Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What's in a Name: An open letter to my friends and family

Hi everyone,

I want to introduce myself to you. My name is Ashir. You can call me Ash. My preferred pronouns are gender neutral; please refer to me as “ze/ zem/ zeir/ zeirs/ zemself”.

Of course, you already know me. I’m the same person you knew yesterday, before you knew my name. I’m still your child, your nibling (niece/nephew), your cousin, your colleague, your friend. I’m still that kid you remember who loved to play dress up and climb trees, get zeir hair braided and roll around in the mud, rearrange your dollhouse and play soccer just a little too rough.

A rose by any other name, right? But names are important and language is important. What we call things shapes how we conceptualize them. You all have known me as Leah for a year, or ten, or twenty-seven. But Leah is not my name (anymore? Perhaps it never really was?). I’m not changing it just because I don’t like how it sounds. This isn’t superficial or frivolous. I’m changing it because I need to do this. I am genderqueer and non-binary transgender. The past few years have been an ongoing process of self-discovery and constantly coming-out. I’ve changed my hair, I’ve changed my wardrobe, I’ve changed my posture and my stride. I’m intentionally and deliberately transitioning into an androgynous and fluid gender presentation and I need a name that matches this crucial part of my identity.

I've known I wanted to change my name for a long time. This is a big year for me. It’s a year full of transitions. In the next few months I’ll be getting married, moving to a new city in a new state with my new wife, and starting a new graduate school program as the first step in pursuing a new career. With so many changes I’ve spent a lot of time this year in self-reflection and this isn’t as sudden as it might seem. I’m not rushing into anything; this has been a long time coming and this is the right time for it.

People keep asking me what my new name means, why I chose “Ashir”. I don’t have a good answer. I think part of the reason I waited so long to pick a new name was because for a long time I couldn't fathom what my new name might be. I kept hoping something would just come to me and I would instantly know it was right in a spiritual epiphany of certainty. Surely something as important as my name would be the easiest most obvious decision in the world, right? (Hah!) But my epiphany never came. I knew I wanted a gender-neutral Jewish-sounding names, so finally I just picked something. Ashir is androgynous in both Hebrew and English, I think it’s aesthetically pleasing, and I like that shortens to a fun and quirky nickname (Ash! Call me Ash!).

I’ve tested it, I’ve started getting used to it, and I don’t have doubts any more. This name is right, This change is real, and it is permanent (or, as permanent as anything is in this uncertain, chaotic, and changeable world). Eventually, I plan to make the change legal.

Moving forward, I ask that you address me by my chosen name and pronouns. I know it’s not easy, and that you’re more comfortable with my old name and pronouns. What I’m asking is that you step out of your comfort zone in order to support me and be a better ally. I’m asking you to respect my choice even if you don’t quite get it, even if you don’t really understand why. I know it’s hard, and I know you’ll make mistakes. Don’t worry, I won’t get angry with you, and I’ll be patient. I just ask that you try.

I know you have more questions. I’m not an expert but I’m willing to do some basic public education about gender and non-binary identities. So here’s your invitation: Ask me anything and, as long as you ask in a spirit of respect and love and with a genuine wish to understand, I promise I won’t be offended (though if it’s too personal I will politely decline to answer). In return, I ask that you understand if there’s some things I’m not ready to share, or able to explain, and don’t be offended if you disagree with my answers.


**Most of you already know that I identify as “genderqueer” and “non-binary transgender” but many of you might not know what that means. Several people have asked me for resources to read up on it. There’s not a lot out there, but here’s a couple decent websites you can check out if you want reading material on the topic:

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