Naming and deadnaming
My name is Tara. I don’t remember how I decided upon it. It seemed always to be in my mind somewhere despite my never having used it pre-transition. It was as if I’d been safeguarding it until I’d finally be able to live my life authentically. When that time came, I never thought twice about what I’d call myself. I knew I was Tara. This name which had seemed forever to be in my subconscious was now in the open, and I felt right away as if it had been mine since birth.
I have some dear cis friends whom I’ve known for a long time who early on sometimes deadnamed me. I tried very hard to be patient with them. “Give them time,” I reasoned. “They knew me that way for a long while.” Their period of grace did not last long, however. Hearing my previous name again became increasingly difficult for me. It reminded me too much of bad times I wanted to put behind me. I became irritable, and told them to “try harder.”
I’m not sure whether cis folks can understand how empowering it is to finally have a name you can relate to, and how disturbing it is to have your previous one disinterred. I didn’t hate my previous name when I was living with it. It was a fine name, and my reality at the time, but the speed with which I dissociated myself from it astonished even me. Seeing it in print or hearing it induced an almost visceral reaction from me.
I was in a great rush after I’d changed my name to remove the old one from every business, utility, charity and miscellaneous entity with whom I had a relationship. This was enormously time consuming, but for the most part it went smoothly. Sometimes it was even pleasant. I had a misunderstanding with Hydro Ottawa in which they thought someone new was taking over my account and told me the new person might require a credit check. I replied by email saying, no, it was still me, but that I’d changed gender. A woman from customer service replied, saying she’d change the records and closed by congratulating me. I was touched. It was not the kind of personal response I expected from a utility company.
Oh, but there are always companies and organizations that try your patience. There were several that I asked repeatedly to change my name in their records and they would repeatedly follow up by sending me mail addressed to my old name. I’m generally polite in my requests, even when I’m not feeling it, but once you push me too far, I’ll let you have it with both barrels. I keep the evidence of their incompetence and then hurl it back at them with withering sarcasm. Although it’s mildly gratifying to get an apology, it never quite makes up for the times I’ve had to endure being persistently deadnamed by their companies or organizations.
It’s taken many years, but for the most part I am no longer being deadnamed. My few remaining problems reside with zombie companies that mindlessly send out ad mail.
I was a Bell customer over ten years ago, and they have been trying to get me back by deadnaming me with ad mail ever since. There is never a return address on their envelope; just “Bell” in big blue letters in the upper left hand corner. I write “Refused. Return to Sender” on the envelope and pitch it in the mailbox, but six months later, here comes Bell again with another imbecile mail out. I don’t know what Canada Post does with the envelopes I return. I can’t blame them if they just throw them out. Which branch of this enormous company do they return them to? Even if they knew, who in Bell is going to take the time to find the department that keeps mindlessly sending these out. In Bell’s world, no one dies, no one moves, no one changes their name, and absolutely no one in Bell monitors the mailing list or whether their ad mail is an efficient use of their resources. Six months is up, send out another batch! Over and over. Year after year.
Remember what I said about being polite until pushed too far? Here’s my message to Bell, expressed in far cruder fashion than I’m accustomed to expressing my opinions: you’re a bunch of fucking morons.
Happily, not everyone in the world is. My cis friends more than redeemed themselves.
After I’d begun to get testy when I’d hear them deadname me, one of my friends was in a pottery shop in the Kawarthas admiring a tall glazed beaker. When she flipped it over, “Tara” was etched underneath. In the process of buying it, she got talking with the woman at the cash who it turned out was the potter and the Tara in question. My friend told her my story, wherein the potter disclosed she was a lesbian and told my friend that she wished me well. My friend’s gift made me feel that she knew what my name meant to me, and I loved the anecdote behind her buying it. My Tara pottery now sits on a ledge in my kitchen and I smile every time I look at it.