June 27, 2012
Our names sit at the very core of our being and yet are thoroughly mediated by the social. The stories we tell about our names and our name as a story are among the most fundamental stories we tell about ourselves. These stories are subject to constant revision by ourselves as well as by other people. For trans people, choosing a name may be one of the first ways they begin narrating their experience of assuming a different gender from the one they were assigned at birth. The act of re-naming signifies an important moment in the process by which trans people come to understand and author their developing identity.
Trans youth are the most vulnerable adolescent population, due to both violence by peers and harassment by adults. Trans youth experience higher ratesof discrimination, violence, substance abuse, and suicide ideation than their gender-conforming peers. The needs of trans youth are different from their gay, lesbian, and bi- sexual peers–and more complex than trans adults. They go beyond the issues of sexual orientation and homophobia in a heterosexist society; they extend past the experiences of severe employment, housing, and health-care discrimination faced by trans adults.
As trans people start to transition at younger ages, their experience of changing their name and transitioning is in closer contact with those who are tied to their given name. Trans youths’ relationship to and negotiation of re-naming is particularly complex: these young people may still be dependent on the very families who named them. Families have a range of unpredictable reactions to their child’s trans expression and identity, and often feel a sense of loss when their child identifies differentlyfrom the gender they were assigned at birth. Trans youth’s process of re-naming can come in conflict with and symbolize a rejection of their family and their family’s desires for them. In addition to pressures from home and family, trans youth are tasked with choosing a name that reflects their identity and renders them intelligible in the various communities they are a part of. These tensions reflect some of the complex issues trans youth negotiate and narrate in their process of re-naming. In my dissertation I explore the complicated relationship trans people may have to both their given and chosen names and consider how trans people construct narratives about their process of choosing a name.
Julia Sinclair-Palm is a doctoral student in the Graduate Programme in Language, Culture and Teaching at York University in Toronto. Her research interests include gender, language, Trans studies, Queer theory, and Postcolonial studies. She is currently working on her dissertation, exploring names as a way to consider the desires trans youth have for their identity, the ties they feel to their home and origins, and their need to be recognized in society. She has presented her work at the Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CSSE) and the American Sociology Association (ASA) conferences. She is also a research assistant with the Homeless Hub at York University.