One of the only things my biological parents did right was to name me Tyler and to name my sister Jamie. Jamie is nine years older than I am, so she might have had an inkling of the neutrality and flexibility of her name before I did. But defining her name as genderless wasn’t quite as crucial to her survival as it was to mine.
Tyler is the name my bio parents screamed before they hit me. My bio dad would call me “Tyboy,” “Tyler-son,” and sometimes just “Ty” as he ran his fingers through my hair and pressed the cold calluses on his fingertips into the notches at the top of my spine. My bio mom shrieked my name before she grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and dragged me across a hardwood floor. Tyler, in that sense, meant “be afraid.” Tyler meant “be a man.”
I was born with spastic diplegic Cerebral Palsy, which is a neuromuscular condition that limits mobility and causes chronic pain, fatigue, and muscle spasticity. My bio dad forced me into wheelchair sports from a young age because he wanted a son who was an athlete. When I was around ten, he told me about a professional tennis player named Renee Richards—who, he said, “Got a sex change so he could win tournaments.”
In reality, Renee was a trans woman who was an incredible athlete in her own right. I thought about her often and wondered if I would ever be able to do the same thing.
In middle school, I met a cis girl named Tyler. She was talented, gorgeous, funny, and compassionate. We went to high school together, too, and are still good friends. I’d look at her and think, “If I were a woman, my name would still be Tyler.” That statement became the first line in the first poem I wrote that directly dealt with my transition.
My sister and I were working on a chapbook about how trauma rippled across generations in our extended family, and I told her that in order to break the cycle of abuse and trauma we were born into, I needed to be out. I never thought twice about changing my name, but people I haven’t seen in a while always ask, “Do I still call you Tyler?”
The answer is yes. My name belongs to me, and it always will.