My Name My Choice

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Free To Be Me

Have you ever woke up one day and decided, “This name doesn’t feel right, I am gonna change it”? I guess I’ll get more no’s than yes. For most people their name matches who they are. They feel comfortable with the name they were given at birth. But for trans people, the case is often, if not always different. Most of us choose to change our names to represent who we truly are. We are on edge with the names we were given.

As I sit here today, I go down the memory lane, back to that moment that I changed my name. Life was pretty challenging before I changed it. I was disheartened and beleaguered most of the time. I wouldn’t present my ID in public and I would shun away from all places that necessitate my national identification card. A couple of times I was accused of impersonation when I present my ID card. It was palpable the name on my ID card did not match the person who was presenting it. Typically you know how the world is, we are given names according to our assigned gender at birth. In most occasions where I presented my ID card the reaction will more or less be the same. It will vary from “Why are you using your sister’s document?” to “Are you really a girl? You don’t look like one!”.

Subsequently, I would go into an endless loop of vindicating who I am and why my documents don’t match who I am. For some they will empathize and grant me the service am seeking, for others they will chuckle and give me a cold shoulder claiming I should seek psychiatric evaluation, for others they will be curious and want to know more. Such scenarios acted as a window to educate people about the variations of gender identity beyond the binaries.

I had just been enrolled for my bachelor’s degree. My first semester was hell on earth. Throughout my life, I never looked like a typical female. So having a ‘female name’ was a big challenge. I did as little as possible at school. I was invisible. I avoided joining clubs or doing any extracurricular activities. I pushed people away, especially those who tried to get close to me. I only showed up for classes and would immediately get out of school right after. I did not want anyone to know my ‘official names’. During roll calls or when the lecturer would return CAT papers (of which the routine was to call out names loudly and one by one we would stand and go pick our papers) I would just sit and wait for the lecturer to get done, place the remaining papers at the table and leave. Then I’ll go look for my paper. Occasionally the lecturer would point at me and ask what my name is. I would say Chayton (my preferred name).
“I have never come across that name in my register. Are you sure you are a registered student here?” He would ask.
Such instances would bring a lot of emotions to the surface. For the most part of my life, all I wanted was to vanish from the face of earth.

During this period, I had already met a number of other trans people. I couldn’t live with that name anymore. It had to go! I knew who to approach to help me with my name change.

I still recall sitting there on a hard wooden chair in a restaurant explaining to her how I really want a name a change as soon as possible. Audrey (Transgender Education & Advocacy), knowing the struggle I was going through at school, didn’t have qualms with helping me go through the process. She explained to me what I would need and the procedure I would take. The organization would pay for the legal fees and other costs incurred. The following week I met with her again to sign my affidavit. The next couple of days I spent looking for the documents needed; such as the letter from the chief, an ID printout and so forth.

On 19th April that year I finally got my name change. Yes!! My preferred name was official. I couldn’t contain the elation I felt. It can’t be put into words. I was finally set free! It was like a bird in cage being freed for the first time. Like a prisoner gaining his magical freedom after being sentenced for an indefinite period of time! I shared the news with my friends. I celebrated. Finally I was free to be me!

The following day I instantaneously rushed to school to change my documents. The academics registrar was very understanding and granted me my request. I got a new student’s ID card after a week. I felt brand-new. Like I had just been born again. In all places I went folks pointed out the joy in my eyes, my aliveness. And yes, I was ultimately alive. I had felt dead for years; being imprisoned with a name that put me in a cage.
For most people, their ID card is just another document. For me, I hold my passport close to my heart. When I look at it, I feel a sense of accomplishment, I feel alive. It shows that I exist. My passport was the key to my freedom. It’s a treasure.

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