This past week, I was finally able to decide something about myself that I have been struggling with for years. I’m changing my name. The name I have chosen, Samuel McAuliff, requires some explanation, as does the reasons for the change. I will say here what I said to my friends when I told them: I am not transitioning to male, but I will be switching to “they/them/their” pronouns. And, embracing the term “gender neutral” as a term that applies to me.
I have never felt inclined towards one gender or another, which is why I won’t be transitioning to male. If I were to flip to male pronouns and refer to myself as a man, it would be just as much a lie as it is when I say I’m a woman. Even before I had come to terms with this realization, I’ve always known that I’m a “somewhere in between” kind of person, in more areas than gender. Ask me about a topic, and though I will lean to the left of any given issue, I will also clearly see the middle ground. And that’s what my gender and my gender presentation has always been: the neutral middle ground.
Every time I’m in a waiting room and hear my birth name called, I cringe and grudgingly admit that I am the one they just called. Every time I must fill out a form and check “F”, I hesitate. Always. I look hopefully to see if, in this enlightened age, someone will have finally seen fit to include a third option. It could say “other”, it could be fill in the blank, just something that allows those of us who are in the middle or on the margins to be able to stand up and be counted in the way we feel the most comfortable. So that I wouldn’t feel as if I just lied to my doctor or a future employer or anyone else who wants me to make that arbitrary choice. But, they haven’t, and I choose “female,” and feel like a fraud.
This is what the DSM-5 has to say about gender dysphoria:
For a person to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, there must be a marked difference between the individual’s expressed/experienced gender and the gender others would assign him or her, and it must continue for at least six months. In children, the desire to be of the other gender must be present and verbalized. This condition causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
Nope, I’m not in there either. There is no room for gender neutral or non-binary folks in that definition. The APA, though they have made great strides in their care and treatment of gay and trans folks, is still, as usual, behind the times. They still see the world through a hetero-normative lens, at least officially.
So, how are we, those who don’t fit in the prefabricated, carved out niches, supposed to find our place? Simple: we forge ahead and make our own way. We tell you the names and pronouns we have chosen and ask you to use them. If you love and respect us, you will.
The name I have chosen, like all who change their name (trans or otherwise) has meaning to me. It’s not a name that my parents picked, which I’ve never related to. That name has meaning to them. My first name that they had chosen, depending on who you ask, my mother or her brother, Vic, came with a story. The way my mother always told the story, she had been set to name me after her baby sister, Penny Sue, but then my six-year-old brother asked her to name the baby after a neighbor girl he had a crush on. My uncle claims that I was named for the woman he was dating at the time. Since my mother’s story is cuter and she’s not around to ask, I’ve chosen to believe her story as the right one. My middle name, there is no mystery, it was my paternal grandmother’s first name. It’s a bit of a mouthful, a bit old-fashioned, and not representative of me at all. Over the last several years, while I’ve been contemplating what to do about my name and what I would change it to, two names kept recurring to me: Samuel and Maxwell. So, that’s where I’ve landed, Samuel Maxwell. I know what you might be thinking, they’re both male names and I clearly said I’m not a male. Simple answer: I like them. They are just words we have all collectively decided to use as names. They, like the rest of us, were assigned a gender they didn’t ask for. For my last name, I have chosen McAulliff. I have my reasons. It was the maiden name of my paternal grandmother, the one whose name I have as a middle name. It is also the side of our family with the most Irish heritage, which is appealing to me, as I’ve always identified more with that side of my heritage. Plus, since I am planning to divest myself of her first name, taking her maiden name is the least I can do to pay homage to the woman I have come to terms with that I am the most alike.
My grandmother was a formidable woman, even though her stature didn’t bear that out. She was a tavern owner since before I was born, and could and did throw grown, drunken men out on their ear if they misbehaved in her bar. More to the point, she could make them contrite and apologetic. She had a keen, biting sense of humor. She saw the humor in everything and would often use her sarcastic humor against people, usually to the point where they weren’t always aware, they had just been made fun of. Every time she’d crack wise against someone else, she would catch my eye and wink, drawing me into the joke. Of course, just because she could see in me a fellow conspirator, that didn’t mean I was immune from her barbs. This is a behavior I have often engaged in myself as an adult, but it took me forever to realize that I am doing the same things she did.
I’m not ready to run down to the courthouse and change it legally, not yet. I’m going to follow the same protocol that a trans person follows when they change their name: I’m going to use it for a year and see how it feels. If it continues to feel right, then I will make the appointment. Although, I have to say, I used it for the first time publicly a few nights ago at the writer’s open mic I go to. They accepted this change without question and when they called me by my chosen name it felt more right than the one I’ve been called for the past forty-six years. As my best friend later said, “That’s not surprising at all. You’ve always known you weren’t a Tammy.” She’s not wrong.
- Title is a reference to Romeo and Juliet, Act II Scene II, Juliet’s “What’s in a name?” speech.