Let’s do an activity. I want you to pause this reading and picture a transgender man in your head. Take a minute to really think about his traits before you come back.
Got it? Now, let’s reflect: What traits did you think of? A more “masculine” name? Top surgery? Lower voice? Muscles? Chances are, you have a lot of expectations as to what a transgender man is “supposed” to look like. At least, that’s what I’ve learned since coming out publicly in February. Cisgender people are the experts on me, and they have a checklist of expectations I must follow in order to be trans. They don’t hesitate to tell me how confusing it is to use my pronouns since I don’t have “masculine” traits yet.
When I used my deadname after coming out, cis people wouldn’t know what to do with themselves since, apparently, all trans people are supposed to change their name. I’ve never in my life seen a cis person be asked such invasive medical questions as the ones I’m interrogated with on a regular basis. After all, I’m supposed to be the educational tool, the token trans in people’s lives. Everyone has a checklist of traits that transgender people must fulfill in order to be valid and real. If you have one handy, you’ll be thrilled to learn you can check off another box: I finally changed my name.
Allow me to introduce myself. Yo! My name is Jayar, pronounced “J-R.” Back in May when I got my first testosterone shot, my doctor recommended that name to me since my legal initials are “J-R-B.” I’m a student at Michigan State University, a musician, a writer, a teacher and a cat lover. My boyfriend is my high school sweetheart and I spend a lot of my time with him, but I also bike, make crafts and watch horror movies. I’m a proud autistic adult and I have a stuffed animal collection to show for it. I’m a transgender male, a friend, a loved one and a person who’s trying his best to get from day to day.
I’ve known that I’m not a woman since my freshman year of high school. That’s when I bought my first binder, had my friends call me “Jay” and tried to present myself as masculine as possible. Going into my sophomore year, I took it all back. I knew something was off, but I decided that living as a woman would keep me safe. My explanation was always, “I’m a woman out of convenience.”
Flash forward to 2021: Everything came rushing back for some reason, giving me no choice but to embrace my true identity. Maybe it was because of COVID-19 or my recent autism diagnosis forcing me to really look within myself, but some sort of switch flipped and I knew I had to move forward as my authentic self. I used my university’s resources to start LGBTQ+ specific therapy, and by February I came out publicly as a transgender male.
Out of all the questions I got from that point on, this was the most prevalent: “Why are you still using your birth name?” After all, I didn’t start using “Jayar” until the end of July. This question always bothered the hell out of me. What I always wanted to say was, “Why the hell do you care?” I don’t owe anyone in my life any sort of explanation on my identity, contrary to popular belief. I usually went with the ol’ “I like my name” as a less aggressive alternative, and it wasn’t exactly a lie.
What people don’t seem to register is how complicated it is to change your first name. When I got my first shot I was given a lot of paperwork, both for symptoms of taking HRT and of resources available to me as a trans person. Two of these pages were dedicated to all of the things I have to do to change my name legally, but it didn’t even include everything.
Let’s look at my university for example. I have to change my name in the system (whatever that means) along with my pronouns so all of the faculty and professors know my name and gender I also have to email each individual professor or faculty member I work with to ensure they don’t deadname or misgender me. Then, I have to change my school ID — but then it wouldn’t be the same name as my legal information and that alone causes complications. After that I have to call MSU IT so my deadname still appears every time I send an email … overwhelmed yet? So am I.
This doesn’t even touch having to go up to all of my friends who knew me through a different name and correct them constantly. Changing my name already feels like a full-time job, yet some people expected me to immediately take on that burden just as I was starting therapy and testosterone. I have five words for those people: Are you fucking kidding me?
I’m not going to check off nearly as many boxes as you probably want me to. I love being feminine and I miss being able to wear dresses without being misgendered. My favorite color is pink. I am not physically strong whatsoever. I am extremely sensitive, and I love that about myself. If this confuses you, then you may be inclined to ask me invasive questions about my identity. I’m willing to answer those questions when they’re not demanded, but expecting me and other trans people to be encyclopedias of knowledge is a larger burden to carry than many realize.
We aren’t your educational tools and we shouldn’t have to pose as them with all of the resources available at your fingertips. This article is a great place to start, and I highly recommend reading it — even if you think you know everything there is to know. Next time you want to ask a transgender person an invasive question, remember that an innocent inquiry from your perspective is one of many instances where someone who is trans is being dehumanized and shamed for being different.
I changed my name for myself. Not for anyone else. I owe myself a life of fulfillment and authenticity, whether it fits your mind’s image of who I should be or not.