When I Decided to Make the Change From Woman to Man, I Didn’t Think About How Hard It Would…

Snapshots of life at home.
April 10 2013 6:30 AM

Blank Slate

How I chose my new name.

Illustration by Charlie Powell.

Illustration by Charlie Powell

The first person to call me Silas out loud was my friend Meg. I almost cried, but not from happiness. We were sitting at my friend Heather’s dining room table and my friends were all painting their nails and I was sitting there, drinking a margarita and trying to concentrate on the conversation and not think about the email I’d sent asking them all to refer to me by my new name. They had all sent me texts or emails in response, telling me I had their support, but it had only been 12 hours and no one had said anything in person yet. Everyone was acting like everything was normal.

“Silas,” Meg said. “Can you pass me the Kleenex?”

I don’t know if the others heard her or—if they did hear—if it was weird for them, too, but I suddenly couldn’t breathe. It felt so not normal to be called Silas instead of Lindsay. I immediately regretted my decision. What if this meant I was wrong about being transgender and I never should have asked people to call me something else? What if I was right, but had chosen the wrong name? Was it too late to send another email, beg everyone to call me Andrew, or Charlie, or Sam? I hadn’t expected it to be so hard—not for me at least, since I had wanted a new name—a male name—for so long, and since Silas felt so perfect in theory.

That was the beginning of June, at the end of my first year of graduate school, but by the time I went to visit my family for the Fourth of July, I had gotten used to hearing it, and it felt different—better—than being called Lindsay ever had, even before I started to wonder about my gender identity. Suddenly I had a hard time remembering to answer when my parents (who I still didn’t know how to tell) called me Lindsay.

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*

A year before I became Silas, during my first year of graduate school, I was having lunch with my friend Nicole. I don’t remember the initial topic of conversation, but somehow it shifted to names, and more specifically to what our parents almost named us. I told her about my dad’s plan to name me Erin Karen—or Scott Timothy if I’d been born a boy. Nicole said that her parents had considered Madeline. “Can you imagine how cool it would be if I’d been a Maddy?” she said.

I knew what she meant. I have always disliked my birth name—Lindsay Rebecca. I disliked it even in preschool, long before I understood why it didn’t feel like it fit. In elementary school I would wish my name was something different, something more interesting. I imagine a lot of kids feel that way, especially those of us with too-common names. There were too many Lindsays in the ’80s and ’90s, just as there were too many Jessicas and Sarahs. But by the time Nicole and I talked, the feeling had only gotten worse for me: Over the past two years, I had started to question my gender identity, and though I hadn’t yet admitted what I feared—that I might be transgender—I still hated telling people my name. I wished it was something more androgynous, like Alex, so it wouldn’t give me away so easily, so it didn’t sound quite so feminine. I wished it were something that felt like it belonged to me.

But Nicole and I had only been friends for a couple of months and were still getting to know each other; I felt weird steering the conversation in a direction she hadn’t intended, so I didn’t say this. Instead, I made a joke: “Well, when I write my memoir someday and you’re a character in it, I’ll call you Maddy to protect your identity. Deal?”

She sighed. She looked dejected. “I didn’t live the life of a Maddy, though. I’ve lived the life of a Nicole.”

How would my life be different if my mom hadn’t vetoed Erin Karen because of the near-rhyme? Who would Erin Karen have been? What would her childhood have been like? What if there hadn’t been some prenatal mistake, some sort of cosmic event—I don’t know what I believe caused the incongruence between mind and body—and I had been born a boy, and been called Scott? Would I still be here, the person I am now, or would my male body, and the name that I carried, have taken me in a completely different direction?

And then I wonder: have I lived the life of a Lindsay? Or did I live the life of a Silas for 24 years without even knowing?

*

In September, four months after I asked my friends to start calling me Silas, I told my family that I am transgender. It was a shock to them, though my mom insists it wasn’t that much of a shock—I had been embracing my masculine side for years already. They simply thought I was a lesbian, even though I had never confirmed nor denied my family’s assumptions. By the time they started to ask questions, I had started to realize that being a butch lesbian wasn’t the life I was meant to live, and I didn’t know how to tell them that while I did date women, I wasn’t gay.

While my family’s reaction was positive—my parents told me they loved me no matter what, and my grandmother said, “I don’t care. Why would I care?” and changed the subject to tell me about the ongoing saga of her kitchen remodel—things weren’t easy for them, or for me. Part of me thought that, in telling them, a weight would be lifted—and it was, but then it was replaced with the burden of relearning our family dynamics, how were are supposed to interact with each other. My mom and my grandmother started calling me Silas just before I went to visit for the holidays a couple months later, but my dad and my brother took longer to get used to the change. Because I hadn’t started hormones yet, and because I’d had short hair and worn men’s clothing for a few years already, the name-change was, for them, the biggest difference. It’s the only one they could see. And they hated it.

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