It’s a really big thing for most trans people, choosing a new name for themselves when they transition – or maybe it’s not a “new” name, just the one they should have had to begin with – or anyway, it symbolises the recognition of change, acceptance.
15 years ago, though, I was ordained into a Buddhist order, and given a Sanskrit name – which I chose to take as my legal name. My name is Padmavyuha, which means “a supernal manifestation of lotuses” – or if you want to be really prosaic about it, just “an array of lotuses”. This has been my name for almost a third of my life now, and I’m much happier with it than I ever was with my old name, which was Gideon.
And the thing about my name is that it’s gender-neutral. It all hangs on how you pronounce the last syllable (without a long final “a”, it’s masculine). With this many syllables, to most people who don’t use it on a daily basis, I’m happy to be known as Padma – and since Harry Potter (and since sort of Star Wars, at least for people with cloth ears), people can cope with the idea of Padma being a girl’s name. But if you want to try it out, Padmavyuha rhymes with panther-view-ha (without any “r” sounds).
My name is very meaningful to me, so I have no intention of changing it again. Well, unless I decide to leave the order, in which case I’d probably become Luciente (after an androgynous woman in Woman On the Edge of Time), but that’s not on my to-do list :).
Not changing my name when I began to transition has caused a few problems. For a start, it’s harder for people who’ve known me for a long time to let go of thinking of me as a man, when my name (and voice) have not changed, and I’m not suddenly wearing dresses or whatever. But the pluses outweigh the minuses, for me. I like the fact that the name is gender-neutral, for a start – and I like being Padma to non-Buddhists, it’s a good name. And it expresses for me that I’m not becoming a different person, I’m becoming more myself instead.
This brings me to the voice thing. As a singer, I have a sweet low-tenor range, but I’m really a baritone-bass. As a speaker, I’m unmistakably male. The gender clinic gave me access to a voice therapist, to see what my options are. She raised some very interesting points about how much of the difference between men and women’s speech is not to do with pitch – it’s intonation, chest-vs-head sound, articulation, stuff like that. This is a good thing, because she tried to get me to speak in a higher pitch range, and I got really freaked out. It took me a while to figure out why this was. When I speak in a high pitch, I feel pre-pubescent, and that just throws me back to being vulnerable and being abused.
So I have no plans for a high woman’s voice. I’d like to raise my pitch a little (for the musos, by a minor third will do), and for the rest, I need to relearn how I speak, to some extent. Not that I want to change all that much anyway, but I notice that I speak in a higher voice around women, and a lower one around men (for protective mimicry – that has got to go!). I don’t want to be an imitation of anything, I want to be me – I’m just not sure how me sounds yet.
Name, voice. So tied up with sense of identity, and sense of gender identity. I don’t want to sing bass any more. I don’t want to chant mantras in my bottom range. When I chant with other women, I’m still an octave below almost all of them, and stick out badly. My name is suitably ambiguous, though, and suits the fact of the ambiguousness of me. A Fistful of Lotuses. The person who gave me my name said, pointedly, “It’s an ordered array, not a splurge!” I’m getting my array in order, fret not.