Nick Krieger is the author of Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender. You can read more of Nick's blog posts at ninaherenorthere.com
I might have made a huge mistake. A cardinal trans sin, really. The equivalent to tattooing my birth name on my forehead. And then shoving my forehead into the faces of friends, strangers, the whole world. I decided to use my birth name in the title of my memoir, Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender.
It started with a friend, an idea offered in the kitchen, a funny play on words, a title for my new blog back when “Nina” was still my name. Then three-and-a-half years later, this phrase ended up on the cover of my book, and I now have a friend who holds out her hand for royalties, or at least a hundred-dollar-bill bookmark, every time I see her.
Sometimes it seems like the book title just sorta happened, but I made decisions along the way, specifically the decision to let my old name linger while I adapted to my chosen name. Had I published my memoir two years ago, when “Nick” was brand new, I could not have handled “Nina” staring back at me everywhere. Shit, I couldn’t even utter the word at that time. It wasn’t so much that I disliked my old name. I was just using dog training, or maybe dolphin training, strategies. If I wanted people to call me “Nick,” it had to be all “Nick” all the time. Perpetual constant reinforcement, not only for others but for myself.
As I broke in “Nick,” the sound shaped itself to me, conformed around me, and soon it fit as comfortably as a pair of worn slippers. Once I became more physically, emotionally, and mentally at ease with myself, I was less frustrated when certain friends would mention my old name, less controlling of it. While I occasionally told them it wasn’t theirs to speak, I also understood that they were revisiting a scrapbook, a memory, and to my surprise, I found that I too wanted to hold on to my past, keep it as it was without revision. Occasionally, I even wanted to share it, whisper my old name into a lover’s ear, an offering of the most intimate piece of myself.
Now, part of me is proud to render “Nina” indelible, to have it serve as a tattoo, maybe not on my forehead but on the underside of my wrist, so I can turn it up and share the singular word that was closest to me for thirty years. To watch such a word unexpectedly change shape, morph from name into title, transform into something new, come to mean something new, seems as beautiful and wondrous as a gender transition itself. For me, seeing both “Nina” and “Nick” in the same place at the same time is symbolic of my gender, the unification of the woman and man in me.
Whether others will allow me both, to live my present while loving my past, is yet to be seen. There is implicit risk to blasting my old name into the world, to giving others access to something that has been used again and again in ignorance and fear to hurt trans people. I am still recovering from the slip-ups, mistakes, and careless cruelties, and my heart still tingles with raw sensitivity in the presence of my mother, who, despite good intentions, reverts to a “Nina”-spewing machine around me.
Which is why it seems crucial to let it all go, to reclaim my old name as mine, to own the power and let it stand for something other than pain. I also believe there is change going on around us. Trans folk and allies have fought for visibility, rights, and respect, paving the way so that I can live happily and joyfully without the weight of heavy armor and without needing to maintain a constant state of self-defense. I aspire to continue the fight, and for me that means believing in the change, not allowing cisgender (non-trans) people who have fucked up in the past to prevent me from trusting those with the potential to see and embrace me in my totality. I am making a leap of faith, hoping that my old name will be respected, as a character in a book and part of a title, not as some “real” “truth” that makes the Nick of here and now invisible.
I have been living with my decision in somewhat of a vacuum, save for one trans friend who always seems a bit bothered by the choice I made. Whether it is my old name, his old name, or the larger cause that unsettles him, I do not know. But I do know I am only one person, with one voice, and I’d like to hear yours–I’d like everyone to hear yours. So please, whether you are trans or not, how do you feel about your name? If you changed your name, how would you feel about going public with your old one? Are we as a trans community as diverse in our decisions as I truly believe we are? Are we living in a time with more space for each of us to express our unique experiences?
And as long as we’re answering my questions, can someone please tell me how long it’s going to take for me to stop unconsciously doodling my old name in all of my notebooks?
This post originally appeared at Original Plumbing.