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Name change - the funcrunch files

Aug. 23rd, 2013 05:42 pm Name change

After months of careful contemplation, I have decided to change to a gender-neutral name to align with my shifting gender identity. My new name is:

Pax Ahimsa Gethen

I am just starting to use this name socially this week. I will probably not file legal paperwork for some time yet, and my birth name, Julie Bernstein, will still appear in numerous places online and elsewhere as I transition.

My criteria for choosing a name were, in approximate order of importance: Gender-neutral, personally meaningful, relatively easy to pronounce, and relatively easy to spell. I rejected several candidates based on one or more of these criteria, and compromised on others, but believe that at least my new first name meets all of them.

Pax is Latin for "peace". Pacifism is one of my most important values. It drives my politics and personal behavior.

On advice from trans resources, I had originally considered a more conventional first name from a list of popular boys' names in my birth year (1970): "Terry", just because I liked the sound of it. But I ultimately decided that a personally meaningful name would be a better choice. (Plus, Terry could be seen as short for "Theresa", whereas "Pax" seems unambiguous.)

Ahimsa is Sanskrit for "do no harm", also used to mean "nonviolence".

Similar but not identical to pacifism, the principle of ahimsa is one of my most important values, and the primary reason for my veganism. It likely would have been my new first name had it been easier to spell and pronounce. A sweetie convinced me to make it my new middle name. (Another middle name I considered mostly because I liked the sound of it was "Kai", mostly to supplement and differentiate my original first and last name choice per below.)

Gethen is the name of a fictional planet of androgynes, invented by my favorite author, Ursula K. Le Guin.

Le Guin's novel about this planet, The Left Hand of Darkness, was very influential in my thinking about gender roles and sexuality. I originally considered using the English (or Hainish, in her universe) translation of the planet's name, "Winter", but decided I hate the cold so much that I didn't want that word associated with me. Plus, when I was originally considering the name "Terry Winter", I didn't like the results I got when I did a web search.

Gethen is actually used as both a first and a last name in some countries, and I originally considered taking Gethen as my first name and Pax as my last name. boyziggy convinced me to switch them, and I agreed that was a very good choice.

As far as the reason for this change, I have been experiencing growing discomfort with my assigned gender and sex which has peaked over the last several months. (A primer for those not already informed: Sex is what's between your legs, gender is what's between your ears.) I've been exploring these feelings in detail in mostly friends-only blog entries, and will continue to do so. But I am going public with the gist of this information, as it's critical to the reason for my name change.

I have decided my gender identity is neutral: Neither male nor female. I do not expect people to use gender-neutral pronouns to refer to me, as I'm not satisfied that any, other than the plural "they/them", are in wide enough use to be understood. Though I personally see myself as slightly more "m" than "f", I am fine with either she/her/hers or he/him/his. Just not "it", please. UPDATE 9/13/2013: I now prefer the gender-neutral pronouns they/them/their. I am not undergoing any surgical or hormonal treatments to alter my body at this time. My sexual orientation, bisexual with a definite preference for bisexual men, remains unchanged.

Whether I should use the term "transgender" to describe myself is unclear, but I certainly fall under the category of "genderqueer" even though I'm not particularly fond of that term. In any event, I was very moved by Chelsea Manning's announcement yesterday of her transgender status, an act I see as even braver than the Wikileaks disclosure considering her prison sentence, and the timing is fortuitous for me to disclose my own status in solidarity.

UPDATE 2/3/2014: In this early-transition entry, I incorrectly referred to "male" and "female" as genders, rather than sexes. I now label my gender identity as agender rather than neutral, and my sex as female-to-male transsexual as I began testosterone therapy in January. My sexual orientation is also more accurately described as gay male rather than bisexual. My "singular they" pronoun preference remains unchanged.

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Date:August 24th, 2013 01:17 am (UTC)
On one hand, I completely support you. On the other, "Julie Bernstein" was one of my favourite names ever.
Date:August 24th, 2013 01:20 am (UTC)
Really?? Why, out of curiosity? (It isn't because I shared the name of the Animaniacs theme song composer, is it? ;-) )
Date:August 24th, 2013 01:23 am (UTC)
Oh. My. God. REALLY?!?!?! It's even MORE favourite now. If I ever have another girl-kid, I'm gonna name her Julie Bernstein Arce.

More seriously... I just like the sound of it. I can't quite give you a point by point reason, it's just... I really liked the name. It may have been heavily influenced by how much I liked girl-you. I look forward to meeting boy-you.

(Unsure if that's a proper metaphor but alas, the languages I know are sorely lacking in proper forms for this sort of situation)
Date:August 24th, 2013 01:28 am (UTC)
Aww :-) Well ideally whatever qualities you liked in me as Julie will still be present in Pax. I'm just aligning my name and some aspects of my outer appearance with how I feel on the inside.(There are some other reasons I wanted to change my last name instead of just my first, which I'm not talking about publicly.)
Date:August 24th, 2013 06:59 pm (UTC)

THIS is almost what it takes to get me to read LJ...

I acknowledge what you've written here, including to correct my misapprehension that your gender identity was now "male". I'll do my level best.


P.S.: I apparently can't change my Gmail label for you from "JMB" to "PAG" from a mobile browser. Soon.
Date:August 24th, 2013 07:02 pm (UTC)

Re: THIS is almost what it takes to get me to read LJ...

Male is slightly more accurate than female, but, "it's complicated". Hence I'm not sweating over pronouns :-)

Don't you still have an LJ account? Or are you just not logged in?
Date:August 25th, 2013 04:59 am (UTC)
I'm glad you went over the pronoun thing here since I was going to ask you on your other private post but then I thought about how much I hate that question and didn't want you to feel like I was pushing you to be figuring out & changing everything all at once.

But since you did bring it up, are you saying you DON'T like singular they/them? Or is that OK too? I'm like 80% of the way to deciding to ask folks to use that for me but then I get some pushback and I feel like "argh, effort" and I don't.
Date:August 25th, 2013 05:08 am (UTC)
Singular they/them is OK too; I was trying to say that I think that's the only one of the existing gender-neutral pronoun sets that's widely understood.
Date:September 13th, 2013 09:37 pm (UTC)
I love your name...just be prepared for the hassle of having to spell and re-spell it every time you have to talk on the phone. My last name is not complex but it is not common either, and one thing I find annoying is talking to customer service representatives I usually have to repeat the spelling three times and they still get it wrong. I've often thought how convenient it would be to change my name to John Smith.
Date:September 13th, 2013 09:56 pm (UTC)
I love your name...just be prepared for the hassle of having to spell and re-spell it every time you have to talk on the phone.

Are you referring to my last name? I chose "Pax" as my first name partially because it is relatively easy to spell. And "Gethen" isn't any worse than "Bernstein" in regards to spelling (people have frequently left out the first "n" for some reason).
Date:September 13th, 2013 10:13 pm (UTC)
Well, taking a second look, I would guess that most people will probably hear your first name as "Pat" initially, and some will hear "M" instead of "N" for the last name (I'm ignoring the middle name, unless you intend to put your full name everywhere aside from your government-issued IDs?).

I guess my problem is I have several letters in my surname that sound too much like other letters; besides the "N" often mistaken as "M", the "S"es are often heard as "F"s.

And then there's the matter of pronunciation. It looks good on paper and in concept, but I have no idea how to pronounce either your middle or last name, and people usually mispronounce the first vowel in my surname. Whereas hardly anyone ever mispronounces or misspells Smith, Jones, or Johnson.

But that's just me.

Edited at 2013-09-13 10:14 pm (UTC)
Date:September 13th, 2013 10:22 pm (UTC)
So far everyone I've introduced myself to as "Pax" has understood me immediately. But I haven't used it with a stranger on the phone yet.

I expect confusion with "Ahimsa" which is why I'm making it my middle name where it will rarely need to be used. I do enjoy explaining its meaning to people though.

Gethen doesn't strike me as terribly difficult, except for the difficulty some people have in pronouncing soft "th". I'm glad boyziggy convinced me to make it my last name rather than my first though. Simply "Pax" will do for all but the most official business.