The death of a name

I hate the term deadname. I hate the images it brings up. I hate the connotations that it has. I hate everything about it. That isn’t to say there’s not a place for it in transgender discourse, or that other transgender people can’t find solace in that same term, images, and connotations. In fact, I still use the term a lot, more so now than when I first came out. It does the job that it’s set out to do, which is to define very succinctly what calling someone who is transgender by their non-preferred name feels like, and why it shouldn’t ever be done. The very term sounds grave, because it is.

So what is it about deadname that I hate so much? Well, to put it bluntly, I am not and have never been dead. There is no distinct line where I stopped being Matt, and started being Mattie. It was a slow and gradual process. I can tell stories from when I was a child, teenager, young adult, and as recent as a few years ago, that all lead to me being transgender. Some of it very obvious, some of it far more subtle and only really makes sense looking back on my life. The entire process is a transition. Life isn’t an anime where you can twirl around and magically transform into a new you, as wonderful as that might be.

Matt, or Matthew James, was my name before I transitioned. When I decided to start transitioning, I started going by Mattie. I may, or may not, eventually change my legal name to Mathilda Jane, but even then I’ll go by Mattie colloquially. If I do change my legal name, I still won’t consider “Matt” and “Matthew James” a deadname. They’re a part of me and always have been, and always will be. That is why I chose the names Mattie and Mathilda. It takes that history with me, while also bringing the transitioned me along with it.

So why, in blog posts like my introductory story, do I refer to it as a deadname still? Because we have a word for it. It’s common usage in the transgender community, and using it with me has the same consequences that it does to any transgender person. I don’t want to use the name Matt, or Matthew James. Even if I’m directly quoting someone who used those words, I am not going to do it. This will, probably, be the only blog post that I actually use my original names at all.

I’ve always hated the name Matthew James. I don’t know if that’s just because it was the name my mom used when she was mad at me, or if it just sounded so proper and I’m very much not a proper sort of person, or if it is yet another one of those subtle signs that I was transgender all along. I just hated it. I hated Matt too, just not as much as Matthew. Everywhere I went there was another Matt. I believe my grade school class had 5 other Matts in it. In college, my friends group had 3-4 other Matts in it as well. When I got my first real job, my direct coworker was also Matt.

This is why I quickly became known as Frozen, to everyone. Everywhere. Except for with my family.

Why Frozen? Do you just really like the Disney movie?

Yes, erm, I mean no, I mean, well, yes I really like the Disney movie, but no that’s not where the name comes from.

You see, I was a barely a teenager when the Internet first started taking off and becoming a household thing people could actually use. I was 11 when the movie Hackers came out and goddamnit I loved that stupid movie. I needed a “cool” online name. Cool. Get it? Yeah, I wasn’t and still aren’t very witty. Frozen-Solid, or FrozenSolidOne, or FrozenSolid, depending on where I signed up, became my Internet handle. I used it everywhere, and all my friends knew it. They just started referring to me with it. It was far easier than saying “Matt” and having half a dozen people turn around and say “what?”

And it stuck. Hard.

The day I started working at my first real job my boss asked me what they should call me because they already have a Matt. I told them Frozen. He scoffed and laughed, and suggested Matthew, and I was like “Uh, no one calls me that. They just call me Matt or Frozen.” Within a few weeks everyone at that job, even the CEO, would refer to me as Frozen. While awkward at first, it became second nature by the end of the 8 years I spent at that company. No one would think twice about it.

Now I answer to simply Mattie or Frozen. Eventually, maybe, Mathilda as well.

Even before I transitioned, people were kind enough to ask “What do we call you?” and no matter how weird it was, they did it. I don’t, and never will, understand how hard it is for someone to simply not deadname a transgender person. That is another reason I hate deadnames. They shouldn’t exist. It should not be a thing that happens. It isn’t difficult to call a person the word they choose to be called by, no matter how ridiculous you might think it is.

Things get even fuzzier when one is talking about the past. To most people that know me there is a distinct line where I stopped being “Matt” and started being “Mattie.” What should someone do when referring to me before that point in time? What about talking about me to people who may have known me before my transition, but don’t know about my transition now?

I know what the answers I would prefer are, but of course I can’t answer that for every transgender person. To me, those answers are that I am now, and have always been, Mattie. I don’t want there to be a line separating the past from the present. To me, I haven’t changed. I’m still the same person. Aspects of me may have changed, but I’m still here. People’s perceptions of who I was, compared to who I am, may have changed, but I can’t control people’s perceptions. I simply hope that my transition brings new light into those perceptions.

I would like to believe that people are smart enough to fill in the blanks, or at least in the case of having known me before but not after my transition that they ask for clarification. The answer to the question is as simple as one might expect. “She’s transgender” and “She transitioned to female” are both acceptable.

I get it though, I really do. Having called me “Matt” or “Matthew” for three decades, it’s going to be hard for those closest to me to change. I get that, and I’m as patient as possible. All I, and I think most transgender people, ask for, is to give it a good faith effort. If there is a slip up, quickly correct it, or simply apologize. Before long you won’t even realize you’re using my new, chosen name.

Of course, once again this is all assuming a good faith effort, and that’s where deadnaming becomes malicious. That’s where I refuse to get on a soapbox and call for the removal of deadnaming as a common phrase in the transgender discourse.

Malicious deadnaming is a thing that happens. “I refuse to call you Mattie. You’ll always be Matt to me.” Fortunately, that hasn’t happened to me, yet, and I hope it never will. Unfortunately, for millions of transgender people in the world that is not their reality, and they haven’t been so fortunate.

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