Personal Statement: "Call Me Lo"

Tuesday, January 17, 2017 - 12:02pm

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Illustration by Claire Abdo

 

Right now, I don’t have a name. More accurately, I have about five. A few are more correct than others, but I’d respond to all of them. Rather than a “real name,” I might just be in possession of a bunch of labels — some of which describe who I used to be, while others lay out my plans for the future.

Since I came out as a trans woman, my legal name doesn’t match the name I call myself, which sometimes doesn’t match what I hear from friends and family, or the one I use in class. I juggle my monikers throughout each day, trying to decide which one feels best for each situation.

If I met you for the first time in person today — shaking your hand and all that — I’d probably say “Hey, I’m Adam.” And you probably wouldn’t think that much of it. I basically look like an Adam. I have longer hair, maybe, or more feminine glasses, but in sweaters and jeans, I still look male, and I’m not going to fuck up that impression and tell you my life story the very first time we meet.

Adam is still what my parents call me. It was the name on my Christmas presents this year. It’s still what some of my friends call me. And, given that it’s my legal name, Adam is still what I use when I’m on the phone with pharmacists or insurance people, trying to figure out how to get the prescriptions I need to facilitate my transition. I always wonder if the people at the other end of the line know what the prescriptions are for, what the names of the drugs actually mean, and if so, do they realize how weird and confusing it is that they still call me Adam? But if they are raising their eyebrows at the boy’s name next to a request for Estradiol, they don’t betray it in their voices.

And truth is, I don’t mind Adam all that much. It’s a fine, efficient name, and I can easily deal with hearing it from professors and dentists and whomever else. There’s a power in your life story and identity, and it’s freeing to share it or not share it with whomever you wish.

At the same time, I can’t help but say I’ve been having more and more visceral reactions to being called Adam in social settings. I choose not to correct anyone, because I’d rather they call me the most natural word they know rather than force someone to do something that doesn’t feel right to them. But I’ve started feeling this tightening in my heart, little pricks of denial and rebellion in my brain when I hear my old name. It’s nothing I take personally, but I think I still look in the mirror too much and see a lie. I feel like I’m showing the world something that I don’t want them to see — that nobody actually recognizes who I really am. My old name reinforces that false perception.

The best workaround I’ve found so far — the best mix of personal expression and privacy — is simply, “Theisen.” It’s my last name, pronounced like “Tyson” for reasons I’ve never been able to explain, and in some circles, it’s turned into this cool kind of mononym that I honestly really enjoy. It’s mysterious and gender-neutral and it hints at the truth without being overly blunt about it. It’s clearly temporary, but I think it’s a fun and effective way to handle the awkward middle ground I’m in right now. I look male, but I’m not. I feel female, but I’m not quite there yet, visually. At least my last name is nice and consistent.

When I first knew that I was trans — like, not when I was just worried about my gender, but when I finally confirmed it to myself that I’m a trans woman — a new name was an overwhelming choice. I didn’t know if I should just feminize my name into something like “Adele” or “Addison,” but that felt too weird, too much like I was just tweaking my male life. There were too many choices, though, in the wide world of names. I needed something I could have a personal connection to, something I thought was cute and would say something about me and didn’t have any negative associations. I looked at hundreds of names and tried to picture my future with each one, how they would sound coming out of my friends’ mouths. It was impossible.

I went with Lauren because one night I suddenly remembered how, a very long time ago, my mom told me that’s what she would have named me if I had been born cis female. And once I said it in my head a few times, I realized it was perfect. Like Adam, it’s fairly simple, and it also happens to be cute and very much me in a personal, real way. I like that it’s not quite a name that I chose myself, and that it seems to hint at an alternate version of me, one I’ve often thought about — that other universe where I’m born female and proceed to live my whole, normal life that way.

And so, Lauren has become the name I’ve used on job applications, the name I’ve given to people once I know them well enough to feel safe, the name I use to make accounts on websites. With my friends, there’s the somewhat androgynous nickname “Lo,” which I love, and the more playful “Lolo,” which always makes me smile.

I’ll admit that it still took a little while for Lauren to feel like my natural name when people used it. It’s something I’m just starting to get conditioned to, and while I’m trying to work on my new signature and not get overly excited when I hear people use it, I’m often still painfully aware of how my name doesn’t match my face, or my clothes or my voice (God, especially my voice). I’m working to fix all that in the timeframe that’s most comfortable for me, but even before that time comes, I love my name, and I can’t wait until it’s my only one.