Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Born as" is cissexist BS, Rant 1

A brief but sincere plea.

People, cis people, trans people, non-trans people of all stripes.  PLEASE stop saying "born as" when referring to the name one's parents gave at birth.  Even if it's your OWN name.

Saying things like "Jane Laplain, who was born Guy Butcherson Laplain III in the 1970's, now lives in the pacific northwest blah blah"    is fundamentally cissexist.

WHy?  The construction of the phrase erases the entire process of choosing and assigning a name to the newborn person, and privileges this very deliberate social decision made by parents/guardians as something that just "happened" naturally as a consequence of birth.  As if I slid out of the womb with a nametag on my lapel.  Um NO.

Nobody is BORN with a particular name.  That name is given.  Assigned. Decided. Imposed by others.  This is not to say that this is an essentially bad thing to do.  It is to say that the name one is given at birth is no less artificial, and no more authentic than the name one chooses for one's self later on in life.  The original name on one's birth certificate does not deserve greater deference.  In fact when it comes to the name one chooses for one's self, in the spirit of self-identification, so called "birthnames" should hold much LESS clout.   Who knows you better?  Somebody who decided your entire identity after knowing you all of a few hours when you were completely unable to communicate your personality and wishes?  Or... yourSELF after a decade or so of living every single day as yourSELF?  Hrmmmm... i wonder....

I was named "Junior" after I was born by the way.  And I didn't have any name at all for 3 whole  days after my birth.  Chiefly  because my mother had had an allergic reaction to her epidural and almost died, so there was that drama to deal with first.  But basically it went like this.  My dad wanted to name me Adrien Etiens, which was a family name.  My mother, fearing that was WAY too girly and foo-foo sounding for her American SON (she was SO afraid to have a daughter, so relieved to find out she hadn't, this is another long story), wanted to name me something like Stonewall Jackson or King Rocco or something way over the top butch.

For months during the pregnancy, or so I was told, my parents-to-be went back and forth on names, arguing violently and nearly splitting up a couple of times. But after nearly dropping dead in the delivery room, mother finally settled for just naming me Junior,  ending the argument on "neutral" ground.

Either name would have likely dramatically impacted my social experiences growing up, particularly given my hardwired trans nature.  I probably wouldn't have all minded being known as an Adrien, so much. I definitely DID mind being known as a Junior, but I probably lucked out not being a Rocco or something uber masculine like that. 

I digress.  Names are not "born" they are given.  Given by persons who, however loving their intentions, definitely have their own vision and own agenda for the new person they are giving a life to.   This needs to be acknowledged in this culture.  It hardly ever is except when the name given flies in the face of mainstream tastes.   (For example, the common public criticism of African-American parents who give their children African-American "sounding" names... or whenever a baby name chosen is considered too "quirky" or offbeat.  Then suddenly THESE parents are being reckless and not considering the impact on the child's future.  But only under these circumstances do we question the motives of the parents.. otherwise, naming your kid a conventional sounding name is perfectly "normal" and without ulterior motive...)

At any rate  I wish cis people and trans people alike would stop using "born as" when discussing trans people's histories,  as it only elevates the name given at birth to the level of an  "objective truth" which cannot be questioned.  And as a result casts the self-chosen name as less authentic, less "real."   BS, I SAY.


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