Call Me Harvey

I spoke to my dad on the phone the day Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. "Call me Caitlyn," she said, and my dad did just that. He called her Caitlyn, and I pulled my jaw off the kitchen floor. One day. That's all it took him to change his vernacular around her identity. I was beaming with pride. I was confused by the ease of the process. I took all of this to my favorite place; I took it all to therapy.

It took my dad nearly ten years to start using my then chosen, now legal, name regularly. It was an arduous process to get him there. Visits home were followed by late night emails where I begged him to love me enough to call me by my name. Stepping back, I'm lucky enough to know that, in my case, know it wasn't a matter of love so much as an issue of vision. He couldn't see me in the present through the distorted lenses of everything he thought I'd become, which it turns out, was not a man. In the heat of the moment, took this as a sign that he wasn't willing to learn about transgender identity and how to respect trans* people.

I teach workshops on transgender identity, and I spend a bit of time on the subject of name. It all feels so basic to me, but language is largely muscle memory and calling somebody their name is akin to a reflex. You have to dig deep to undo this but, from a trans person, I assure you the effort pays out big. It means everything.

It's what's behind the name that feels so personal. It is the first thing we get to know about a person. It is how people refer to us when we are both present and not around to make sure we are being represented correctly. When you refuse to call somebody by their chosen name, it is as if you are saying, "I know you better than you know yourself." It is the most invalidating thing you can do to a person and validation of self is something one should never have to ask for more than once.

So if you are out there in the world griping about "how hard" it is to remember to call somebody by their chosen name because "you've known them forever," please realize that you are basically saying, "I chose to live in the past. I chose to not see you as the person you've become. I chose to stunt your growth, deny your evolving, and dismiss your identity." You don't want to be this person to somebody you love. Heck, you don't want to be this person to somebody you barely know.

When somebody announces "I am..." it is a bold statement. It's not a question and it's not a request. We may not get to declare it while looking stunning on a cover of a magazine, but still it deserves a listen. So open your ears and your heart, and when you open your mouth, do so with an open mind.