A rose by any other name?

As some of you may know, I occasionally go out into my local community and provide information sessions/educational presentations to our local universities and colleges regarding transgender issues. I often talk about my experiences before and after transition as well as some of the obstacles i face in day to day life. My presentations are open discussion styles and I always encourage my audience to ask their questions so that i can address the needs of my audience, rather than just rambling on aimlessly.

I also provide at least one interactive component to my presentation to get my audience engaged and thinking. At this last one, I asked the folks to write down three things that are related to their gendered identity starting with their name. Once they’d all indicated they were done, I asked everyone to hand me over their names. I explained that they didn’t get their names anymore as part of transition. They looked startled and I explained that often when one is transitioning, one of the first things given up is your name. Granted, there are some folks who choose to keep their name, or alter it ever so slightly however if one is planning on going through the Gender Identity Clinic (GID) at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), one needs to realize that the name they pick will be subject to just as much scrutiny as everything else about that person and if the name is found wanting, it could result in denial of service.

Names are also how we identify ourselves to the outside world. They can immediately indicate to people very important things about our identity and possibly even how we wish to be addressed. Most people who hear the name ‘Lisa’ are going to assume they are dealing with someone who is female/woman. Likewise, most people who hear the name ‘Wesley’ are going to assume they are dealing with someone who is male/man. I was at the doctors the other day when the nurse came out and asked for ‘legal female name’. I sat very still for a moment seeing if she would correct herself. Rather than that, she went back to the receptionist, looked at my chart/file and called ‘legal female name again’ only then pausing and asking for me by name.

I was infuriated. It’s very clearly set out on my file that I am transgender and that I prefer my ‘use name’ to be used. By way of apology she said “I’m sorry, I looked so quickly I didn’t notice”

I was restrained and polite. Very, very polite. I simply nodded and said I see.

She indicated very vehemently that it wouldn’t happen again from her. I’m willing to believe she won’t make that mistake again. However, this is the second person in this office (and the second appointment in a row) who has made this mistake. This is not ok.

Before you ask, I didn’t bring the issue up with my doctor. I’m trying to find a way to approach it that doesn’t go straight for the jugular while also not being so passive as to have the point missed. It’s a delicate balance. How do I explain to them that outting me that way could potentially be a fatal mistake? How do I explain that slowing down and actually reading my name isn’t really going to take any more time than going back to check the name on the chart? I understand they are busy however names are one of humanity’s defining features. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect that if you go back to check the name, you actually read the whole of it.

I ask you dear readers, how do you make the transition from your birth name to the name you want used. What do you do when you can’t afford the legal name change? Do you educate folks as you come in contact with them or do you just sigh and answer to your legal name?

  1. I would write a very polite letter, addressed to the doctor and all staff, advising them of the risks inherent to anyone being called by a name that they do not wish to have used (pointing out that it is not just trans-people with concerns around names). Focus heavily on the safety and well-being issue.

    You can focus only on yourself, yes, but if you’re going to write the letter you might as well go all-out and do the advocacy/education work.

    I like to think that most people are good – but lack the education to understand why something like this is important. When someone isn’t accustomed to dealing with “differences” (in any sense of the word, pertaining to the big picture) they need to be educated as to how “differences” should be handled in a professional capacity.

    I don’t think you need to get medieval on them – I think you just need to be very firm, direct and clear. “This is not acceptable. Here is why…”

    If it happens again, however, you can totally go for the jugular. I’ll sign that waiver.

  2. thank you for the pingback!

  1. April 28th, 2011

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