Yesterday, after putting it off for about a year, my religious community held a sort of naming ceremony for me. Our congregation is a small Jewish Havurah, and friends had long ago offered to lead a bit of a service, something to acknowledge my name, and let the community stand with me for a moment and affirm where I am now. A strength of our congregation is our ability to navigate and mark the moments when life changes. Even so, I had been dragging my feet. I love these sorts of acknowledgements for other people, but hate them for myself. All told though, despite my discomfort, I’m glad I did it, and extremely glad to be part of a community that has embraced my family and me in this way. Here is an excerpt of some of the words I spoke at the service:
I’m not one for ceremony. Throughout this time, as I’ve had to teach and ask my family, all of my communities and friends to change how they think of and interact with me, I’ve craved privacy. I didn’t want to stand here with you and mark how far I’ve come, because that would acknowledge that I had to come here from somewhere, that there was a time before. I don’t want to stand up here and talk about my name, because then both you and I think about the old one. So why am I here?
I got through the first 34 years or so of my life through a sort of willful forgetting. I knew my gender only in fragments, fragments that I pushed away and insisted didn’t matter anyway. I did not live in my body — it was leaden and numb, and it didn’t feel like it was mine. I thought this was how it had to be, and I’m powerful in this way — I have a strong will, and I don’t always realize when I’m using it. I paid a high price for for this forgetting.
From where I am now, my impulse is to do another version of this same forgetting. I’d like to erase parts of my past, not just for me, but for the people who know me, and I’m using that same force of will. Chances are, this forgetting would also come at a high price.
So, here I am, with you, today, acknowledging that my life has changed profoundly over the last two years, even though I’d rather both you and I pretend it hasn’t, standing with you briefly in both my past and my present, accepting that you still see me as who I am. For now, I’m not asking that any of us forget anything. I’m here with you not to celebrate a change from one thing to another, but to acknowledge the strength it took to stop ignoring and to see what was right before me the whole time