For the majority of my life, I have not identified with or liked the name that my parents assigned me at birth. It is a religious name, and commonly a male name. The latter has been the most difficult as I am often misgendered at medical appointments and government agencies.
I visited my parents for my 27th birthday on September 7th, which fell on Labor Day. I took my boyfriend Ryder along for the trip as I thought it would be nice for them to get to know him more and vice versa. I also did not feel that I would completely be at ease if I went alone. My parents are traditional, religious, and conservative which makes me feel like an outsider. I don’t believe in god, I enjoy pre-marital sex, I don’t believe that the female body is inappropriate and should be covered up; the list goes on. When we arrived, my mom was home and Ryder and I spent a lot of time catching up and conversing with her. She was doing a great job at addressing me by my chosen name. Then when my dad got home, she started to slip up and repeatedly referred to me as my dead name. He corrected her at first, but then stopped. I’m not sure why he didn’t continue to correct her. This continued the entire first day.
The second morning my mom dead-named me four times in less than 10 minutes. She asked me a question using my dead name and I looked at her in silence. She asked “What’s wrong?” and I said “You called me the wrong name four times this morning.” She responded by explaining (mostly to Ryder) how difficult it is because she’s used to the name she gave me at birth and she hasn’t had much time to get used to my new name.
I first told my parents I was changing my name a year ago. Back then, my mother said it would take her a little while to get used to it. Well, it’s been more than a little while. She’s still saying she needs to get used to it so I need to be patient with her. I have been nothing but patient.
That name is no longer who I am. I do not identify with it. I rarely ever did growing up. It had its occasional perks when I fully embraced religion during my childhood. It made me feel special and more holy. Religious people always love my name. But truly, the name had always felt uncomfortable coming out of my mouth. It felt clunky, unnatural, and not me.
People used to ask me stupid questions on a regular basis like, “Isn’t that a boy name?” or “I’m pretty sure that’s a boy name”. You don’t realize how much you introduce yourself until making introductions becomes consistently complicated and/or a pain in the ass.
Now, back to my parents’ house. On the second day, I started to feel anxious. They were not making enough of an effort and I was getting increasingly angry every time I was mis-identified. To me, it felt like I was being ignored. I was not being recognized for who I was. It was not intentional on their part, but that is how it felt. It felt like they were being selfish and self-absorbed. I could continue being silent, but I did not want to risk any conflict or discomfort by correcting them. I needed to figure out how to remind them of my name without letting my anger or annoyance cloud my delivery. So, the second day of the trip, when they were on and off with calling me by the correct name, I began to say my correct name right after they addressed me by my dead name. Just the one word. They corrected themselves immediately.
I corrected them at least six times collectively and by the third day, which was my birthday, they only had one or two slip ups, at most.
Growing up I was not allowed to contradict them in any way, even if they were wrong. This is why I had so much anxiety building up about correcting them. During my childhood, it was their way or the highway and if I tried to correct or contradict them I would be immediately shut down in an aggressive way. A fear I still have is being shut down by my parents if we get into a disagreement. You might be thinking, so what if you disagree? Parents and kids disagree all the time. Yes, they do, but not with my parents. They had the only and final say in all things. Their intent was to train and control me and I was traumatized by their aggressive behavior. My mother wanted me to be afraid of her. It ensured my obedience. I was very obedient and very afraid.
Avoiding confrontation with my parents is a protective mechanism to prevent re-traumatization. However, I want to break out of this and no longer experience anxiety due to fear of their reaction. I believe that during this trip, I took steps in the right direction by correcting them and noticing that I was not hit, yelled at, or punished. Though logically I can expect that I will not have to go through these things again with my parents, past trauma does often make me feel that I am unsafe, especially when I am in the presence of, or communicating with, or thinking about the person the traumatic experience is connected to.
Little by little I quite literally force myself to act against the protective mechanisms I have put in place and have been operating in my entire life. Now, I am in a position where I am safe and surrounded by people who have my best interests in mind. So far, the results of intentionally changing my behaviors and thought processes have been positive. Not easy in the least, but when I take the time to notice where I am versus where I was even a few months ago, the difference is palpable.