When I came out to my wife, I didn’t know where it would lead. I expected rejection; what I got was support. So then although my wife knew about this other side of me, it remained hidden from the rest of the world. Within a few days, this other side of me had a codename. If my wife and I were out clothes shopping together, instead of her saying “I think this dress would suit you”, it would be “Do you think Rachel would like this?”.
For the first year or so after coming out, I still called myself by my old name, still identified as male. But all this time, the way I presented myself to the world moved inexorably towards a stereotypically feminine presentation, and eventually, I felt that the name and the presentation didn’t “match”, and I wasn’t happy with that.
For a long time I said to myself that I would change my name, if only I thought I could get away with it. But I deferred actually doing so, for fear of rejection, of ridicule, of failing at whatever arbitrary goals and rules the world laid out for me – rules to which, for some reason, I felt that conformance was important. Ultimately, I feared that rejection, and the unhappiness it would instil in me. But, eventually, I decided that the time was right: I was going to change my name to something that I was happy with, something that I had chosen. Of course, there was really only one contender: what was previously a secret codename became my legal name. More importantly, it became what people called me in my day-to-day life, what I called myself, and my previous name rapidly fell into disuse.
Ah, but there’s the rub: especially at work, people will still know my dead name, even if they don’t use it. As I approached the time when I would change my name, I thought a lot about this. Would things be better if the people around me didn’t know my dead name? If they didn’t even know I was trans? Is that even possible, that people might not know that about me? Regardless of whether or not it’s possible, is it desirable?
I also gave a lot of thought to the problem of managing identity in an online world. Before my name change, people know me as a certain name; I have email accounts, and Twitter, and Facebook, and various other forms of presence. Should I keep those accounts, but just update as much of the profile data as I could to reflect my new name? Should I set up new accounts under the new name, and refer people over from the old accounts to the new? Or should I set up new accounts, and keep the two as distinct as I possibly can, leaving no trail from old to new – or more to the point, from new back to old?
There is no right answer to any of these problems: it is for each of us, as we navigate our individual transitions, to ponder these questions, and to make the decisions that are right for us.
I’ve been with my current employer for a while now – about eight-and-a-half years. Assuming I change employers at some point before I retire, then when that happens, I’ll almost certainly be working with an almost completely clean slate. My new colleagues will know neither who I am, nor who I was. How open will I be about being trans? Happy to mention it just a readily as I’d mention that I like a good pint? Happy to talk about it, but only if it comes up? Rather not talk about it? Will I go out of my way to avoid saying that I’m trans? Would I lie about it, deny being trans, rewrite history?
But what’s so special about being trans? Why do we treat gender transition any differently from any other kind of change?
There is not a person alive on this planet, cis or trans, who does not change: none of us is immutable. As each person changes slowly, day to day, the memories of who they were fade away, enduring more strongly in those closest to them; whilst the image of them now is reinforced with each fresh meeting, and with each new conversation.
None of us is who we used to be.
My name’s Rachel, and I’m a trans woman. And I’m far happier now than I was before I came out.
by Rachel Evans (@rvedotrc)
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