Author Archives: jaquleyn

Tats, Names, Piercings & Change

We use a category of expected choices within our culture to redefine our identity throughout life, and this is common and good and people gather together on the occasion of such a choice. We celebrate and acknowledge the change with rituals of transformation, such as graduations, housewarmings, weddings and retirement parties. This type of change is expected and supported, and therefore makes sacred transitions more powerful and less difficult for the transforming party.

name change               Photo by Benji Cabellojauregui

There are other categories of choices, though, which bring much power into someone’s life, but which are questioned instead of being venerated. They are put under scrutiny disproportionately to categories of expected choices, and deemed questionable. The shun-able choices! Some choices simply do not work to increase the Gross Domestic Product, and we’ve been thus commercially trained to discriminate against them: not having children, living a life of little means, relaxing. Another category of choices that is stigmatized instead of revered are those that constitute the deconstruction of an expected change, such as abortion, divorce, ending college without a degree, and changing careers.

Aesthetic choices are yet another category of personal choice, and these demand almost nothing of others, except to see with fresh eyes someone they have already known in a certain way. These include piercings (weirdly, ONLY piercings other than in girls’ ears), tattoos, the pronouncement that one’s gender is different than was assumed based on their genitals, and the change of a name (other than during the marriage of a woman). These changes do require others to have a certain base consciousness (i.e. that on this day, something is aesthetically different from a previous day). But people have proven capable of that ability through their response to expected changes like the career, address, car, or outfit of another person. When someone moves, you don’t spend 10 years repeatedly hounding them about how difficult it is for you to get used to their new house.

Why are these aesthetic choices shunned, then, especially when they are deeply personal and so truly not the business of any other person? Perhaps it is because, in this particular category, the permanent aesthetic changes made by oneself to oneself have an independence attached to them, a proof of autonomy, a spiritual knowing that belongs only to the changing one. Ah-ha! The word just came to me. For the first time in 11 years since I changed my name, all that scoffing and disregard, I may perchance call IT by a new name. Envy.

I daresay it may be envy. Not that it is SO special! It is indeed truly ordinary—to pierce through or revise our body or how we are called. What a suitable, external process to align with the internal processes of our souls? A human mind is so expansive that it experiences, in the course of a lifetime, the equivalent of Earth’s seismic tremors and tectonic shifts. These transformations are fantastic, and leave us rich, with the mountains and gold of personal evolution. Maybe that is frightening to others, and maybe they feel a little left out. Let’s keep on evolving, and mark it all over our skin or nomenclature if we need to, but as for the naysayers, go easy on ’em. Autonomy is a wild and coveted road.

Dickens on Pip as a Name

For a lover of classic novels, I remained woefully under-Dickensed all my life, having slogged painstakingly through A Tale of Two Cities in 7th grade. The discomfort of its sophisticated density – for a girl my age – prevented the future urge to return to Dickens ever again, until now. (Although, I did relish periodic viewings of A Christmas Carol and it’s comedic counterparts… Bill Murray’s Scrooged, “An Extra Christmas Carol” from the 2018 season of Saturday Night Live, etc.)

Recently, a friend recommended her favorite book to me: Great Expectations. She brought me her tattered copy of it while I peddled goods at my chocolate shop the next day, and I tucked it in my backpack for a trip to Austin, Texas. It made my trip; a fantastic tale to traverse during those moments and hours between departures, arrivals, connections and escapes. I resonated with Great Expectations’ fundamental theme of wealth inequality, which is a philosophical centerpiece of modern existence some 200 years later, unfortunately, as well.

We get to know a blacksmith named Pip who’s about to be mysteriously propped up as a gentlemen, essentially lifted from the impoverished class to the wealthy one. Upon his journey, he is paired up with a friendly chap, “Mr. Pocket,” who reconsiders Pip’s name. In the spirit of our anthology in the works, A Tiny Death: Stories of Identity and Transformation Through Chosen Names, I am giddy to share this Pip passage with you below. Continually, as Amabel and I traverse the sociology and history of chosen names in service to this anthology, I encounter these kinds of passages in both literature and life, about changing and attributing meaning to a name:

“I dare say we shall be often together, and I should like to banish any needless restraint between us. Will you do me the favour to begin at once to call me by my Christian name, Herbert?”

I thanked him, and said I would. I informed him in exchange that my Christian name was Philip.

“I don’t take to Philip,” said he, smiling, “for it sounds like a moral boy out of the spelling-book, who was so lazy that he fell into a pond, or so fat that he couldn’t see out of his eyes, or so avaricious that he locked up his cake till the mice ate it, or so determined to go a bird’s-nesting that he got himself eaten by bears who lived handy in the neighbourhood. I tell you what I should like. We are so harmonious, and you have been a blacksmith—would you mind it?”

“I shouldn’t mind anything that you propose,” I answered, “but I don’t understand you.”

“Would you mind Handel for a familiar name? There’s a charming piece of music by Handel, called the Harmonious Blacksmith.”

“I should like it very much.”

“Then, my dear Handel,” said he, turning round as the door opened, “here is the dinner, and I must beg of you to take the top of the table, because the dinner is of your providing.”

 

 

Our Lady of Christmas

claus

I don’t know about your mom, but mine takes on essentially a full time job for two weeks from December 10–25, building out elaborate plans, menus, gifts, and accommodations to create the magic of Christmas, and then who gets the credit? Some imaginary man with a big white beard. Who makes Christmas happen? SANTA CLAUS!

Does this story reflect the realities of our culture? (The guy who gets all the credit has a bunch of no-wage laborers and a wife who is nameless.) Unfortunately, in some ways, it does. Fortunately, our culture is shifting, and now is the time for women who were once nameless to be named. In some stories, Kris Kringle was a toymaker who married Jessica. So maybe her name is Jessica. Jessica Claus. Although … other names found for her are Gertrude and Carol. What a joke?! Who is this vaguely defined woman, and why are they hiding the fact that she is silently responsible for all the gifts, the meals, the household, and the appointment with the sleigh mechanic, or the fact that she is systematically caring for the elves enough to prevent them from revolt?

Oh dear. I’ve gotten away from myself. Please everybody, let’s be joyful, ’tis the season of cheer. In England, the wife of Father Christmas is Mother Christmas. That sounds reasonable to me. Let’s call her that, okay? The lady deserves a name. Gertrude Claus, the Mother of Christmas, it is.

X Is How I Sign My Name

Contributed by Dr. S. Cooper

In my early teens, at school, we were signing documents for particular events and official reasons. Not only was my teacher on my case about my ever changing writing patterns and style, but it struck me that signing my name SUSIE was dull. The more I thought about it, the more becoming an adult, all those responsibilities, and the signing of my name became real and grew in importance. Susie was ordinary. There were two more SUSIEs in my class, a SUE and a SUSAN and I could not relate to them. The search was on to find another way, a more exciting method of signing my name, of getting it down on paper and being memorable.

The written letters presented nothing of any visual delight, whereas the spoken SUSIE was hissing, oozy, raising the voice tone up at the end. My name was an oral sensual delight, the written version of it deflating.

In the late 1970s and ’80s in the UK, there was this popular punk band SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES. What a great spelling of my name. Later, when reading radical feminist literature I was also introduced to the reclaiming of the word BANSHEE, which added to the intrigue and history of that name and music band. In particular, the “X” in the SIOUXSIE configuration was a visual and design possibility that excited me and caught my eye.

Not telling my parents of my plan to change the spelling of my name added to the excitement. It was like an act of high treason. At school we were reading about the kings and queens of England, looking at how their signatures brought to life their worldly actions and presence. I wanted to be more present in this world. Queen Elizabeth I’s signature was an outstanding example, so with a flat-headed calligraphy pen I started to write out SIOUXSIE carefully, in a considered as well as illegal act of rebellion: x-rated acted of resistance – my classmates thought it was cool.

To this day, I have comments from official bodies, banks, companies, friends and lovers who state “what an unusual spelling,” or “what a lovely name.” The one I find particularly amusing is “were your parents hippies!” My mother still, 30 years on, struggles with the spelling. The best way to remember is SIOUX as in the SIOUX tribe and then SIE. When a telemarketing campaign calls, I always know because their pronunciation of my name is illegible like “SOOGIE” or “XUXXIEE” – easy to identify and put down the phone on them.

It turns out that the original singer, who is in the process of revamping her career, found out out about me and bought up all the webpage configurations you can think of with the name SIOUXSIE. She even blogged about the famous BELLYDANCER with her name. I did make a name for myself as a dance artist, PhD researcher, and teacher in the UK. The name, quite rightly, is distinctive and it helped with my performing career.

Sometimes I wondered if I should relent and return to SUSIE. Especially during the moments in my life when being not so identifiable was a good plan. Escaping a particularly violent and abusive relationship was one incident when going into the beige of society could helped. However, the bubbles of rebellion grow and I have even contemplated a spelling of XUZU. I met a woman whose online avatar is a SUSIE and she gave me over 25 spellings she used. Another funny occurrence was when a SIOUX Indian moved into our shared house and noted my name with a notice on the board saying, “Oh good there’s another SIOUX living here: It will feel like home.” We did meet, we laughed and he said to me he couldn’t think of a better person to have OUR NATION’S name: I felt honored.

SIOUXSIE is also very official; I changed my name by deed pole in 2016, and now it is the name and the spot I sign on official documents. The irony and hilarity of that defiant act never ceases to amuse me.

Float Your Own Ideological Boat

Recently I visited a friend in Seattle that I know from college (we had attended an intellectual college, a bastion of the liberal artform of critical thought, churning out the educated and progressive people, square-capping the facilitators of a changing future), and he was espousing the intolerability of being asked to use “they/them” as a personal pronoun.

You know me – I’m an open minded guy! I completely accept transgender people, and I’ll use “he or she,” according to the person’s preference. Sure, maybe someone was born in a man’s body but then feels like a woman. Okay, I accept that, and I understand that the person wants to be called her and she. But then there’s these people that are – what, neither a man nor a woman? And they want to be called ‘they.’ Come on. A ‘they?’ I can’t get on board with that. I just can’t relate to saying ‘they’ when I’m talking about 1 person.

Yes, “they” is most commonly used to convey plurality, while a gender nonconforming person is singular, so that takes getting used to. But deal with it, dude! I was startled by his opinion but couldn’t formulate the words, in my shrunken, muted lady-voice at the time, to tell him he was being a dick. Or, had I stumbled into one of those rare public moments when I am able to muster both confidence and diplomacy, to just let him know how precisely his logic illustrates the trap of the exclusionary mind, this inclination to deny the existence of something outside your experience. How basic! And how human (or animal perhaps. At least the more animal side of being human…) that we would validate our own existence with micro-declarations of “I AM!” so sleekly disguised as “YOU ARE NOT!” After all, we are all subjects of the human condition. And we all goddamned long to know what we are.

Diversity inclusion, though, happens to be precisely centered around foreign content; content that is foreign to the includer. We must invite each other to center our every interaction around the humility of inviting everything in, familiar or foreign, without elevating the former above the latter. Imagine that the idea of your life exists in a boat that floats on the vast ocean of all possibilities. You ought to be busy steering your boat because defining who you are is a lot to handle. Existence is admittedly fucking weird, and one can imagine the discomfort that might drive us to jump into someone else’s ideological boat to get away from the discomfort of our own. i.e. espousing disapproval of someone’s chosen gender pronoun, OR seeking control over what someone wants to do with her womb, OR even, and especially, confining your own close relations to the ways they have floated their boats until now. I changed my name to Jaquelyn 11 years ago, and still certain people will openly – and seemingly sweetly – declare “You’ll always be Stephie to me.” It’s creepy. And it’s harmful to people, as documented increasingly in the mainstream media, like this recent article from Cosmopolitan magazine:  “Why Allowing Trans People to Use Their Chosen Names is So Important: New Research Proves it has Massive Positive Impact on Mental Health.

Before I finally and thoroughly pound this lifeboat analogy like an overworn stake into the ground, let’s really clarify what it is. I’m not saying that everyone should be able to do anything they want, or even to think anything they want. You may challenge me, for example, that if your neighbor steals your apples, you may “jump into his boat” and claim them back. But that boat involves physical actions, the right to possession and so forth, so it is not an apt use of the analogy. The analogy refers to the ocean of possibilities, and the boat is our own thoughts, and particularly our thoughts about ourselves. We stand to preserve a tremendous amount of energy by remaining in our own existential boat. More importantly, by doing so, we suddenly avoid causing all manner of harm to other people. Each time we refuse to see someone as they claim to be, or refuse to call them as they claim to be titled, it is like throwing a little explosive right into their boat. It compromises their state of mind, even as they are likely managing the fragile state of ideological development and sacred rebirth. Next time someone who is gender nonconforming, or for other reasons has requested to be called something new, observe how relaxing it is, how warm and connective (if slightly awkward!) to stay in your boat by trying your best to do as they ask. 

Narratives in the Autumn of Human Consciousness

Driving through the orange-bursted hillsides, I am juiced by the spirit of change, changes in patterns of thinking. The antithesis to change – to transformation, differences, diversity – is sameness. I am reminded of white bread in the fifties, the apron-on-housewife/man-with-grill-hat-spatula image of early industrial homogeny. Of the lynchings and reservations, the chemicals and warfare under the surface, and how the fifties narrative built a myth of sameness with the shiny punctuation of “commercial breaks” in every household and the innocuously insipid advertisement in Homemaker magazine. This myth of sameness is the antitheses of change and acceptance. The myth is decomposing in America now like fall in Vermont: a rapid, gorgeous, irrepressible triumph of change. Our collective consciousness is taking time to relate to the universal experience of oppression that dwells in the subsurface of the billions. That’s a big change! And why?

It’s happening because of people telling their stories. And others listening. And the catalyzing of more telling, in turn. Stories are irrefutable proof of difference. Every individual story exposes the falsity of the myth of sameness, and indicts resistance to difference and change. (Interestingly, and hope-fully, a story gently soothes that resistance. That’s why storytelling is extra rad: it fights the war while healing the enemy.) And then suddenly, so easily, as a red leaf floats to the ground, I am struck by a the explanation of why certain people in my own life were once resistant to a change in me.

It started in my early twenties when I opened a business I wanted to call The Vermont Granola Company. A perfect name, but while no such company existed in Vermont, I learned from the Secretary of State that the name was already taken. I brainstormed a new name with my friend Rosha at her tiny Burlington apartment. It stood at the crotch of the “T” on a side street on the North End and one October night in 2003, she prepared grain bowls for our dinner. She suggested that a business, (especially a small food company in Vermont,) possesses a strong, magnetic identity when it includes a person’s name. We sought a good-sounding Steph’s Something or Something Steph’s. I told her about the qualities worth mentioning: our distinguished taste resulting from pure maple syrup. The vast quantity of nuts: whole, fresh nuts, not like the chafe you find in other so-called nutty granolas. She then hit on it immediately: Nutty Steph’s. And that was it.

There followed, for me, a fairly rapid and unanticipated transformation of the title for my own personal identity from Steph to Nutty Steph, particularly among my local community and anyone new that I met after 2003, who, in this career-obsessed American social script, would, within minutes of learning my name, Steph – inevitably learn of my profession, Nutty Steph’s.  But that was fine. Super cute and memorable. Great for business. And what better for building character than to be able to take yourself less than seriously? I was now “Nutty Steph.”

Nonetheless, four years later, in part because of the superimposed adjective that longed to become me, and for other reasons as well, even yet-to-become reasons still , and because it marked my coming of age, I chose a new first name. It was almost beyond my choice, like when you fall in love at first sight. Someday I’ll tell you the story, but the story today, on this October day when I am pondering change, is how terribly awkward it was after I did choose a new name, an awkwardness I had absolutely not anticipated. I failed to write a letter to all who loved me about how I felt and the simplicity and beauty of my request to be called Jaquelyn. This absence of my story left them fearful of me.

The moment of change for me went beyond a new name and involved a transformational phase of my being, a multi-dimensional phenomenon, something complex, something a computer would fail to understand but that a human being would feel their way into, through narrative, through story, by absorbing the complex spiritual journey of my individual tale, had I told it. I am as a result more interested in change management and diplomacy in the face of fear and disorientation. These skills intrigue me since I so clearly missed an opportunity to use them, and experienced, in turn, great discomfort of my own, in addition to that of those who loved me.

An emotional shift occurs in a listener when they hear the story of someone different from themselves, and this moves them to an expanded capacity for thought. We cushion the awkwardness of difference when we bow to vulnerability and narrate  our unique experience. In order to expose those around us to difference, we must tell our stories. Change is a superpower available to everyone, always pending, a virtual October, waves of profound understanding waiting to crash upon us. Swim, swim in it! All you need is a tale.

Everything According to the Rules

Elena Greco, (or Lenu, as Lila calls her,) of Neapolitan Novels, describes her recently wed best friend – formerly Raffaella Cerullo, nicknamed Lila – while the two of them are artistically disfiguring a giant portrait of Lila, tearing off parts of the image and covering swaths with paint or collaged bits of paper until only her eye remains:
 
While we worked, she began to talk about when she had first begun to realize that she was now Signora Caracci… In the beginning, that “Caracci” had been no more than an exercise in logical analysis. What was it, an indirect object of place? Did it mean that she now lived not with her parents but with Stefano? Did it mean that the new house where she was going to live would have on the door a brass plate that said “Caracci?” Did it mean that if I were to write to her I would no longer address the letter to Raffaella Cerullo but to Raffaella Caracci, and that she herself would define herself, and sign, only as Raffaella Caracci, and that her children would have to make an effort to remember their mother’s surname, and that her grandchildren would be completely ignorant of their grandmother’s surname?
 
Yes. A custom. Everything according to the rules, then.
 
…She had been increasingly oppressed by an unbearable sensation, a force pushing down harder and harder, crushing her. That impression had been getting stronger, had prevailed. Raffaella Cerullo, overpowered, had lost her shape and had dissolved inside the outlines of Stefano, becoming a subsidiary emanation of him: Signora Caracci.