As you read this, give me the benefit of the doubt, just as I strive to do as often as possible. I’ve got the respiratory crud and my usual sweet temperament leans toward riotous today. The errors are all mine, as always, especially since I’m both increasingly blind and lazy about proofreading.
I’ve shared a volume of stories about my past, about my birth name, and about the process I used to change my name and I how I chose it. I hammered a large nail in the coffin of my previous life when I changed my name. I got a whole new set of documents to go with the rejection of my former life, including a new birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, and school records. (No, I wasn’t actually in Witness Protection, although I’ve told a lot of people that one.) I haven’t always handled well those who used my old name like a dagger; overall, however, I’m confident I gave most of them more benefit of the doubt than they deserved. Had I to do it all over again, I would’ve adopted the final season Walter White persona to deal with them. Much of the nastiness leveled against me made for great stories. I can’t have those stories without having been on the receiving end of the behavior – life provides stories most often when things don’t go well, as you know. Sharing those stories put the spotlight on those very people who hated being illuminated.
PS: (1) Due to the Malcolm X movie in 1992, I literally got a truckload of free merchandise with my new name on it: shoes, socks, shorts, gym bags and at least 50 t-shirts. (2) When the radio station 104.9 The X came online, I had a lot of fun, too, and another round of free stuff. (3) I landed on the no-fly list for a while, just as much for my crazy politics as my name. (4) For a couple of years, I lived in Apartment X, which confused EVERYONE who thought it was a joke. (The complex of 4-unit duplexes used letters in lieu of numbers on their units.) Changing my name resulted in several great stories, a more interesting life, and a better outlook for me. My name in and of itself announced to all to stop expecting someone normal to be the face associated with the name; many thought I was black or a member of the Nation of Islam. (If it made for good fun, I would encourage such erroneous conclusions). I’m sure that my name closed a few doors to me as well, to be honest, but those doors were not ones I was particularly interested in anyway.
At least I didn’t have a large leg/arm/neck/face tattoo to startle people. I guess I could have put a large “X” on my forehead like Charles Manson did. I embraced my weirdness and if I could repeat those steps, I’m afraid I would have embraced weirdness earlier and with much more aggressive creativity. Most of the truly happy people I know somehow learned to disconnect the fuse that connects their self-worth to the outside world and the judgment which accompanies it.
The common element that flows through it all is that my birth name was and is a symbol of abuse and ignorance. As young as I was when I opted to change my name, I waited too long. While I came to a place of acceptance about my dad, I never once enjoyed my birth name or the thought that I shared such a bond with a person who demonstrated such brutality. It’s not within my ability to convince you that it was the right thing for me to do; it was the only thing that got me past the lingering nonsense of my youth. Absent a childhood and story similar to mine, you can’t bridge that gap without losing something in translation.
If you can imagine having a name that you loathed, one that caused you to cringe or want to hide away in a dark corner each time you heard it, or one that causes actual pain, that’s the feeling elicited by the name my parents threw on me.
I’ve been X for way more than 1/2 of my life now. I rarely see my old name and hear it even less. And when I hear it, it’s because I am probably back in the cradle of the indifference and passive-aggressive hostility that spawned me. I alternate between irritation of those who ignorantly insist on using it and pity for the lack of understanding on their part. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. The decades that have shot by should have eradicated any reasonable attempt to use my old name.
It is obvious that I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time explaining to people why I hated my name and that it is the equivalent of verbal ammunition when used against me. I can’t force people to be good, compassionate considerate people; only they can lead themselves to that course of action.
As for my family, time has marched past most of them, leaving me to fend off a few stragglers. As they age, their logic weakens and their actions belie the prejudice toward me that failed to conceal their contempt for me and my choices. I mostly chose the person I became, while they became victimized by their own pettiness. I suffer the infrequent flare-up of derision. Now, though, I am adept at using the tools in the family toolbox to hold a mirror to such ignorance. It is true that much of our shared time was wasted arguing about something that was not for them to decide. I tried to get them to see that but haughtiness and arrogance held them to their attitudes.
I also have a couple of people who lash out in my defense at those who still want to be asses about my name change. My wife is one of them. She knew me when I was young and still had my birth name. It angers her that people can be so petty. There are times when I almost fail to notice or worse, don’t have the energy to pick up the battle-ax and fight on a particular day.
Here’s a list of acceptable reasons to call me by my birth name. This list is one a friend objectively and half-jokingly wrote for me:
1) You don’t like me and using my old name is a means to backhandedly express it.
2) You haven’t seen me in forever and your brain used its old pathways. No harm!
3) You are writing my biography and your mind slipped for a second. No harm!
4) You don’t like my name and you think that using my old name somehow not only negates my life choices but also allows you to use it without coming off a little mean-spirited.
5) You just forgot accidentally, which can happen to anyone. No harm!
As always, though, the cardinal rule is this: if you are asked to stop doing it and don’t, it’s not a failure to communicate; rather, it is a failure to emancipate – to let everyone be who they are.