Since I became an adult, I have had the original copy of my birth certificate that my parents received after I was born. The copy they used to register me for school, for extracurricular activities, again for middle school when we moved, and then in high school when we moved again. I used it to get into the Air Force. I feel like I had it forever. And so when I realized that I would need to provide a copy of it for my name change and it would speed up the process of correcting the gender marker in NY, I knew I needed another copy. There is no way I could send this one away, although I did once have to send it away for my official government passport when I was in the military. But they promised it would be returned and it did eventually find its way back to me.
But I can’t let it go again. Not for these reasons. Once this change is made, it will no longer be valid. I don’t trust that NY state won’t just toss it or shred it. It feels important to me to have it forever because the original information will be sealed and I don’t think even I will ever be able to get a copy again. But why is that important to me? I don’t know, I guess. Even though the facade is just the facade, it’s also an important part of who I have been. Like an outfit you couldn’t part with. Or I guess in my case, an outgrown pair of sneakers that was once my most favorite.
The facade that lived under this birth certificate as a child is important to me. That was no facade. That child answered to this given name, and lived an authentic life as the little boy he knew he was. It was just that no one else knew. What’s weird to me is that even though I remember being sure I was a little boy, I can’t remember other people talking about it much, other than weird snippets of time when someone gendered me properly as the little boy I knew I was and my father harshly corrected them. Or when I was angrily confronted by an old woman in the ladies room as a 10 year old. I was in there alone washing my legs because my parents picked us up from the babysitter’s house and we had been making mud all day. I was filthy. The woman was nasty. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember how uncomfortable I felt. I was supposed to be in there. But I had very short hair and gender neutral clothes on. I’ve seen pictures of me at that time. I wouldn’t have known what I was either. But the way she confronted me was upsetting because I had been taught to be offended when people assumed I was a boy.
I know a lot of trans people feel very strongly about their dead name and never being called that. I hate my name, make no mistake about that, but it’s always simply felt like a bad fit for me. Even when I was trying to fit in and trying to present myself as female. I despise that of all the names in the world, THIS is the one my parents chose for me. I can’t honestly think of a name that I would hate more. Both of my parents have names that can be shortened into other names and both go by those shortened names. But they were insistent that I have a name that could not be shortened into any other nickname. I had to have a stupid simple name they liked. Had I been born a boy, I would’ve been named Jeffrey. THAT would’ve shortened to Jeff. In fact, they had planned to name me Jeffrey James and they would’ve called me JJ. Wtf parents?? JJ or Jeff would’ve been ok, but I couldn’t have gotten a better name?
Despite all of that, I don’t think of this birth name as a dead name, more like the “before” name. A name that I’m not sure I want to change everywhere. Only in places where it might reveal too much about me. I think I want to change all the obvious things like credit cards and military records. But my diplomas? I’m not sure if that matters. I don’t see myself working anywhere where my high school diploma matters. Or even my bachelor’s. I also don’t see myself working at a place that would be less than supportive of who I am no matter what things I change my name on.
What came today was a copy of my certificate of live birth. This is a piece of paperwork I have never seen. My parents never had a copy of this. This is the original paper that was typed up to show I was born and I exist as my parent’s child. I was born at 6:03 pm. It was a shitty, induced labor I have been told. Took all day. My mom did all the pushing and I made no effort to help her. Meh. I think about myself as a tiny brand new baby, just forced out of the place where I grew, held up against the harsh light upside down, slapped on the bottom, and the doctor announcing “it’s a girl!” I have heard about this moment often and the joy my parents felt in that moment. When I see box 2, which says Sex: with the x in small box 2, I feel nothing but agony and shame and the memory of the stories of that moment. Held up in the air like a fish or maybe a dead bird destined to be someone’s Thanksgiving turkey. A proud announcement of what’s between my legs as though the brain inside my head would never matter. All of my parents’ expectations heaved upon me in that moment. (Another talking point for a future blog, why the FUCK are the sex boxes numbered 1. Male, 2. Female? Why is there some kind of ranked order like that, with male being first?)
I would be smart and strong, defyer of my grandfather’s wish to have a grandson to carry on the family name, and one day, the person my father would proudly walk down the aisle to a waiting husband to be. Sweet girl, lover of dresses and kind to everyone, obedient and pleasant.
I was none of those things. I was loud and rough. Violent at times. The best stuntman on my bike in the neighborhood. Lover of bugs and dirt, the color blue, and wrestling with my younger brother. I eloped when I forced myself to get married because my father made such a huge production when I thought I was gay. He was heartbroken about never walking me down the aisle, so I made damn sure that never happened. I also didn’t want a wedding. I didn’t want to put on that production of happy bride because I DID NOT CARE. I hated dresses and the color pink. I could be sweet, but only when I felt like it. I was unkind more than I was kind. I was angry and extreme. Too much, I was often called by my parents.
I was carrying their expectations and that load was too heavy. That load was not what I wanted to be carrying anyway. Looking at this piece of paper makes me think about myself before I can even remember, my earliest memories, and various times throughout my life. My dad stayed at the same hospital when I was 5 and he had an appendicitis. My brother was born there too, three and a half years after me. We could see the hospital on the hill from where we lived when I was 8-12 years old. I used to say “that’s where I was born” every time I was with my parents and saw it off in the distance. That was where I was born, but also where decisions were made for me and expectations were assigned to me based on no knowledge of who I actually was and what my skills and interests would be.
I feel a deep sadness looking at this paper, the first legal record of me and my life. I feel the heaviness of my parents’ expectations, my extended family members’ expectations as the first grandchild and niece/nephews on both sides, and the world’s expectations. I let everyone down in those expectations and I am ok with that. I found my own path and I went in my own direction, sometimes against the wishes of those family members. I spent too much of my life trying to please everyone else, especially after defying all wishes as a child.
But this paper represents hope and the future at the same time. I ordered this seven months ago and nothing has changed. I know what I want my name to be and I know that one day there will be another copy of this paper with all the same information this paper has, except boxes 1 and 2 will be corrected to what should’ve always been there. I do wonder how this will be corrected. Do they just blot it out on a copy and type over that spot? Is this computerized now and they can just type a new name in there? This paper was signed by hand by the doctor who delivered me and the registrar at the time. This version also had a very prominent raised seal. The one I have doesn’t really have a raised seal anymore after years of living in various locked boxes.
Sometimes I wish I could just live in a world without thinking so deeply about everything. I have the paper I need to change my name finally. It took way too long to get my own records.