This post covers the emotional saga of changing my name. For a more technical look at the process, tune in for the next part (don’t worry, there will only be two.)
In the end my name change form came addressed to the wrong name.
In the end, I opened my mailbox and looked blearily at the two separate envelopes from some government address, addressed to my old name, and briefly wondered if I’d screwed up my income tax again.
In the end, I opened the envelopes, standing the grungy foyer of my walk-up apartment, and was so surprised I almost tore it.
In the end, my Official Recognition of Name Change and replacement Birth Certificate arrived on October 30th, 2015, one day before my 23rd birthday.
In the beginning, I didn’t really think I’d ever change my name.
In the beginning, I loved my old name. I told people it was perfect–perfect because there was room for a little kid version (Katie), a youth version (Kate), and a professional version (Katherine).
In the beginning, I didn’t think my family would ever accept that I wanted to change my name.
In the beginning, I sat on the edge of the bed in a half-lit room and talked to my boyfriend at the time, stumbling over my words and gripping and wringing my t-shirt so hard it almost tore.
Listen I…. I think I might not be a girl… anymore. Or… or maybe I never was. I’m not really sure. I don’t know. I’m sorry.
I want to tell you that, in the beginning, my partner was supportive. That it was like a Hallmark movie, where he put his arms around me and said all the the right words. That we would stay together through it (and we did, for a while).
But in the beginning, I burst into petrified tears as my boyfriend of two years stammered back,
Listen, I don’t know if I can deal with that…. if … listen, you can’t be a boy, because I’m not gay.
If you need to be…. to be trans, that’s fine, I’d still be your friend or whatever but… I can’t do that.
In the beginning it was the hardest. It was an omen of things to come.
It was approximately two years ago that I began asking people to call me “Kit.”
It was an awkward change for a lot of people, and it didn’t catch on easy. I tried to slipÂ it in slowly–introduced myself to new people as “Kit,” like that guy from Game of Thrones who doesn’t know anything about snow,.Â (I mostly didn’t bother asking people who knew me as “Kate” to call me anything different). It was supposed to be a more androgynous diminutive of my given name, a buffer from the feminine baggage that “Katherine” carried–but in practice, it held back my identity for another forty-five seconds before strangers inevitably asked, “And what’s that short for?”
It became extra awkward as I moved to France that Autumn for a four-month internship in Normandy. Having filled out all my paperwork as “Katherine, preferred name Kate,” most of my coworkers never quite got past “Kate” to “Kit”. My housemates did, after an evening with a little too much French wine where I called a “family meeting” and announced my gender identity, name, and preferred pronouns. But for four months, I was haunted by this name I couldn’t be rid of–mocked, because it turns out that French tongues do not fold nicely around long “A” sounds, but instead turn to a strange, nasal drill that seemed to follow me everywhere. Kaaaayteh. Kaaaaayteh. Kate.
Back in Canada I changed my name on Facebook to “Kit” and quietly deleted references to Kate. My mother commented on it at Facebook and I made up an excuse about it being easier for French people to say (which it was) and how it had caught on amongst my roommates (which it hadn’t).
There was confusion in my church community–I had just started going to St. Alban’s before I went to France, so I had met a few people who knew me asÂ Kate,Â and then I began introducing myself asÂ KitÂ when I returned. For a while, I think some people thought I had a relative with a very similar name who also attended St. Al’s. There were some awkward reassurances of what I wanted to be called, because I wasn’t ready to get into why I had changed my name.
Soon after, I ran into an acquaintance outside the grocery store. She was talking with several friends, people I had never met. “These are my friends,” she said, and told me their names. I held out my hand and said, “Hi there, my friends call me Kit.”
The acquaintance bristled and looked at me. “I’ve never called you that.” she said. “
“It’s new,” I managed, feeling uncomfortable.
“Well, I can’t be bothered to learn a new name, so you’re stillÂ KateÂ to me,” she said forcefully. In my mouth, I bit my tongue to distract myself from the tears I felt forming at my eyes.
Eventually, it wasn’t enough, and I needed something stronger. Something further away from the feminine trappings of the name I had once adored, once loved so much that I was angry to have it, because I couldn’t give it to a future child.
I can’t tell you exactly how I came to Eliot. T. S. Eliot had always been one of my favourite poets, and I liked the name Elliott Â quite a bit. I think it was probably on my list of names for hypothetical kids. I don’t remember a dawning moment, like the size rising or a gift unwrapping, a slow build with a crescendo and a rousing announcement–I’m Eliot!
Somehow it happened. Somehow the name settled into place. I don’t know the exact date I changed it or started asking people to call me that. But it began to happen. I announced to my church community that I was changing my name, becoming myself, and please call me Eliot.
At Christmas, a year ago, I got into an almost fight with a family member about the name change.
How do you know this is the right thing? You’ve changed it twice now. How do you know this is final? How do you know this is the right one? What if this is just a phase?
And I didn’t know. Not really. I was as scared as anyone in my life watching these changes happen. But it felt right. It felt more right, despite the fear. I was amazed how quickly I stopped perking up at “Kate”–or any of the related names, Kathy, Kitty, Kaitlyn. I was amazed how easily I moved into this new skin. How much more comfortable I became correcting people on pronouns and explaining Gender 101.
I promised I would wait a year before changing my name. I said it would be Eliot or nothing. That if this wasn’t the right name for me, there would be no right name for me, and I would return to Katherine, sorry for all the mess I had caused.
… Fare forward, travellers! not escaping from the past
Into different lives, or into any future;
You are not the same people who left that station
Or who will arrive at any terminus,
While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
You shall not think “the past is finished”
Or “the future is before us”.
At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial,
Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,
The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)
“Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.
At the moment which is not of action or inaction
You can receive this: ‘on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death’ – that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others:
And do not think of the fruit of action.
O voyagers, O seamen,
You who came to port, and you whose bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,
Or whatever event, this is your real destination.”
So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
On the field of battle.
Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers…
— The Dry Salvages, T. S. Eliot
In the middle, I wrote my name change application for the first time.
I made a post on Facebook, made a “GoFundMe”, the sentimental sap inside me wanting to see if anyone would want to pitch in to help me get my name changed. The application would cost $177 (more on that later) and then I needed to pay to Xpress post it to Thunder Bay.
I made it clear in my Facebook post that I didn’tÂ needÂ the help. I’m privileged to have a wonderful job and I would be able to pay for it within a few paycheques. But the hopeless romantic in me wanted people to chip in the cost of a fancy coffee to show they supported me. I thought maybe I’d get $50 out of the deal–and was grateful for even that.
I was floored when, three hours after I made the post, I had actuallyÂ exceededÂ the amount I needed by almost a hundred dollars. Five people donated enough cash to more than cover my name change–and several of them didn’t even know me that well.
In the middle, the universe showed me that it could still be a good place.
In the middle, I sent my name change application off for the first time and cried in a Starbucks bathroom.
In the middle, four weeks after I sent it in the first time, the government rejected my name change application on a bureaucratic technicality.
In the middle I went home and cried in bed. I spent all afternoon, all of the next day and into the night, in my bedroom with the curtains drawn. It was a minor setback, in the middle–but I was heartbroken that things had to be so hard.
In the middle, I made the necessary changes and sent my name change application back a second time. I told no one I had done it, but later relented, posting a selfie on instagram a few days later.
Most of the middle was waiting. Counting days.
Painful waiting, as I checked the mailbox every day, praying it would arrive. Fingering the beads in the rosary, whispering prayers of my own design.
Six to eight weeks,Â the application said. The rejection came back after four.
Week six came and went. No news.
Week seven came.
Week seven nearly ended.
And then it was over.
In the end, I had given up on it being back before my birthday.
The night before the end, I was on the phone with my partner and expressed concern it had been lost; he encouraged me to wait the full 8 weeks before following up, reminded that bureaucracies were nightmares. He had said before that the legal thing was a formality. I knew who I was.
In the end IÂ went down to check the mail at noon as I often did, hoping to receive a card from trades I had arranged recently.
In the end, there were two envelopes–nothing else in the mailbox. Generic government envelopes–I didn’t think too hard about it. I genuinely believed I had done something wrong with my taxes–I’d been in trouble for it last year.
In the end, emblematic of all that had come before, the very letters that secured my name change were addressed to my old name.
The first envelope had textured, soft red paper.Â Government of Ontario. Change of Name.Â Old/Vieux; New/Nouveau. Registered as of October 22nd 2015. and two signatures, from officials I knew had never seen this document, had no idea who I was or what this scrap of paper meant to me.
The second envelope contained a new birth certificate–unexpectedly, it was printed on polymer, that weird plastic-feeling material that Canadian money is now printed on. This was inside a regular sheet of paper explaining the change of paper and its “enhanced security features”. But I only cared about one thing.
Waddingham, Eliot Katherine.Â
In the end, I called my best friend with shaking hands, standing there in the foyer with tears leaking down my face.
He lives in Vancouver and it was around 9:30 there. I may have woken him up; he sounded a little confused. I was certainly calling out of the blue.
“ColinColinColinColinColinColin it came my name change came!”
There was laughter on the other end.
Suddenly we were both laughing, and I could hardly stop.
In the end, they addressed it to the wrong name, but it didn’t matter.
I had what I needed.