A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
(Romeo and Juliet)
Isn’t identity, in naming, fascinating? Juliet wished Romeo could just be Romeo without the family name that caused such conflict. When I protest that I am still me – same eyes, same hands, same heart – I am saying my gender title and name do not define the person, and changing them does not change me, my memories or my intentions.
But names are memories aren’t they? I remembered the name of the girl I played with at my first school, aged five. I remember her face very well too, even now, though we soon after went to separate schools afterwards. She was Jane. And remembering her brought back a host of other memories from that time, including the huge green petrol-driven scythe that cut the grass, and the smell of it, or the milk crates (and the smell of them). And I remember that friendship. Somewhere around this time I started having nightmares. Nothing specific, just frightening, and I fought them away by making up stories in my head about the two koala glove puppets my sister and I had, imagining them having a happy day. Mine was Joe, hers was Jane. I also remember the name of the girl I so wanted to sit next to and be friends with, aged 11 (girls and boys mostly sat separately until then). I remember her face very well, even though we soon after went to separate schools. She was Jayne. And this brings back a host of memories too, including the aromatic tobacco of our teacher who smoked a pipe in break times and played a concertina, and thought it a good thing to mix boys and girls in together. And then there were our neighbours through these years; we didn’t play round other people’s houses much but they were a brother and sister too, of our ages, and we often went round on a Saturday. She was Jane too, and as we grew up, I was diverted to play with her brother instead. It was strange that growing up meant growing away from girls, and then going to a boys’ school. I do remember my friends at grammar school, and have related a names story a little while back in a blog here. There were no boys called Jane – only Shirley. But I did end up partnering a girl in chemistry lessons when the school subsequently was merged with two girls’ grammar schools. I remember we were pretty good at titrations. She was called Jane.
No, I was never called Tarzan, in case you were wondering, and all these significant Janes weren’t the only girls I knew, and as it happens, I never had a girlfriend called Jane either. All I am noting is that names bring back a lot of memories, and that this is part of how trans people make decisions about what to call themselves. To lose a former life, or to keep it? To take a the name of a family member, friend or significant other? Many names have male and female equivalents, but some of us want to dissociate, others don’t want to throw anything away, some want a clean break, others to retain continuity and make life easier. Sometimes a name with particular associations is important too, and this played an important part for me. I can understand all these points of view, and it is a lovely time to assert your true identity.
(I didn’t call myself Jane.)
This week my Deed Poll forms came back, with my legal change of title and name, and so I had to start the paper chase to set many records straight. Some may take a while, and some have to follow in sequence, and some in completeness cannot yet be done. But it was remarkably simple to just phone quite a few and report the change. After going through the bank details, carefully repeating that the title was changed to ‘Ms’, I felt quite elated. Then: ‘Anything else, sir?’ she said … Oh well! Friends have said that the hardest bit to remember is she/her. What I like most on the documents is that I am no longer allowed to use the old name, and nor is anyone else. Like the piles of clothes awaiting redistribution, it will never be worn again, and like the clothes, sits there with lots of memories attached to it. But just like I never stopped wearing clothes, so I have merely put on what I prefer, and to be honest, like the clothes, I had gradually introduced Andie into my life already. It’s been in my email and online for ages, even on my bank cards, and all the time it’s been me, not some intruder or imposter.
Once again I am reminded that, as I have revisited my life story to make better sense of it, I have been there narrating a subtext all along. The conflict was there in the name, like Romeo’s, and now the rose has a corrected name. To me it’s not just as sweet, it’s sweeter.
Poems ‘Jane’, ‘How the boy got her name’, and ‘Dear Alan’ feature in the collection Realisations available on Amazon.