I’ve been thinking about how to talk about naming for a long time, and the midst of a theological discussion of naming seems like as good a time as any. I’ve had people ask me why I call mself Terrance, or what my name is. I’m always at a loss as to what to say.
Well, on one hand, my name is technically still my birth name. And it’s not a bad name- in fact, it’s such a good name that thousands of people have and do use it as their own. But it doesn’t fit. It gives the idea of a chaste, demure lady who is strong in her faith- and I am not. I’m not chaste or demure, and my faith is suffering at the moment. I’m not a lady.
So what’s in a name? It’s understood that a name expresses a piece of your identity. A mother’s maiden name can unlock doors, and a last name on the internet can get a person into trouble. Names are a power and a privelege, but also a tool and responsibility. How well you bear yours varies.
What do I do with my name, then? I struggle, because on one hand, everyone except for a select few know me by my birth name. People I meet are liable to meet my parents as well at some point, and my parents call me daughter, her, Elizabeth. And every time I open my mouth to introduce myself, ‘Terrance’ balances on the tip of my tongue, teetering, hopeful and shy.
Because I don’t know if Terrance is my name either. It fits me far better than my birth name, masculine with a bit of wiggle room. It tastes like it could be a woman’s name, almost but not quite. I’m cautious to claim it as mine, though, because I don’t want to go through explaining to my family that the name they chose doesn’t match my person. I can’t explain, especially to my mother, that I’m not actually a girl, but not a boy either. That I’m neither and both, almost a braid of genders mixed all together and wrapped in one body. A body with breasts and broad shoulders, a body that any doctor would call that of a woman.
But to say that would be terrifying. I’ve attempted, several times, to explain that I don’t quite feel like a girl to my dad, and my sister. And while neither of them have outright rejected me or told me something was wrong with me, they don’t know how to treat me. Because I’m still me, right? Still Elizabeth? How do you ask a person to come to terms with a new name, a new identity, a fundamental shift in the foundation of a person which they’ve never even heard of, barely even conceived?
Needless to say, I didn’t mention my tentative new name.
The need for acceptance runs strong and deep in me. My family, close-knit and private, is largely run by a controlling, conservative mother who manipulates and degrades to achieve her own ends. Imagine trying to tell her that not only am I not a girl (man and woman He created them) but that I’m not a boy (and a husband shall cleave to his wife), that I’m something different and new (you love purple, you always have).
She clings to the idea of cisgender heteronormative as a must for the world to function. I’ve never asked her about what she thinks of trans* issues, but judging by the way she responded to my sister coming out as bi (you’re confused, you’re half man and half woman, you’re going to hell), it’s not pretty. Hell, she found a bottle of men’s bodywash I’d used in my bathroom (it was for your brother!) and stomped away in anger. I cut my hair off (~a post for another day~) and she demanded to know, the bodywash fresh on her mind, whether I thought I was a boy. (~I laughed. She doesn’t know anything.~)
There is also the fear of being mocked by those people who claim to love me the most. My younger sister, laughing at me, degrading instead of trying to understand. (No, you’re a girl, that’s how it is. You’re either a girl or a boy, and you don’t have a penis.) My mom, making comments about my “identity crisis” to undermine and hurt. (~I’ve lived with her my whole life. I expect no less.~)
To say my name, to wear it without a coat overtop of it to hide, would be an honor. To be Terrance, to express the question of my identity and my gender as a must in every new meeting, would be glorious. To hear the flavor of the letters, blue to pink to green-green-red-brown-white-pink, and know that they apply to me, would be a promise from the world.
You are you. You are you. I name you, and I know you. You are safe, and you are mine.
As always, yours,