Super Mattachine: Name Problems

Oh, gentle reader, I have been holding back a long howl of inveterate bitching.
I have been writing you sweet and tender treatises on language, all the while being an incredibly loud and difficult person inside–one of the most difficult kinds of people, in fact: a transsexual who refuses to be treated as a logistical problem.

Now, I’ve been getting fairly hilarious emails from Operations.  Here’s one quoted word for word.

Good Afternoon:
Do you know a person by the name of Stephen Beatty?
[Name Redacted]

One can only understand the true beauty of this email if one knows the joy I’ve experienced with Sarah Lawrence and their name policy for transgender students.  I provided SLC with “Stephen Ira” as my preferred name at the moment I applied.  My application essay was about transgender identity (and also this Salman Rushdie novel where a guy starts turning into a tiger).   Nonetheless, they seem consistently confused as to what on earth my name is.

The other beautiful example of the administration’s total bemusement with regard to my name came at my arrival for Green Team this year.  On the little list provided at Operations for early move-in, I was listed as Kathlyn Beatty, Kathlyn Ira, Stephen Ira, and Stephen Beatty.

So really, how can I argue that the SLC administration’s policy is cissexist?  After all, it does mean that because I’m trans, I count as four people instead of one.  But my friend Cody, who’s also my Executive Chair on Student Senate, insists that this does not mean I should be afforded four votes instead of one.  Fool that he is, Cody seems to think a change in name policy would be better!  Ridiculous.  Politically correct claptrap!

SLC remains one of the few colleges in our group of peer schools who refuses to let trans students use their real names instead of legal names on student ID, class rosters, the school website–and I think that’s just phenomenal!   We are the last holdout.  We stand flanked by such nobly queer-positive institutions as Duke!

Why should we change that?  After all, it’s not as though legal name changes are expensive and time consuming!  It’s not like we have a deeply cissexist and transphobic court system that can potentially be extremely triggering for trans people to work within!  It’s not like there are trans SLC students whose parents would react intolerantly and possibly abusively to their trans status!

I mean, thank god none of that is the case, right?  Or we might have to change the policy.  In fact, if those things were true, the policy might be an indication that the administration doesn’t care about trans students’ welfare, the particular challenges they face, etc. But that couldn’t be!  They’re liberal.  This campus is LGB(t)-positive!  Haven’t you read the Admissions pamphlets?

But I say fuck it.  This policy is excellent.  In fact, I’ve written it out, because funnily enough, SLC has no written copy of the policy.  It’s like they don’t want people to know what it explicitly says!  So here you go, SLC, in writing:

1) Don’t tell anyone the name policy.  Especially not trans students!  Don’t make it at all clear what trans students should do to receive mail, identify themselves on Green Team or other official lists, or anything.  This is the kind of boundary the transgenders need–remember, their trans brains can’t hold too much information at once!  Don’t you know they’re insane?  It’s in the DSM!

2) If trans students refuse to out themselves to absolutely everyone on campus who is likely to see their ID, email, mySLC account, etc., it is their own fault.  Don’t they know they don’t deserve privacy, especially not about their genitals or the sex they were assigned at birth?  Trans students should be obligated to explain these things, otherwise cis people might feel confused or uncomfortable.  As we all know, change is bad and so is learning new things.

3) Most importantly: Here at Sarah Lawrence, we’re all about treating students like individuals.  You are different; so are we.  Here, you are more than a number!  That’s why it’s vitally important that whenever you interact with a trans student, you must treat their gender like a logistical problem.  It’ll be a nice rest from all that caring deeply about students as individual human beings!

Don’t respect the fact that this is a difficult conversation for them, or that it might even be a trauma trigger!  Just demand that they come to Operations right now, pick up the packages addressed to their real name, and for god’s sake next time just explain to the post office staff that they are a weirdo transgender creature and will be receiving mail under a name that isn’t their legal one.  It can’t be that hard to tell strangers that information, right?

There’s your name policy, SLC!  Aren’t you glad I finally gave you a hard copy?  You can pay me for my work later.  I live in Tweed.  Just one caveat:  You’ll have to make the check out to my real name, Stephen Ira.  Oh, don’t worry about it.  I’ll have the money to get it changed reasonably soon. I can wait, SLC.  Go ahead.  Say my name.

Stephen Ira is a queer activist whose poetry and fiction have been published in 365 Tomorrows and Spot Literary Magazine. He co-chairs Sarah Lawrence’s trans identity group, Trans Action, and keeps a blog as the Super-Mattachine, queer anti-oppression avenger, at supermattachine.wordpress.com. As David Foster Wallace would say, he does things like get into a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it!” He believes there is nothing more radical than kindness.

4 Comments

  • Reply November 18, 2011

    binky

    Why the profanity? It’s really quite offensive — and unnecessary. Why the need to offend? This is a serious question, and it would be nice to get a thoughtful answer.

    thx, binky

    • Reply November 18, 2011

      Stephen

      Hi Binky,

      I curse in my writing sometimes, because I don’t accept the idea that a word can be inherently “bad” just in itself. I’m sorry it offends you–if it does, I’m not the writer you want to be reading.

      Take care,
      Stephen

      • Reply November 22, 2011

        Binky

        That was nice of you to answer, but your answer is, sadly, narcissistic. It’s what YOU think that matters, and only YOU. You decide. YOU make — or remake — the societal norms. YOU have no respect for Respect. YOU think it’s OK to offend, yet YOU get offended by everything that YOU think or feel is wrong. YOU know what’s best and right and wrong. YOU harshly criticize those who have a different point-of-view, viz., Chaz Bono, and are energized by YOUR own faux morality.

        You think there is nothing more radical than kindness, but you don’t mind offending people with nasty, repulsive, negative, rebellious language. Kindness encompasses words too, and words express kindness. Your words are not kind, and I’m not just talking about the profanity.

        What good is it to offend people and basically tell them to not read your stuff when you write to communicate? YOU are cutting off your own “tongue.”

        Arrogance does not produce wisdom. Nor does Intelligence. Humility does. Before Honor comes Humility.

        I think you are terrific! I really do, and hope you are open to some tough constructive criticism.

        Binky

  • Reply March 29, 2012

    Max Vincent

    Hey Stephen. Write what is in your heart and we will keep listening. Profanity isn’t outlawed nor is it offensive to most of us who are dealt with in profane ways daily. I am a recent convert to your musings and will stand behind what you write simply because it is YOU writing it. If a reader doesn’t like the way you write, no one is forcing them to read it. Rock on, brother!

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