Disclaimer: this article assumes some baseline knowledge about trans/genderqueer… stuff. Check out any of the Thrill’s Queer 101 articles if you’re confused.
Hi, Kenyon! My name is Cat March. Did you hear me? No? Then I will say it louder. MY NAME! IS CAT! MARCH! I’m a sophomore English major from Providence, Rhode Island. I’m also genderqueer and have recently started the process of changing my name. Initially, I was going to structure this post like a Queer 101 article, but then I realized it was turning into a personal narrative. I’m beginning to take the first steps in my journey to becoming The Person I Want To Be™ and I’ve always found it therapeutic to scream my experiences into the void, so here we are! My adventures in name-changing! Thanks for bearing with me and I hope this is at least slightly informative for people with questions about gender.
The most important thing to equip myself with during my name change is patience. I don’t mean the kind of patience that allows cis people to misgender me or get my name wrong. It’s the kind of patience that fuels my energy to correct someone who has made a mistake. I use it to bring myself to a place where someone can call me “miss” or “ma’am” at Kroger and I can just move on with my life. I’m not trying to say that this is okay because it’s not. I just personally would not recommend discussing the limitations of the gender binary with a white, cis cashier.
It’s also the kind of patience that drove me to put tape over a glass jar and scrawl, “THAT’S NOT MY NAME” in Sharpie for when I come home for the holidays. Every time a family member misnames me, they put twenty-five cents in the jar. All proceeds are going to the queer charity of my choice. I want to transform those sharp jolts of discomfort into something useful and proactive. It’s just a small personal ritual, but it helps. The small things always help.
It’s frustrating to hear someone say, “I’ve been calling you [dead name] for [x] amount of years! I’m so sorry! I’m doing my best!” Any trans person who has done any kind of name change can back me up on this. We really don’t care about your personal attachments to our dead names. We know it’s hard, especially if you’ve known us for a long time, but you know what else is hard? Existing in a world of cisnormativity where a large portion of the population is unwilling to accept your identity as valid. As I walk around, just a small genderqueer bean on my way to class each morning, I wonder how many passersby are thinking of me as a woman. I wonder if my loved ones really see me as myself instead of the girl they met weeks, months, or years ago. I’m doing my best to forgive this world for the violence it inflicts on my community every single day. If you keep on listing excuse after excuse, you’re asking me to validate your cisnormative behavior. I can’t do that for you. I won’t do that for you. If you hear me say, “it’s fine” after your apology, stop apologizing. My favorite people are the ones who correct themselves and move on.
Fun fact, professors really need to stay on top of name changes with their students. I can’t even begin to express how validating it felt to hear my name in a classroom setting for the first time this semester. “Yes? Cat?” Two words and I felt like myself all of a sudden. The other students caught on pretty quickly. This year I’ve been lucky and now, I don’t really hear my dead name anymore.
My least favorite game is called How Can I Avoid You In Peirce If I Know You’re Going To Say Hi To Me And Use My Dead Name. I really don’t have the energy to educate and remind people who aren’t going to make the effort to address me properly. It’s not just Peirce, either. It’s Middle Path, my school back home, group gatherings involving people I haven’t seen in a while… even if I make a public announcement, cis people still have trouble wrapping their heads around the fact that using my dead name hurts me. Even if I don’t correct a person who misnames me, I still feel like that person just punched me in the fucking stomach. Ally pro-tip: Correct Other People For Me If I Don’t Do It Myself. A lot of genderqueer people, myself included, feel uncomfy calling cis people out on their mistakes (especially if you’re early on in the gender discovery process). So. Call other people out. It’s easy and it helps a lot.
Long story short, my name change at Kenyon has been a mixed bag thus far. Whenever I hear my name on the rugby pitch, at sorority events, or in classrooms, I take another baby step towards becoming Myself™. I might not know what my gender is, but I know how I want to be treated. My name is Cat March. I’m a sophomore at Kenyon College. And I can’t wait until the day I never hear my dead name again.