What’s In A Name?


There are so many facets to coming out as a trans person. As an adult or even older youth, I assume many transgender individuals are constantly thinking about all the ways their life would be and will be different before they begin revealing to people how they feel inside. When a young child presents as transgender, despite professionals advising parents in this situation to follow the child’s lead and let them pave the way to wherever the path is going, ultimately the responsibility for all major decisions lies on the shoulder’s of the parent. A parent who hasn’t spent days or weeks or years day dreaming about how differently life could be for them (unless you count what I think my life might be like as a Kardashian. But I don’t. Should I?). There are many situations that have come up that I haven’t even come close to contemplating until the instant it’s shoved in my face and I’m forced to make a BIG decision on the fly. One I’m not sure I’m ready to make on behalf of my dependent. One I’m scared to take the credit or, more likely, the blame for later.

I have joined every parenting group I can find to connect with other moms and dads with children like mine; to bounce ideas off of them, to share my fears, or hear their successes and horror stories, to prepare myself for the journey ahead of us. But sometimes, no matter how much you research, how much you prepare or plan, there is no warning for situations you are going to have to tackle.

One topic that comes up a lot is names. And more specifically, legal name changes. I’ve heard of parents petitioning for these legal name changes as young as 3. Kids that haven’t even been able to put their feelings about their gender into words (because they didn’t have words) for very long. Kids that don’t know how to articulate how they feel yet, just that they feel wrong or different. 

Until today, I couldn’t wrap my head around why someone would go through this excruciating process with a young child to officially and legally change their name. In my thoughts, there is a good possibility the child’s feelings on the name they choose may change. Many times. I can’t even confidently select a sandwich to make my child for lunch for the following day without concern that their taste buds will change overnight and they will instantly reject PB&J and only eat ham from that point on (until Friday, then it’s something else, isn’t that how all kids work?). In my experience, kids are notoriously indecisive.

I guess perhaps this is where some of my misunderstanding or my personal bias comes in. I think about how when I was younger I wanted people to call me Dorothy for many months because I had watched the Wizard of Oz and wanted to be the girl in the blue and white plaid dress with ruby slippers who could click my heels and transport to other parts of the world, whenever the hell I wanted to. I didn’t respond if you didn’t call me by my new, chosen name, and most people thought it was adorable and would play along. Fancy that, because when my trans son asks people he knows and admires to please call him by the shortened version of his name, some have flat out refused… apparently it’s not “adorable” when it’s serious and a matter of acceptance and mental well-being. {eyeROLL}. I digress. My parents would have never ran out and changed my name to Dorothy even if I had been consistent and persistent about this. And, as luck would have it, the phase ended and I was back to answering to my birth name in no time. Maybe this is a bad analogy, because, for trans kids, a name is a BIG deal.

I have read about changing a child’s name, legally, but I have not embarked on this journey yet. It’s a big step. One many parents and trans kids will consider a huge milestone and success to be celebrated. It’s a process that includes court filings, court hearings, money, and going in front of a judge pleading your case to prove this is in the best interest of your child. I don’t know what the statistics are on getting denied, but I do know it certainly happens. And I couldn’t even begin to imagine the disappointment families must feel at the mercy of the judge who just denied their child’s existence as their true self, in a way.

A trans person’s birth name associates them with someone they used to be, someone that was in pain, someone that was misunderstood and living a life that wasn’t true to themselves. Their birth name (also known in the trans world as a dead name) isn’t THEM anymore. They are now known by a new name, one with hope, with peace, and most importantly (and hopefully), acceptance. So to refer to a person who is trans by their old name is considered offensive and hurtful. It can cause emotional trauma, especially if it’s done intentionally. It can remind them of all of their terrible experiences living as someone they were not. And as a parent, no one wants to knowingly put their child in a situation where that could happen. Ever.

Getting to the point (finally)…. I met with the school this week to talk about my son and his situation. We are just starting elementary school and as if coming into kindergarten isn’t scary enough for a child, my child socially transitioned from a girl to a boy since we registered last winter and it has put us into a tailspin of explanations and preparation before school starts. I feel the need to give them some insight as to how he likes to be referred to, what staff members should be included in his circle of trust, and what situations we can try to prepare for.

It wasn’t until this meeting that it clicked. I now understand why parents of young trans kids are changing their names. The principal informed me that per state law there are certain forms, certain cards or documents that will have to be received by my child with his full (girl) name on it, because that is the name that coincides with his birth certificate. If he has to sit down and take a state exam, there will be a box he will have to obediently check that says “yes, this is me (dead name )”.

The summer camp my kids attend is one my son has been registered with for years. They had his girl name on the roster, and this is another one of those situations that had to punch me in the face for me to be like “ahhhh, shit, this isn’t good and I should have prepared for this”. We walked in the door and he noticed his name tag and got upset, hurt, and didn’t want to go inside the classroom. I quickly alerted the counselors who swiftly changed his name tag, attendance list, and cubby holes for backpacks, and that was that, problem solved. But in school, it’s not going to be so easy.

If the teacher is a sub, the lunch staff is in a hurry, or the librarian doesn’t make a conscious effort to correctly call my child out by their preferred name over the name they will see on the computer screen or card he hands over…. this might devastate him. This might “out” him to whoever is in line with him, to his classmates or peers, and it could be terrible. I instantly felt pressured with the decision of keeping his legal name and preparing him for these anticipated situations that WILL arise through the school year, or starting the process of changing his name legally and hoping that as a 5 year old he has the wisdom to pick a name he will want to carry for the rest of his life. What kind of pressure is that for a child? It’s immense. He has a name picked out, he’s been testing it out for over a month when strangers he meets ask him his name. He likes it and ironically it was one of the first names he told me we should call him on the VERY DAY he told me that in his heart and in his brain, he is a boy. Maybe he will stick with that name forever. But what if he doesn’t?

But am I? Pressured… that is. Is this a national or state-wide law or just a district policy? Is this something I’m being told is a requirement when really it’s just never happened before at this level in the school and they don’t know how to address it? Stay tuned because this is something I’m going to get to the bottom of. This is one of those times when being an advocate for your child is so important. Therapists and doctors will talk about putting your child on hormone blockers to keep them out of puberty and give them more time before making long term decisions, and this is one of those circumstances that warrants more time to decide.

So on top of getting my kids prepared for a new school year and trying to learn as much as I can about what is going on with my child, I am now going to start researching what the hell the law says and why a name has to be officially and legally changed in order to get a report without your kid’s full girl name on it. I’m scrutinizing district policy and what it will take to have the system changed so that I can give my kid (and myself) more time to think about this. More time to be sure before we go making a drastic change that is something I vowed not to do until years down the road. Something that isn’t easily reversible.

I guess we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Mom Transparenting

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