “Erin” in my head for a long time, before I really even understood myself as trans of any description; the name carried weight and familiarity for me, so when I started contemplating changing my name, it was waiting for me. It appears gendered at first, but is in fact unisex, which I think is a great, though accidental, metaphor for me. A few favourite characters from TV and books had the name, a couple of people I liked had the name, but it spoke to me on a level below that. I don’t know that I can adequately explain it, but there was a connection.
I began looking into legally changing my name before the pandemic, but got sidelined. Now I’m looking into it again. There’s a nominal fee to pay to have the name change advertised, and I have to fill out forms for the Scottish parliament, where I’m from. It’s not always necessary to follow this route, as you can create a deed poll yourself, but some institutions (banks, hospitals and such) need a particular type of document to legally change your records.
It still thrills me to hear people say it. My family are still getting used to it, but on the occasions when they do use my new name, hearing the rolled R of their Scottish accents on “Errin” makes me feel understood, and valued. And real.
Source: Vogue, July 2021.
Categorised in: News