I never liked my birth name. Even as a child I didn’t like the way it sounded, so soft, girly and weak. Sorry, Mum and Dad. I know it was given to me in love, but from a very early age I did not associate it with my Self. For years, though, it didn’t even occur to me that I could do anything about my name – I just assumed that your name was your name, and that was that. Around eight years ago, I started using a shorter, much simpler, more androgynous name, a spin off from my old name. This had power for me because it was a name I had given myself, and it did not immediately label me male or female, weak or strong.It was simply a name that allowed me to be.
I used that second name for a long time, but a few people were never happy that I had changed, clearly not taking my desire to be referred to a certain way very seriously. I will never forget family coming to see my partner and I, and visiting the local village fete – full of old ladies, home-made jam and a flower arranging competition. Everybody there knew me by my chosen name. However, one member of my family told every single person she was introduced to “You know that’s not her real name, don’t you? Her real name is X”. It was destroying.
Yet again I have changed my name, to Mark. I chose it because it’s short, unassuming, undeniably masculine, and is similar to my Dad’s name. The majority of my friends and family have made a monumental effort to call me this, and I am more grateful than they can possibly imagine that they are trying their best. My choice of name is core to my being accepted for the person I am. I respect the fact that some people still think of me by my birth name, but I cannot stand it being used. What is worse is when people try to make a joke of it, or explain why they have got it wrong. Please, if you slip up and call me the wrong name, just say sorry, correct yourself and carry on. Don’t go into a long-winded speech about how difficult you find it calling me by the right name, or make an embarrassed joke. I might be smiling, and saying it’s ok, and doesn’t matter, but it does.
As I’ve said, most people are now pretty cool with calling me Mark, but pronouns are clearly more of an issue. I identify as male, and choose to be called he, him and so on. I’ve listened to far too many excrutiating statements a little like this: “Mark would like that new album. She’s into that kind of music, isn’t she?” It’s as if people can wrap their brains around the idea of me being called Mark, but somehow stall at using the correct pronouns. Look, even I get it wrong sometimes, when referring to myself in the third person (I can’t think of an example just now) but it’s easy enough to say “oops, I meant he” and carry on.
A friend of mine found that people claimed they “weren’t ready” to call her partner by the right name and pronouns when he transitioned, but I’m afraid that when the person transitioning asks you to call them by a particular name, and use particular pronouns, THAT is the time you should do it, not at some hypothetical future point at which you may be ready to. Sorry if this sounds harsh. I know that accepting my name change and choice of pronouns is difficult, but it’s been nearly six months, and I need the reassurance that the changes I am making are being taken seriously.
I have been asked by people who have only recently met me what my “real name” is. Here is one of the cardinal rules of treating transgender people with respect: Do. Not. Ask. Us. What. Our. “Real”. Name. Is.
Because my real name is Mark.