This post will deviate from my blog’s main topic, but I do continue this relevant to who I am as a person and to my identity, which this blog has a lot to do with. Many people in my life or people who see me passing by consider me automatically to be a confident, self assured person with a solidified self-identity. I can see why. I wear tulle skirts, rainbow socks, an entire arm full of glittery colorful bracelets, and I’m openly in a same-sex relationship. But I also know that gaining any confidence whatsoever has been a struggle for me, especially because of my marginalized identities, and this is a struggle that I feel is really summed up by my name change.
It’s been four months since I decided to make the change and told my family and friends what to call me. For me, it has been four years since I decided in my heart that I would need to do this someday. Four months doesn’t seem very long, and in the grand scheme, it isn’t. But there are a few things that have happened as time goes on that are working really well for me.
As time goes on, less and less people make the mistake. People make the mistake less often. And the less often it happens, the less it hurts when it does. For the first few weeks after telling people, I swear I felt almost enraged when I heard people make the mistake. It’s like my heart was saying, “Didn’t I JUST tell you how important this was to me? What are you doing?” My head could rationalize that other people had no idea I felt this way and they were working with re-wiring a part of their memory and habits to conform to what made me happy. But my heart couldn’t rationalize that, and every mistake felt like a singe to my heart. Now that it’s been four months, it’s rare for anyone who sees me to make the mistake. My friends and family members talk to each other and they talk to me, they get to practice and they start to automatically refer to me that way. I’ve also met a lot of NEW people and been in new settings. At university, I have three professors this semester who have never met me before. They have nothing to adjust TO. All they have is the new name. Same with new classmates and new friends. Even people who may have seen me in the halls or class and known my name – now that they’re actually interacting with me, they’re doing so with this new name and that’s how they get to know me. I have one professor who has had me in the past who has no trouble whatsoever with my new name. (Which is pretty cool, ’cause I had that worry.)
So, in short, it happens less and less, so when it does happen, I don’t feel upset. The person usually catches it almost right away, because it’s been a while, and I kind of smile to myself. Sometimes, I don’t even think about the possibility it might happen, because I’ve grown so used to the new name.
People come up with affectionate nicknames. They also use my name to yell at and scold me. At first, many people who already know me well called me Laina because it was an easier transition into the new name to use the first letter of my old name. Now that it’s been awhile, some people still call me Laina, and they might always, if they like it better. But other people have made the transition all the way over to Alaina because it feels natural now. I also have people calling me things like “Ala” and “Laine.” In a similar vein, people use the name to scold me now, even in a joking manner. It’s what comes out naturally. I don’t particularly like being yelled at, and it’s still the same shitty feeling when someone uses my name in a bad fight–but it’s better now, since people are using a name that at the very least feels like mine. It makes fighting and being scolded somewhat more bearable.
Introducing myself, being addressed by name, name tags, and resumes are all fun now. I never noticed how much I hated having my name used until it was no longer the case. Once I got to have my chosen name be the one used, I found out why people actually like hearing their own name. There’s some kind of psychology behind it, and I completely agree now. If people use my name in a sentence, I’m kind of like, “Oh heck yes!” I maybe automatically like them more, even if they have no idea why it would matter. Having to do things like be interviewed, meet new people, introduce myself or call up companies who will inevitably ask for my name and address has become more fun. I don’t run into issues anymore with the legality because it’s been two months since it was legalized. All of my official affiliations have the change in place. I’m realizing that even though the initial process was tedious, eventually, it will be that I’ll rarely EVER have to tell people. Maybe if I need my high school diploma/records for something, or medical records since birth, or if a company does a comprehensive credit check of me, but it is very likely that it won’t come up at all.
I feel closer to the people in my life who had to make the transition. This is the same kind of feeling I had after telling people I’m bisexual. Knowing that my family and friends were SO okay with my name change, and so willing to try their best to call me something new and take me seriously made me feel closer to them. I realized that they care about me and respect my choices. I saw all their efforts and it made me feel loved.
I feel closer to myself. I never really had to make the transition. I did practice my signature, but a lot of the time, I had spent trying not to use my name and trying to make it not come up in conversation. And rushing through it during introductions. But I did have to learn how important it was to me that this change be made: important enough to spend a few hundreds dollars, important enough to be assertive with people about it, important enough to be proactive in making sure I got everything official changed. The transition, for me, came in realizing how good it felt to use my new name and have others use it. It came in me realizing that I’m in charge of who I am, my own life, my own actions and how I see myself on many levels. My name change, in effect, brought about an avalanche of positivity. I’ve done things out of my comfort zone because of the name change. I’m more in touch with who I am, and with loving that person. I joined an anime club, I stopped regularly going to therapy (but also realized within myself that I can go back if I need to), I went out on a limb for a leadership position at my school’s literary magazine (which I got), and I’ve been slowly telling people that I’m autistic and trying to be okay with that part of myself.
A lot of the time, I’m hailed for being an individual, someone who does their own thing and makes “brave decisions” in the face of adversity. The way people phrase it, you would think I’m Katniss Everdeen or Harry Potter. But I would like to emphasize that I’m actually not doing anything marvelous or novel–I’m just trying to be in tune with who I am and happy about who that is. And that’s a decision that everyone can make, and I hope that they do.