I can’t imagine what my family will think the day they learn that I’ve changed my last name. I’ve never liked it.
Even if we’ve never met in person, there’s already an expectation created when my name is uttered or seen. I won’t paint a picture of myself, but I’ll say that I’m barely taller than my mom, who weighs less than a toothpick. I’m currently a scrawny person in tight-fitting clothes who was once a scrawny person in clothes spacious enough another person could fit in with me. My dad is the strong, burly one in the family. I’m weak.
My first name, however, feels rather androgynous. Perhaps it’s that I never knew any other Liams until I entered college. Liam is light on the tongue, doesn’t have a shortened version of itself, and is an otherwise pretty name. I’m not a William. Once though, a squad leader at my vacation Bible school misheard my name as William, and I didn’t correct her. I just wanted to be someone else for a week, but then my mom found out, and my squad leader was somewhat disappointed. She wasn’t my squad leader the next year.
When the name Strong is pronounced, I quarrel with memories of not being good enough, of being in gym class and my teacher holding my last name against me. I had friends who envied my last name. It’s a name that reeks of masculinity, of a strength my metabolism could never support, of an outward physicality unknown to me. A name like this bears a preconceived gender conformity that I have no inclination to ascribe to. A name like this informs the woman inside me, the femininity I’ve subtly hidden, that she’s not good enough. But she is. She’s the strongest part about me.
I’ve dealt with gender dysphoria for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t until high school that I learned of the definition, and not until college where I was fully ready to accept the emotional and psychological identity I had always known without knowing completely.
I’m always learning more about myself. Learning to love oneself more, despite genitals that don’t coincide with my person, that are a hindrance if anything, that don’t portray who I really am. We are not our genitals. Moreover, we’re more than the sum of our parts.
There’s a stigma, of course, to individuals wanting to change their names. As someone who has given this plenty of thought for myself, but hasn’t found their true last name yet, I know when the time comes that I will be deadnamed, ridiculed, but hopefully accepted. Since we don’t get to choose our names at birth, it’s also fair to say who gives birth to us wouldn’t know our true names right away anyhow.
The most supportive thing anyone can do is to get used to a person’s new name, and not allow one’s former conceptions of how they knew that person to continue to be prescribed to them. Even if it takes repeating their name over and over to get it right. This goes the same for pronouns, as well. To call someone by a deadname with clear disregard is belittling, selfish, and demonstrates that one doesn’t really know the person they’re referring to.
Sometimes, I’ll say my full name out loud (more dreadful are the times I have to elicit my middle name, too), and feel disgusted. Strong. There it is again. That little, irksome reminder. I have to massage my embarrassment; it’s just a word, I’ll say to myself. Not even a name. A word. I’ll say my full name, instantly regret it. There’s nothing wrong with being strong. It’s an ability we can all attain. To be strong. It doesn’t have to mean muscle, physical strength, power. Despite my lack of dexterity, the mental fortitude to find my name is what keeps me going. That is, not just to find a name, but to find myself.
*Note: For further reading on the story of my gender dysphoria, read my essay, “Second Wedding,” published this year in Lunch Ticket.