The name Leigh was traditionally male, until it recently gained popularity as the female spelling of Lee—the female spelling of a gender-neutral name. I like how that experience of gender plays out in myself; I’m read as male almost 100% of the time, but I didn’t want to go with a name that’s unequivocally male. I wanted to remind myself where I came from.
For years, I felt pressure to express myself as diametrically opposite to anything that might be read as female. I associated such negative things with my femininity: times that I had been victimized, times that I had been abused, times that I had been made to feel not good enough. But that’s not all there is to being female. Why should my femininity be something I hate or fear, something I exorcise from my being completely? What does that say about femininity in general? I don’t want to perform a caricature of masculinity. That isn’t me.
One of the strongest people in my life—somebody who was very influential during my formative years—was named Leigh. I admire her ability to help others, even when she was struggling so much herself. I believe that some of my strength has come from watching other people overcome and transcend. So I wanted to embody that name as an homage to her strength—and to my own.
Even though I don’t feel unequivocally male or female, it took a toll when it felt like all people saw when they heard my name was female. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling like a significant part of me wasn’t being validated.
I know that in New Zealand and a couple of other countries, people have the option of putting an x on some legal documents, instead of an m or an f. My documentation either says male or female, depending on how much I’ve changed. But I would really prefer the x.
If you’re thinking of changing your name, make sure that you’re in a proper place emotionally. I wasn’t prepared for it to affect me the way that it did. Some people in my life who had known me a long time said, “We support you, but it may take us a while to become accustomed.” That’s part of the process for trans people and the people in their lives; they’re growing and changing together.