On “Going Full-Time” – Part 6: Finale
In order to make my personal decision a public act, to honor the transformation I had undertaken, to admit the participation of the people in my life, I chose to give up my given name and claim a new one.
And so I drafted the message below, populated the b.c.c. field with every email address I could find. Then I sat. Cursor hovering over the ‘send’ button, cognizant that a single click separated two lives. One simple act would irrevocably alter every aspect of my existence. My heart raced and my mind was flooded with all the doubts I never fully escape.
I indulged in a few deep breaths, slipped on my headphones and pulled up a playlist of my favorite music. I began with my single most beloved track, African Suite — Mbira by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. Insides began to unwind. With each successive piece I felt more present. By the time Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros began, I was filled with a familiar joy, the bliss, the ananda of simply being. In that space, the weight of the moment disappeared. I smiled, hit ‘send’ and laughed out loud.
To you, all my friends, family and colleagues,
I am writing to share a personal transition with those of you who have not yet heard. In brief, I am transgender and have changed my name to Jen Richards. I ask that you use female pronouns for me and update your records. My new work email address is now [x] and my personal email address is [x]. You are welcome to share this with anyone you believe should or would like to know.
For many, this is all you need, or may want, to know. I thank you for your attention.
For those who care to learn more, either about transgender issues in general or me personally, please feel free to follow this link to further information on my website: http://wehappytrans.com/personal/jens-announcement/
Note: please give me a little time to reply to your messages. It has been a long journey to this point, and I may need a bit of rest before going any further. Thanks much.
Since then, I’ve changed my email addresses, social media profiles and steadily update every instance of my old name. Two weeks ago I filed the paperwork to have my name legally changed (and will go to court on June 6th to finalize it and secure new IDs). These were my ritual acts.
My colleagues and friends now refer to me as Jen and use female pronouns. I can talk about my work in my personal networks. I can show up to board meetings, concerts and workshops presenting however I want, with nothing to hide.
For the first time in my adult life, I have one identity. And there is joy in this.
At the start of this post (which became a six part series; thank you logorrhea), I wrote: “If I am becoming a man, woman or neither, at what point have I become one? At what point does my society, the various communities I exist in, recognize that such a change has occurred, and therefore confer the appropriate roles? Can ritual help broker such a shift? If so, what rituals are available for such negotiation? Who designs and officiates such an act, i.e., on whom is such power conferred? How do mind, body, spirit, the private and public, the personal and social, intertwine in such a moment?”
I meant these questions in earnest. As recently as a month ago I was struggling for answers. Based on my recent experiences, however, my provincial answers are below. I’d very much like to hear your thoughts on these as well.
“If I am becoming a man, woman or neither, at what point have I become one?”
As this series has revealed, I personally needed my identity recognized by others in order to feel the change was real. It was when I asked my community to recognize me as Jen that my becoming felt affirmed.
“At what point does my society, the various communities I exist in, recognize that such a change has occurred, and therefore confer the appropriate roles?”
The blithe answer here is “When I insist on it.” I’d like that to be true. It should be true. This has been true for me, but I’ve learned I’m a rare exception. Through social media and a few trans groups in Chicago, I’ve come into contact with far, far too many stories of discrimination, harassment, refusal to recognize names and pronouns, failure provide appropriate medical services, denial of entry to gendered spaces, job loss, abandonment by family and friends, homelessness, suicides prompted by hopelessness, threats of violence and actual murder. All because someone dared authenticity.
It’s only been through exposure to these stories that my own story’s unusual contours have been visibly foregrounded. I had 30+ years of moving through the world as a white male, so not only had I been granted privilege, I had been well trained to insist on it. A native blend of traits consistently landed me in leadership roles where I learned how to wield power. The struggles I had been through tempered me with perspective, independence and resilience. I work in the arts, where I had already earned the respect of colleagues in the field, and live in a queer neighborhood in a major city. And though I honestly don’t see it myself, I have been told and accept I also enjoy “passing privilege”. Taken together, my situation is extraordinarily extraordinary, and so I did get to decide when my communities recognized my identity.
HOWEVER, there is no reason the affirming elements of my story can’t be in every trans person’s story. They should be. In fact, they should be part of every person’s story. Anytime anyone seeks to honor their truest self, if it brings no harm to others, they should be applauded and encouraged. Stories like mine, and some of the others who have lent their voices to this site, are models of the possible. Now we have to all fight so that such possibilities are afforded all those who want them.
“Can ritual help broker such a shift? If so, what rituals are available for such negotiation?”
For those open ritual, yes it can help. Further, the structure of ritual is amenable to wide range of specific applications, including the wholly secular. There are many naming, rebirth and baptismal rituals that could be appropriated. I’d love to hear from others who have used ritual to mark moments in their gendered lives.
“Who designs and officiates such an act, i.e., on whom is such power conferred?”
As above, there is a tension here between the notion of personal claimed power and how that power is recognized by the wider community. Almost every #transchat discussion so far could be summed up as evidence of trans people struggle to wrest this control from others for themselves. Taken together, the hundreds of trans blogs (I’m thinking particularly of Cisnormativity, which everyone should follow), clearly reveal a community claiming its power through a stunning variety of techniques, mediums, and discourses. Make no mistake, this is a revolution.
“How do mind, body, spirit, the private and public, the personal and social, intertwine in such a moment?”
Oh hell, I don’t know. And I’m damn tired of talking.
Love you all.