Most of us were given our names at birth. Sometimes parents choose their baby’s name before the baby is even born, sometimes they wait to meet the baby and see what seems to fit. A lot of times we grow into our names somehow.
The decision to change your name is a tremendously personal statement.
There is something profoundly significant about the name given at birth. Historically, when a couple joined in marriage, often one person would change their surname accepting their partner's as their own, but this practice is not assumed today, as often folks choose to keep or maintain their surnames or create a new one together. When Frank and Geoff married this past June, they created their own unique surname joining together the maiden names of each of their Mothers. Such a beautiful beginning to their story.
When the birth name does not reflect the gender of the person, the statement of changing their name is a deeply personal moment.
Reading stories of people who have transitioned, they describe the process of looking for their new name as one of exploration, healing, wonderment and pride. Discovering their new name was an opportunity to put aside the pain and sorrow of their “dead name” as they call it and look for a new identity, a new name that fully describes how they see themselves, what they want to say about themselves, what they believe about themselves.
So what does this matter to Allies? What is our response? What do we do when we meet someone who is now, not someone else, but someone who is truly themselves?
I believe the first step will be to listen. We must listen to recognize what we are being told with very few words. Imagine this conversation:
“Welcome back to church! It is so good to see you again! How was your summer? Are you glad to be back in school?”
(At this point noticing that the person is wearing the wrong name tag because it says “Mary” and you know that is “Johnny”)
STOP, BREATHE, LISTEN
The Mother replies “Mary, can you tell the nice lady what you made at school yesterday?”
You have just been told that this child is transitioning. Your response, your facial expressions, your ability to let this child know that they are welcome and beloved may be the most important thing you ever do.
As we move into becoming an Affirming Congregation, our eyes will be opened and our hearts expanded to improve our capacity to recognize how much we must change our stereotypes and rigid institutions to allow the beautiful souls who are recognizing their true selves to know that they are at home and safe in our presence.