As a parent new on this journey to the unknown, I am finding that I am really struggling to say my transgender child’s new name. Part of it is the fact that I did not choose that name for my child.
No, seventeen years ago when I was pregnant with that child, we were told it is a boy and we picked a name. It was quite a process because we wanted to include the family names but also be a name that would not create hardship for him further in life. I know enough people with strange names and difficult to spell names or really unusual names. You can watch these people when they order coffee and the barista tries to spell this weird name. No, we picked a name that both my husband and I were happy with.
A few weeks ago though my child told us that he is transgender and this is his new name.
Just like that.
When my husband asked whether he could pick a name, because that is the job of the parent, it was met with great surprise. Probably because this is his journey and we are not part of that journey. It is unfortunately not a journey that you walk alone. The family has been dragged onto this journey with you.
A new identity
I get it though. The renaming of yourself is necessary to frame this new identity. Going through adolescence it is normally a time when we try to figure out who we are apart from your family. Thinking back of my own teenage years and looking at those old photos I am a bit embarrassed by the hairstyles, the fashion and I know I was trying to fit in, trying to be cool, trying to be accepted and having a sense of belonging.
As a christian I turn to God for wisdom on this journey and pay especially attention to my daily bible devotion. What does God want to say to me through the pages of scripture? Well, the story of Naomi popped up a couple of days ago when I did my daily Bible reading.
We find the account of Naomi in the book of Ruth.
So Naomi lost her husband and both her sons. In that culture that meant that she had no future. She had no one to look after her. It was a bit different than today. Although even today that would be an enormous amount of grief to deal with if you lost your husband and your children. Naomi was from Bethlehem originally. She now finds herself in a foreign land with no family to support her. Deciding to return to her native land her daughter-in-law, Ruth joins her even though Naomi insist that she goes back home to her family. Ruth is there as support. When they got back to Naomi’s village the women came out to see Naomi but this is what Naomi tells them:
Ruth 1:20 English Standard Version
20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara,for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.
Naomi was at such a low point in her life and therefor she renamed herself to Mara, which means bitter, because this was her new identity. This is also the only case in the bible of an individual giving themselves a new name.
There are numerous accounts of renaming people in the Bible and you can have a further read here about that. It was always either God himself or a prophet or a king renaming another person. Back in that culture there was also much more meaning to the name than today in western society.
Expecting others to use your new name
It is interesting that the writer of the book of Ruth don’t use her new name as the account continues. It is a very beautiful story of redemption and we see Ruth being married to Boaz. Ruth now is in the family line of Jesus. God had a plan all along.
Even though Naomi felt bitter and wanted to embrace that identity that is not where the story ended and her joy was restored.
For her though in that time while she felt bitter and in despair she wanted to be called Mara.
Getting back to whether it is fair to expect others to use your new name?
This identity crisis is real for my child and it would hurt more to refuse to use the name. At this moment in their life that reaffirming of their identity is an important part really. They already struggle with not feeling loved and accepted. Using their chosen name will help them to feel more accepted.
As a parent I need to remind myself regularly that for them, right now, this is their identity. I have so many emotions and feelings around all of this BUT I need to deal with this on my own and not project it onto my child. My teenager has their own emotions and feelings to deal with. I need to be the adult here and be there for them.
Just be open to accept them
In a conversation with another parent of a transgender child they told me that they are not encouraging ‘all of this” by using the “new” name. To me it is not so much encouraging but accepting them.
This has been a difficult lesson as well because I have a tendency to be controlling and micromanaging. Well, this whole journey has made me realized again that they are on their own journey trying to figure out their path in this world. As the parent I can only point out the road signs along the way.
It certainly is not easy and late at night when I am tired it is super hard to use the right name. Or I find myself when I am focusing on something else and suddenly have to address them the old name slips out.
Living one day at a time
For me this journey has taught me to slow down and think before I speak.
Are my word helpful or hurtful? Is it more hurtful to shy away from the new name or to dance around it using phrases like hun or sweetheart ?
We are not guarantee of a tomorrow, our days are in God’s hands, so all we can do is living one day at a time.
Enjoying one moment at a time.
I don’t know if that might be my last moment that I have with my transgender child.
Take care of you so that you can take care of those you love-