When I was first coming out in the late 80’s, there definitely was not much in the way of trans awareness, even within the gay and lesbian community. I’d find books that would talk about trans this and trans that, and I’d write to the addresses in the back, but nobody would ever write back. Everything was a dead end. There was no Internet. There was nothing. So I didn’t know where I fit in this world at all.
I knew the names I’d been given were not going to work for me. I’d known that from the time I was a child, when I realized I’m trans. I was also very conscious that I was a writer or an artist; I was already very much aware of the grand tradition of writers and artists using pseudonyms that became their real names—Mark Twain, George Elliot.
When I was making the decision about a name, I charted a kind of Scattergories: five columns for every letter of the alphabet. I then narrowed that list down to a top five. About six months or a year later, I went through the exact same process, without first referring to the old list. Then I compared the two lists. Any names that weren’t on both: gone.
I was a comic book dilettante, and during the year or so I tried being a collector, I read one with the character name “Rahne,” which is a name that stuck with me. Since taking the name, I suppose I’ve grown into it. True comics fans later elaborated to me about why the name seems to fit me, but I remain a bit ignorant of that character. It was the form of the name—its shape and sound—that stuck with me. I feel so lucky that I found the name, and that it found me.
But I think the more interesting story is the story of my last name. Growing up in my Mormon family, there was this consciousness that I was the first-born son. If you’re living under a patriarchy and your mother takes your father’s name, and you take your father’s name, then you are your father’s child; until, if you’re a woman, you take your husband’s name. I knew I’d never have children, and I didn’t want to feel possessed by those histories.
Since a surname is tied to history, I still wanted a last name that would feel attached to something I felt an affinity for. At the same time I wanted to have a nice balance, something that fit melodically with my other chosen names. It felt like such a dramatic thing to do at first, but I later realized that if all along I had been considered and accepted as a woman in my family, that pressure to hang on to the family name never would have been placed on me in the first place.
When I was in the process of making that decision, I was reading the biography of Alexander Woollcott, and I found that he’d put on several plays in which he cast himself as a female lead. Within his Algonquin Round Table circle, he was infamous for his sexual ambiguity. He could have been gay, trans, queer, asexual. Any of those categories could have applied—only he and the people he slept with or didn’t sleep with would know. But I thought, “This is foundational for me.”
It occurred to me that I might do well to choose Alexander as my last name, in homage to what I perceived to be his queer identity that was perhaps never fully realized. We’ll never know how Woollcott would have lived, had he lived today. Regardless of whether he would have embraced today’s concept of queerness, I like to think that my name exists in reference to those who don’t fit. That’s my family, and that’s my historicity.