Let Me (Re)Introduce Myself

Two years ago, I cried listening to a podcast. The host mentioned “the love of God who calls you by your true name,” and I lost it. I’m sure he meant “beloved,” or “child of God,” and not anything on a Facebook account or birth certificate, but I felt lost nonetheless. What is my true name?

Anyone who’s known me for a long time knows that I have a strange history with names.

My full name is Margaret Alexandra Griffin. My parents had planned to call me Alex. But, when I was born, they took one look at me, decided that I was not Alex, and named me Allie instead. “Wait, what? I thought your name was Maggie.” The story gets more complicated. Bear with me.

By late elementary school, I didn’t like Allie. It didn’t feel right. I decided that when I started middle school, I would change my nickname. In fifth grade, my favorite book was A Wrinkle in Time, and Meg was such a cool nickname for Margaret. I would be Meg.

I showed up to my first day of school as Meg Griffin. It was a mistake.

On the bus to school, I found out that there was a cartoon called Family Guy. About 15 seconds later, I started being teased. I went to the same school from 6th to 12th grade, and through that time, the name shaped me. The messages of “everybody hates Meg” that people would half-jokingly share seeped into my soul, and although it was about way more than just a name, I hated me too.

College would be my chance to reinvent myself. Nobody knew me, so I could be whoever I wanted. I decided that I would be Maggie. No more Meg who had never fully felt like a girl, who didn’t know what to do with that. Meg was embarrassingly silly, a bit of a weirdo. Maggie would be feminine, sweet, cool. Maggie would fit in. I got in a car and left Baltimore as Meg. I arrived in Ohio as Maggie.

Each time I’ve changed my nickname in the past, it’s functioned as a kind of escape. The previous version of myself wasn’t good enough, so I needed to become someone new. Maybe the new person would finally be worthy of love.

This time is different. I’m no longer running from who I truly am. Part of this, of course, is the maturing process. I’m no longer a self-loathing teenager. But it’s deeper than that.

I am coming out of the closet as non-binary because I am finally okay with not-quite-fitting. I am coming out because my inner-reality is more important to me than trying to fit into anyone’s boxes or either-or system. I am coming out because I like the real me, and I want others to have the chance to know that person, too.

Let me talk a bit about my gender.

As a teenager, I never really felt like a girl. This was more than just a she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts phase. It was like the things that were feminine somehow felt wrong. My body felt wrong. “Girl” felt wrong. But I wasn’t a boy either, so I did nothing.

In 12th grade, I bought a bow tie. But I was too scared to wear it.

Back then, I was too scared for a lot of things. I didn’t fit into the world, but I also didn’t fit into myself, so what else was new?

In college, I slowly got better at fitting in. I watched myself from the outside, measuring my value in coffee spoons. Did I look pretty? Was I perfectly smart, cool, talented, successful? Was the image that I made for myself what everyone else wanted from me?

T.S. Elliot describes “The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, formulated, sprawling on a pin,” and those eyes were at once my eyes and the eyes of others. I willingly made myself to be “pinned and wriggling on the wall. Then how should I begin?”

I began by letting myself come out as queer.

Although I had tried to like myself, I never did until I started to discover who I was. There was something blocking me, and it just felt impossible. I spent so much energy trying to craft a version of myself that would please those around me. The image wasn’t like clothes to put on and take off. I kept on the image until I didn’t know where it ended and I began. It’s like I’d only ever known how to shower with my clothes on.

When I realized I liked girls, I started to take off the “Maggie” I’d made. At first, it was just for me, then for a few friends, then to more and more people until I was ready to come out publicly. Through that process, I learned to exist in my body, to discover who I was and what I actually wanted.

I wore a bow tie for the first time before I was out publicly, and it felt amazing. It’s hard to describe the feeling of gender euphoria, but it’s kind of like looking in the mirror and finally recognizing yourself. The day I tried on my bow tie with every collared shirt I owned, grinning ear-to-ear, I knew that something was up with my gender. But after so many years trying to avoid and suppress it, I just wasn’t ready.

As I was preparing to move to Montreal, I knew it was going to be time to address the gender question, but I didn’t realize how quickly it would come up when I got here. My first weekend in Canada, I casually told a new friend that my parents had almost called me Alex, and how I wished they had. I realized in that moment that it was something I deeply wanted.

At the end of September, I got together with my friend Noah to talk about gender, and I told them about the name Alex. When we said goodbye, they said, “See you, Alex!” and it felt right the way it does to wear your favorite sweater. Simultaneous feelings of joy and home. “Your face just lit up!” Noah said.

I wish I could say that I thought about Alex long and hard, that I chose the name to bring a full-circle, poetic closure to these disparate versions of myself. But honestly, I didn’t really think about it much at all. It just felt right.

I wore a bow tie for the first time before I was out publicly, and it felt amazing. It’s hard to describe the feeling of gender euphoria, but it’s kind of like looking in the mirror and finally recognizing yourself. The day I tried on my bow tie with every collared shirt I owned, grinning ear-to-ear, I knew that something was up with my gender. But after so many years trying to avoid and suppress it, I just wasn’t ready.

As I was preparing to move to Montreal, I knew it was going to be time to address the gender question, but I didn’t realize how quickly it would come up when I got here. My first weekend in Canada, I casually told a new friend that my parents had almost called me Alex, and how I wished they had. I realized in that moment that it was something I deeply wanted.

At the end of September, I got together with my friend Noah to talk about gender, and I told them about the name Alex. When we said goodbye, they said, “See you, Alex!” and it felt right the way it does to wear your favorite sweater. Simultaneous feelings of joy and home. “Your face just lit up!” Noah said.

I wish I could say that I thought about Alex long and hard, that I chose the name to bring a full-circle, poetic closure to these disparate versions of myself. But honestly, I didn’t really think about it much at all. It just felt right.

So here I am.

To be honest, changing your nickname and pronouns when you’re not running away from anything is a vulnerable process. You are, very publicly, announcing that you’ve changed how you see yourself, and asking others to see you in the same way. Once we leave our teenage years behind, the expectation is that any significant personal growth we undertake is a gradual, graceful process that can be better communicated through 2009//2019 photo challenges than the guts-hanging-out, seemingly overnight transition from calling your friend “Maggie” to calling them “Alex.”

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid to post this today. But it’s also exciting. I feel like I’m getting ready to be free.

If you’re a friend or loved-one, thank you for trying to use my name and pronouns. It’s incredibly important to me. I know you will mess up, and that’s okay. You show that you love me by trying anyway. As someone who’s had friends change their pronouns, I promise you’ll get used to it with practice.

If you have questions about what “non-binary” meanswhy “they/them” can be used as singular pronounshow they/them pronouns work, or how you can support me (and your other non-binary friends), I’ve linked some resources here. If you read these and still have questions, I’m happy to provide a longer reading list. And if you’re a Christian who is looking for something beyond Queer, Trans, and Non-Binary 101, I strongly recommend Transforming by Austen Hartke.

Thank you to all the lovely friends who have supported me in this journey. I love you all so much.

This post was originally published on November 30, 2019.

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