I had a whole slew of boy names picked out between the ages of about three and eight years old. They were names I was familiar with at the age: Mike, Dave, Bill, Jake. No one in my family would abide by any of those names. They were trying to get me through what they thought was a phase.
I tried to live as a girl. That lasted a long time.
After grad school, I started hanging out with people who were part of the drag king community—some of them were trans, some weren’t. I finally understood: I’m trans. I was terrified, because I didn’t know what I could do about it.
I actually hated doing drag; it was more of a social support. But it was acceptable to have a drag name in that social sphere, so initially it was Mickey McMan, a drag pun. Mickey was also gender-neutral enough that I could get away with it; I have cousins named Michelle and Michael who both go by Mickey. Really, Mickey became a strategy to cope with the next eight years of not transitioning. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to transition any time soon. I didn’t have the financial means; I didn’t have access to appropriate health care; I didn’t know how to rely on my social networks for support; I had some romantic partners who were outright opposed to me transitioning; and I didn’t think I would ever have my family’s support—thank God I turned out to be very wrong about that.
The other major hesitation I had was transitioning before I had started a career in academia. I waited to transition until I had proven myself in my career field—and, even then, I didn’t announce it to a single person at work; I just did it.
And yet, even after all that time of not transitioning, all that waiting, I still haven’t gotten my name legally changed. One big reason has been that for a long time, I thought my parents would really disapprove. Even after I came out to them as trans, and they went through all their emotions and accepted it, I still thought the name change would be more devastating to them. My birth name was the thing they had given me. One day, my mom wrote me a check, and she made it out to Mickey. I looked at it and said, “Oh, mom! …I actually have to ask you to write a new check.” She just assumed that I had already gotten it legally changed. And I should have—from the everyday embarrassing retail exchanges to applying to a new job or getting my license renewed, I always have some level of anxiety.
My name has been kind of a weight around my neck; it reminds me I struggled and waited for eight years before starting to transition. I needed to understand and acknowledge what was weighing me down about it. And now that I have acknowledged it, it’s okay, because that’s part of my history, part of my process. The name doesn’t need to be fancier, or more masculine, or anything else; I just need it to change on my legal documents.