coming out

Changing my name at work, Part 1: The Administration

So, I mentioned a few weeks back that my work’s enforcement of name tags spurred me to actually tell them that I’d changed my name, and to ask them to use my real name from now on. It did not go as smoothly as I had hoped. And so this is the first in a series of posts telling the story of what it took to get my name changed at worked.

Back on June 15th, I sent my HR Person a short email letting her know that I had changed my name, and what my new name was. I also made it clear that this was not a legal name change, but that I assumed that wouldn’t be a problem.

The response in its entirety:

Hi [birthname],

We use whatever name is on the identification supplied to us during your payroll sign-up. If we receive formal notification of a legal name change, we will adjust our records accordingly.

So, to be very, very clear, I know for a fact that this is blatantly untrue. I work with many people who go by names other than the one on their id, or who go by versions of their legal name, or their middle name, or whatever. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel like making accusations of bad faith was likely to get me anywhere.

I also noticed that the person I’d emailed didn’t actually have HR in her title, and realized that it was possible I had gotten in touch with the wrong person.

I replied that I understood that they had to keep my legal name on record, and acknowledged that it is what I use for tax purposes and the like, and clarified that I was only seeking a change in informal use, (i.e. how I was referred to at work, and the name on my tag.) I also asked whether I had gotten in touch with the wrong person for handling these informal aspects.

I quickly received a reply (again addressed to my birthname of course) which truly boggles the the mind.

The person I was emailing confirmed that she was, in fact, the HR person, and the correct person for me to be in touch with. She then added:

I discussed your request with the CEO prior to my response to you on June 15. My apologies for not making it clear that I was responding on behalf of the CEO.

We require confirmation of a legal name change in order to adjust our records.

Yeah. Apparently at my workplace right now, HR is not authorized to process name changes without CEO approval. Because that makes total sense, y’all!

And I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know what was going on. The CEO is the person who has been slamming the hammer down hard on making us all wear our name tags, and not to alter them in any way to cover our names, under explicit threats of discipline and veiled threats of firing. I figured she thought I was deliberately kicking up shit, and didn’t want to set a precedent for letting people just say that their name name is something else (although I actually think they should totally be able to do so).

Anyway, I responded with a very long email, explaining my situation in detail. I said that I had changed my name socially over a year ago, that it was what I was called everywhere except for at work. I actually changed my name before starting my current contract, but I applied under my old name in order to have name recognition. I explained that I had originally intended to just ride out this contract under the old name, but that the introduction of name tags in particular had seriously amped up the dysphoria I was experiencing, and that continuing to do so was no longer a reasonable option for me.

I acknowledged that when the name tags were first introduced there had been occasions that I had not worn mine, and that that was because I had trouble getting into the habit. I also acknowledged that I had subsequently covered my name with the word “staff”, as a method of coping with the aforementioned dysphoria. Finally, I pointed out that since the email of the 15th threatening discipline to people who “defaced” their tags in this way, I had been wearing the tag consistently, with my birth name visible, as per the rules.

I also linked them to my facebook, linkedin, and goodreads profiles, as well as my professional development blog, *and* a post introducing me as a new volunteer at the Toronto Multicultural Calendar (dated from before my current contract even started), all under the name Kasey, as evidence that this is actually the name I use and am known by.

I got no response. After two days (i.e. this is Friday the 19th now), I simply sent a little “following up on this” message to make it clear that I was not letting the issue drop.

On Monday, I cracked a little bit and tried to negotiate. I pointed out that in my actual legal name (because they, in fact, only have on file the name I assumed when I got married), my initials are K.C., and asked that since other people go by derivative versions of their real names, could I go by that, or by “Kaycee”.

On Tuesday afternoon, I received a response (which was once again explicitly from the CEO) informing me that my last name was not in question here, and informing me that because, when I was hired, I showed two pieces of id with my birth name, that is what I would be known as at work until such time as I produced a legal name change.

Oh yeah, and also by the way “We now consider this matter to be closed.”

They wish.

Read on with part 2: The Union! Because, believe me, they had an opinion about this, too!

A transgender double-bind

There is no right time to come out as transgender.

I mean, in general the right time is whenever you feel ready, or whenever being in the closet starts feeling like it’s going to kill you, whichever comes first.

What I’m talking about today is cis people’s perspectives on the right time to come out. I’m pretty sure that no matter who you are or when in your life you come out or decide to start a gender transition, you will have one or more people giving you one the following two responses:

  1. “You’re too young to know!” (i.e. you’re doing this too early in life and so I choose not to believe you)
  2. “If you really are transgender, why hasn’t this come up before now?” (i.e. you’re doing this too late in life and so I choose not to believe you)

(Side-note: I’d actually be really curious to hear if there’s anyone out there who managed to come out in some sort of temporal sweet spot that meant they dealt with both these responses from different people.)

Because there’s definitely not a clear line between what ages you’ll be told you’re too young, and at what age you become too old. They almost certainly overlap from person to person, which means that there is definitely no age at which a person can declare that their gender is something other than what their doctors and/or parents guessed it was going to be when they were born and have people in general just accept it.

I am so fucking tired of these absurd excuses, because they are one of many things that actually cause some trans people to delay their coming out, because they are afraid of just these kinds of responses, which can’t be refuted, because they’re carefully designed to be irrefutable. If someone thinks that at your age you can’t possibly know you are transgender, there is nothing you can do to prove them wrong. And if they think that if you really were transgender, they would have, of necessity, seen evidence by now, you can’t prove that wrong either.

And so people delay coming out because they don’t want to deal with this shit (along with all kinds of other often even awfuller shit, of course). And the more they do that, the more the weight of how long they’ve waited can weigh on them and make it even harder, and make it more certain that they will face age-related push-back. It’s an inescapable spiral. And it’s a giant pile of bullshit.

I have nothing more of value add, other than yet another:

Fuck. That. Noise.

On being transgender, and “what if you change your mind?”

I was recently faced with someone close to me (close in the sense of immediate family, not necessarily actual intimacy of relationship, but anyway…) showing genuine concern about my being genderqueer, because “what if I change my mind?”

I know a lot of people face this question, or something like it. For younger trans people, it might take the shape of “but what if it’s just a phase?”

I don’t even know what to do with these trumped up concerns, because really my answer is “so the fuck what if it a phase? So the fuck what if I do change my mind?” Why would that be so terrible? I’m managing to change my gender identity once; if I want to I can probably manage it again. Seriously.

No seriously.

There are four possible scenarios here:

  • It’s not a phase, but Concerned Person thinks it is and doesn’t respect Trans Person’s identity. Concerned Person is an asshole, simple as that.
  • It’s not a phase, and Concerned Person takes it seriously. Awesome! People should totally support the trans folks in their life! Well done Concerned Person, and thank you for just believing the other person.
  • It does turn out to have been a “phase”, Trans Person changes their mind. Concerned Person refers to Trans Person throughout by birth name/pronouns/whatever. The relationship between Trans Person (or I guess, Ultimately-Not-Trans Person in this case) is strained by the time Concerned Person spent being disrespectful and ignoring Not-Trans Person’s wishes. Concerned Person was still an asshole, and is not retroactively justified in their actions.
  • It does turn out to have been a phase, Trans Person changes their mind. Concerned Person used Ultimately-Not-Trans Persons’s preferred pronouns/name/whatever as appropriate for each phase this process. Ultimately-Not-Trans Person comes out of the experience with the knowledge that Concerned Person is someone they can trust to respect them and their identity no matter what. And, importantly, no harm has been done by the fact that Concerned Person used the name/pronouns/whatever that Non-Trans Person later changed their mind about.

Regardless of whether a person later changes their stated gender identity again, (and regardless of how many times they change it), the right thing to do is respect their identity in the moment. Don’t worry about their theoretical potential future identities. They’ll tell you about those when they get to them, and it’s not your problem. Mkay?

Also, you know what? Sometimes “phases”, aren’t “just” anything. Sometimes they’re a really important form of self-exploration, of a person coming to understand themself and the world they live in better. Sometimes phases are awesome life-changing growth opportunities. Sometimes phases are the best thing that ever happened to someone. Why are we shitting on phases, like they’re the worst possible thing that could happen?

I mean, I know in a lot of cases, these Concerned People are worried about potential irreversible medical interventions that trans folks might undertake and then regret. But seriously, you just gotta trust trans folks to make these decisions themselves, because if it’s not phase, (and let’s be really clear here, it almost never is a phase, ok?), *not* getting those interventions may be far more dangerous than the potential regret of them later. Because what if it’s not a fucking phase? Why are people always more worried about the potential consequences of theoretical phases than the actual consequences of constant realities? It’s pretty clear that these Concerned People aren’t really all that concerned about the trans people they know.

Because the convenient thing about the “but what if you change your mind?” thing is that it literally never expires. How long do these people think a trans person should wait to be sure? The spectre of potential mind-changing never goes away. It’s the *perfect* wall for cissexist family members to hide behind to justify any behaviour and make it out as a demonstration of how much they “care”.

And so I say: Fuck. That. Noise.

A sort of emotional paradox

I came out to my parents (about being genderqueer) last spring. I sent them a long email, both so that I could be certain I was saying all that I wanted to say, and also to protect myself from their more immediate reactions, which I knew would certainly be complicated and contain various kinds of badness.

I have been very lucky in the aftermath that they have directed most of their confusion and various feelings at my older brother (he had already known for quite some time, and I suggested to them that it might be helpful for them to talk to him about it). He’s been coming through for me in a big way ever since. It’s sort of funny, because he is genuinely pretty terrible about my pronouns, and has only recently really started working on fixing that stuff, but at the same time he has been incredibly on-point and tirelessly supportive of me in dealing with my parents. I am incredibly grateful, because he’s been doing an awful lot of the heavy lifting, not because he even really gets it, but just because I’m his sibling and he loves me. I have been reduced almost to tears of gratitude a few times, really.

But that’s not what this post is about. Over the holidays, my mom seems to have undergone a sea change in her acceptance of me, and particularly of my new name, which had been a major sticking point for her.

When we were first in contact again after my initial coming-out, one of the things that happened was that I reassured her that I wouldn’t ever be upset by being called by my birth name. In retrospect, I should have been more explicit about the fact that I meant I wouldn’t be upset by her *accidentally* calling me by my birth name. But, live and learn.

It’s actually not a giant deal for me either way, because we aren’t exactly in frequent contact. We primarily communicate via email, mostly because I’m not comfortable phoning home these days (drama with my father which I will not be getting into), and she doesn’t phone me, so.

Anyway, when I got an email from her in November addressed, like all of her previous emails, to my birth name, I included a quick note in my response about how I would appreciate it if she could put in the extra effort to at least call me Kasey in email format, since in writing she has the time to go back and edit in the way that is harder to do when talking.

The next email I got from her was not addressed to me by any name. Which, I mean, that’s fine. I accepted that at least she had received the message and was making a compromise that fit within her comfort levels. I appreciated the thought, to some extent, at least?

More importantly, though, is that this halfway phase appears to have passed very quickly. My xmas care package from home was addressed to me and my husband by our chosen names (he also changed his name a few years ago), including our new shared last name. And the card and etc were addressed to her “beloved child” etc. It was lovely, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more heart-warming (though the chocolate-covered Oreos she sent were also pretty wonderful).

Which is a thing that is weird, really. Because of course in general, if someone were to respond to being informed of someone changing their name, if they decided that the appropriate response was to stop calling that person anything at all, that would be kind of fucked up. It is, in fact, more than a little bit fucked up, in the general case. It’s downright awful, even. It is a pretty fundamental component of respect to call someone by what they tell you they prefer to be called. And not doing so is not ok.

And yet, I was perfectly willing to accept that from my mother. Because when it comes right down to it, I know her well enough to have a really good idea of the kinds of feelings she has been (and still is) having about my gender and about my name change. I was, to her, her only daughter. And now she has no daughters. And the name she and my father gave me is a very meaningful one, albeit through connections to my father’s family. There is, after all, a reason I’ve kept it. It is really more fitting as my last name anyway – it was my grandmother’s last name before she got married.

I know that it is hard for her. I that she is experiencing a great deal of loss. And I know that can’t be helped, really. More importantly, I know that it would be unreasonable to suggest that she could or should feel any other way about it. I also know that she is doing the right thing in that she has not dumped much of her pain on my back. She is getting support elsewhere, and while she has asked me questions about my gender and the ways I express it, she has done so respectfully and listened to my responses. And so she gets a sort of rhetorical space and compassion around these things that most people wouldn’t merit. We are, right now, both doing all kinds of work to make sure we continue to have a good relationship, and we are, really, much closer now than we have been in many years, because I am no longer hiding myself from her.

It is, however, endlessly strange to think about the fact that what I accept with a huge amount of gratitude from my mother is something I would consider to be the most basic human decency from a random stranger. There is something about being transgender in the world as it works today that flips these kinds of expectations on their head when it comes to certain kinds of close relationships. It’s hard to reconcile, but at the same time I know that it is right, and that this is the best way that things can be right now, in this world.

Follow-up

In case anyone is interested, the much shorter coming-out missive I sent to my friends not involved with the person I had a falling out with follows:

Hey [greeting varied],

I almost want to apologize in advance, because this is going to be a weird one

I just want to put everyone on notice that I am no longer identifying as [gender assigned at birth]; my preferred pronoun is they/them/their. I’ve written about this, and some related issues here:

[in the original, I included a link to the related LJ post. You can read it on this blog here]

Hopefully if you read through this (and the comment section, where I think some things get more clarified) it will make some kind of sense to you. And you can feel free to ask me any questions if you want to understand it better.

Thanks all!

A gender identity primer

gender: queer (via un_cola on Flickr)

As good a place to start as any, I guess.

I originally wrote the following in part as a coming-out piece on my livejournal. The other part of the impetus was a falling out I had had with a friend, in which he postulated that people who don’t want to be known as either “she” or “he” should go by “it”, and I had struggled to explain why that is totally not ok (which is where some of the harsher rhetoric is coming from). Anyway, here it is:

Non-standard gender identities are any identities other than the masculine and feminine. “Genderqueer” is often used as a blanket term for these kinds of identities, but I don’t think that it necessarily accurately describes everyone. People’s gender identities are expressed in a myriad of ways, but I think the one that is most apparent and striking is often their use of a pronoun other than “he” or “she”. I kind of want to take the time here to explore the meanings for some of the different pronouns that get used, and some of the motivations that may lay behind the choice to use each one.

I should preface this by saying that what I’m writing here is not definitive in any way whatsoever, and that I can’t even remotely hope to cover all of the considerations or perspectives of people with non-standard gender identities, or their reasons for choosing the pronouns they do – this is a very individual call, and each person’s feelings about individual pronouns may vary.

“It”: in the English language, “it” is a genderless pronoun. As such, it may seem to be a clearly appropriate pronoun for genderless people. However, the word also has a problematic history in it’s application to people. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that calling a person “it” makes it easier for one to commit atrocities against that person; as such, the act of actively choosing to identify oneself as such is an unfathomably brave form of self-expression (regardless of the reasons for that choice). It also means that suggesting that this pronoun is the most appropriate pronoun for someone who does not actively identify as such is inherently disrespectful. Not only can it come across as dehumanizing, even if it is clear that that is not your intent, it is presumptive to assume that such a genderless pronoun is suitable for every non-masculine, non-feminine person. Not all of us are genderless (and this is actually only one of many reasons why someone may decide against an identification as “it”).

“They”: because “they” is often used as a singular in cases of a gender indeterminate antecedent, it can be the perfect pronoun for gender indeterminate (or gender-fluid) people (like me!). Rather than being genderless, my gender identity is actually just subject to the whim of the moment. And rather than expect people to check in with me hourly to see if I’m more of a he or a she at the moment, I prefer that they use “they,” as I feel that such use leaves room for whatever self-expression feels most appropriate to me at any given moment. I suspect that other people have different motivations for the use of this pronoun, but I hope this gives you the flavour of the kind of considerations involved. For me, “they” is simply the most accurate word.

“Ze”: some people have alternative gender identities that are more concrete and stable than mine. For these people, their gender identities may be seen as simply something new that the language has not yet accounted for, and as is usually the case when new concepts arise in a culture, new words are sometimes required to accommodate and acknowledge these identities. In using the pronoun “ze,” someone may wish to communicate (among many, many other things) that their identity fits a category that is entirely separate from the masculine and feminine genders.

“Ou”: the basic concepts that apply to ze can be applied here as well. I have to admit that I am confused by the fact that “ou” seems to be a derivative of the second-person singular instead of the third-person singular (as is “ze”). However, since I know how difficult it is to actively take on and express an alternative identity like this, I am certain that a great deal of soul-searching goes in to the decision to use the pronoun. As such, I would never presume to reduce such a choice to the person’s misunderstanding of the grammar involved; I am certain that there are some very real motivations behind this choice. If/when I find out what they may be, I will let you know!

EDIT: So I looked into it; turns out that ou is an archaic English term, and it simultaneously encompasses the pronouns “he”, “she”, and “it”. That’s kind of awesome.

And of course, I should also note that there are other pronouns out there, and that each individual person chooses their pronoun for their own reasons.

So yeah, these are just some of the things that genderqueer people and people of other non-standard gender identities consider in their quest to accurately represent and express themselves to others. The kindest thing you could for anyone who tells you about an identity that you don’t understand is to ask what their identity means to them, directly and non-judgmentally, without presuming that you know more about what their chosen identification means than they do.

That said, now that I have actually come out about my own identity, if you do have any questions or hesitations about it, please feel free to ask me about it. I’d like to help you to feel comfortable with this, and I know that’s not necessarily an easy place to get to. Just be aware that I have put a lot of thought into this and that my identity is not open to any kind of debate.