I’ve always joked that my using a pen name connects me to the trans community in a way I never expected: I have an “old” name and a current name, and people get irritated if they feel I haven’t told them my “real” name. Transitioned people tend to get similar questions, albeit the gendered version. But this whole idea of having a “real” name is a funny one to me: Helen is my real name, in that it’s what people call me, and also it’s my legal middle name.

But the naming issue is really the tip of the iceberg, where the issue is more about having a “real” life compared to a persona’s life, and while I’m sure many people experience and understand this idea now, what with online handles and Second Life avatars, there is something about the aspect of being a public person that’s specific:

This fictional version of you is additionally compounded by the fact that, if you’re a writer, the version of you they’re building from isn’t the experience of you (as in, you’re someone they know in real life), but from the fiction you write and/or the public persona you project, either in writing (in blogs and articles) or in public events, such as conventions or other appearances. The fiction one writes may or may not track at all to one’s real-world personality or inclinations, and while one’s public persona probably does have something to do with the private person, it’s very likely to be a distorted version, with some aspects of one’s personality amped up for public consumption and other aspects tamped down or possibly even hidden completely.

All of which is to say these fictional versions of one’s self are to one’s actual self as grape soda is to a grape — artificial and often so completely different that it’s often difficult to see the straight-line connection between the two.

I might posit grape juice instead of grape soda, but you get the idea.

This TDOR: Why Not “Tranny”?

& To close this year’s Trasngender Day of Remembrance, a note from Mara Keisling of NCTE on what the day means, why not “tranny,” and what next:

The Day of Remembrance, which we commemorate tomorrow, is a time of mourning for transgender people, a time to honor the lives tragically cut short by another person’s hatred or fears. It is also a time to look at how we can have fewer and fewer deaths to commemorate on this day in years to come.

Each year as I look at the names and faces of those we have lost, they touch me profoundly and they also call me to a renewed commitment to the work ahead of us. We have to use every tool available to us to stem the tide; one of those tools is federal law.

A full year has passed since the passage of the first federal law to offer protections to transgender people-the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. While the law certainly won’t end the problem of hate crimes, it does provide new avenues to address violence when it occurs. For the very first time, the Department of Justice and federal law enforcement officials have been authorized to take action to address the violence that transgender people face. And, while it’s easy to be cynical about the government, there are people in law enforcement who are truly and deeply dedicated to working with us to address the violence.

We’ve been at the table with the FBI and other departments as they’ve worked to update their training programs to include explicit information about gender identity and change the way they record information so we gain vital knowledge about the extent of the problem. I know, paperwork doesn’t seem like it will do anything. There is something very important about seeing the word “transgender” there in the manuals and forms because it means that the federal government is making a record and taking notice of the horrific violence we as a people face. It is information they can use to prosecute a crime and ensure that local law enforcement takes violence against us seriously. It will also help formulate violence prevention programs.

But there’s also something awful about knowing that those forms will record the terror of victims of hate-motivated violence. Law enforcement officers will note down the weapons used, the damage done and the derogatory words that are said to harm a transgender person-someone’s child, or partner, or parent, or loved one.

One of the reasons that we don’t use the word “tranny” at NCTE is because we’ve heard too many stories of violence. We know that when someone hears that word, it often heralds the beginning of an attack. And words matter when we look at hate crimes; the language used is, in fact, part of how we determine if something is a hate crime, because words are one of the weapons used to hurt the target of the violence. Because in a hate crime, damage is done to hearts and spirits as well as to bodies-and sadly, that’s the perpetrator’s point. We hear regularly, especially over the past few weeks, from transgender people who tell us that “tranny” is a word that feels hostile and hurtful to them. We shouldn’t use words that cause pain to others, especially when the word is one that, horrifyingly, transgender people hear as they are being bludgeoned. We have to use our words differently than that.

This week, the Department of Justice brought federal hate crimes charges under the new law for the first time, against white supremists who attacked a developmentally disabled Native American man in New Mexico. Disability was one of the other new categories added to the hate crimes laws, along with gender identity. It is a reminder that violence to any of us hurts all of us.

There are many more cases that are currently in the midst of the legal and investigative processes that have to happen before charges are filed. Each of these cases makes a statement that hate crimes are intolerable and illegal.

But we also have to keep our eye on our goal-ending violence against transgender people. We do this by educating people about the realities of our lives and by asserting our human rights to express who we are and to live in safety. To make this a reality, we have to build a climate of acceptance, free of derogatory words and angry fists, and filled with respect for the differences among us.

Internalizing Name Changes

As most of you know by now, I was not christened Helen Boyd; it is not my legal name, although Helen is my legal middle name. But I’ve come to be known as Helen Boyd, & so when I arrived at Lawrence to teach for only a term, in the winter of 2008, I didn’t think twice about people calling me Helen. I was just ending a year of book tour where being Helen was a normal state of affairs.

Since then, however, we seem to have moved to this Wisconsin town, and the people who met me as Helen still call me Helen, & they introduce me to their friends & fellow faculty as Helen. The name plate on my door says Helen Boyd Kramer. Sometimes, in places where I regularly present a credit card, say at my salon, it’s a little jarring to be called Gail, and even more jarring when one of my friends who calls me Helen is with me, and yet it’s still odd to me that I’m not Gail.

So I’m wondering, trans folk & others who have changed your names, when do you internalize a name change? I find I call myself Gail when I’m talking to myself (and I assume I am (1) not the only one who talks to myself, and (2) not the only one who uses a name when I do).

Then I wonder if it matters much, since my name change has nothing to do with gender.

Where I think it matters is how it intersects with other aspects me that go unrecognized here – like my history of heterosexuality, for starters, and sometimes even my trans-partnerness (since it’s not like we’re out as a trans couple when we talk to our dry cleaners, say).

George, Meet James

Wow, this is depressing to read. It’s also not even a little surprising.

In light of all that, then, I shouldn’t have been surprised that using a male pseudonym had such a dramatic effect on Chartrand’s career. Death threats and sexually degrading commentary directed at women writers seem very 21st century — so modern! so fresh! — but being paid half as much for the same work? Landing fewer jobs? Receiving more criticism and less respect? That just sounds so old-fashioned. I learned about women posing as men to get work in elementary school history lessons, not when I went to grad school for writing. The thought that if I’d tried writing as, say, Kevin Harding, I might have earned far more money, opportunity and authority than I have, is almost as inconceivable as it is chilling. Since the Brontë days, says Chartrand, “we’ve had feminism. We have the right to vote, to own property, to be members of Parliament and Congress, to get a job, and to be the main breadwinner of the family. And yet apparently we haven’t gotten past those 19th century stigmas.”

Here’s the original.

Maybe I should have been George and not Helen after all.

Name Changes

A graduate student in journalism at CUNY recently wrote a cool article / multimedia presentation on the recent changes to the name change laws in New York State. Our own Caprice Bellefleur, the veteran mod of the mHB forums, who works with the Name Change Project, was interviewed.

A New York County appeals court ruled on October 21 that a transgender person does not need a doctor’s note to change his or her name. This decision reversed a Civil Court denial of a name-change petition. (See here for more information.)

The decision could impact all of New York state, Caprice Bellefleur said by email. Bellefleur is a volunteer lawyer for the West Village Trans-Legal Clinic, which provides pro bono legal assistance to transgender people seeking to legally change their names. “Any decision that eases the [name-change] process can be used to argue for the same result across the state,” said Bellefleur.

So do go check it out.