At some point, I’ll talk more about reaching the conclusion that I’m trans. For now, I thought I’d talk about choosing a new name. Choosing a name actually was one of the things that helped me accept my trans identity, actually!
First, a little update! The current situation (the 2019/2020 pandemic, for those of you lucky enough to be reading this in the future) has certainly thrown an interesting twist into everyone's life and timelines, including mine! Certain aspects of my transition are delayed, and experiences I might get to have (like going shopping with friends) curtailed for the time being. Nevertheless, I’m trying to make the most out of my weeks of mostly staying home. I'm shopping online, trying out different outfits and makeup looks, and when I do go out, I push myself to be a bit more daring than I otherwise might have been, since I have so few excuses to get dressed up and try new looks for, say, work or hanging out with friends. I’m pleased to report that I now have quite a nice professional wardrobe, complete with proper footwear, and I’m working on the casual wardrobe now. Prior to the shutdown of our schools, my experience coming out at work was fantastic. (I may or may not talk about that in detail in a future post.) I continue to feel very accepted and supported by all of my family and friends!
So, why Kara?
I was lying in bed, unable to fall asleep, wrestling with my feelings about gender. It’s hard to describe why these were suddenly keeping me awake—again, that’s something for another post, another day. Suffice it to say, I was entertaining the notion that I’m actually trans instead of cis, perhaps seriously entertaining it for the first time in my life. So I asked myself, “OK … if you were to transition, what name would you choose for yourself?” Because my old name was not going to cut it as a woman, nor were there any good feminine versions of it to conveniently pivot to!
Names, as Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books taught me, are powerful. A lot of trans people who change their name take a long time to arrive at that decision (and some change their name a few times, which is totally valid). Kara popped into my head almost immediately as an answer to that question I asked myself. Just as immediately, it felt right.
There are several female names I really like—however, most of them are already taken by amazing women in my life! I don’t know any Karas, so that helped.
Where does the name come from, what made me even think of it? OK, super geeky response, but … Supergirl, and specifically, the CW TV version of Supergirl. For those of you who aren’t aware, Supergirl’s secret identity is Kara Danvers. I really love the Supergirl show. It isn’t my favourite in terms of story, writing, acting, etc.—that is to say, I don’t think the show is actually a great production. But it tries so hard. It tries to be progressive and to confront topical issues in a progressive way.
There’s a scene in the second season where Alex, Kara’s sister, articulates how she has come to terms with her sexuality. Now, Alex is a lesbian, whereas I’m asexual—yet the way she explained her experience of feeling different or broken because our society is heteronormative really resonated with me as someone who is also not straight. That scene remains very powerful to me.
In more recent seasons, the show introduced a trans character played by trans actor Nicole Maines. And it deals with her transness in a very matter-of-fact, “by the way, I’m trans” kind of way; her trans identity is important to her character and discussed when relevant, but it’s not used in a tokenistic way. Before I identified as trans, I appreciated just seeing that trans people were getting more representation in a mainstream production. Now, of course, this is even more important to me as a trans woman. It’s particularly important that Maines herself is trans, because too often trans characters are portrayed by cis actors, which raises a whole host of uncomfortable questions.
Finally, there’s the main character herself: Kara Danvers, Kara Zor-El, a Kryptonian refugee on Earth, played by Melissa Benoist. I love Kara because she is imperfect. She is young, impetuous, and rash. In many ways, she is quite emblematic of the well-meaning “white woman feminist” who forgets to check her privilege. Kara messes up, often, and the whole show is this learning curve—learning not just how to be a hero, but how to be an ally to people who experience oppression and marginalization in ways she does not.
This resonates deeply with me. When I identified as a cis male, I was very aware that I wanted to be a feminist ally but that I needed to think carefully about how to use my male privilege to that end. Now that I’m identifying as a trans woman, I no longer necessarily have (or want) that male privilege. But I’m still white and well-educated; I still have quite a bit of privilege that even other trans women don’t have. It would be very easy for me to be a white woman feminist.
So the name Kara identifies me with Supergirl, who, let’s face it is, a kickass woman. Yet it also serves as a reminder that I will always have growth and learning to do no matter what my identity becomes. I will always need to listen to people whose experiences differ greatly from mine.
Lying in bed that night, thinking of “Kara,” was a revelation. Prior to that, any time I’d had to pick a female name for something (like video game character creation), I’d choose from that mental list of names I liked—but none of them ever felt like me. The moment I tried on Kara, though, it felt right. It helps that it is short, like my preferred nickname version of my dead name. I’ve resigned myself to a lifetime of people being unsure how to pronounce it—and while I ultimately don’t care, because at least you’re using the right name, it is “Car-uh,” because that’s the way they pronounce it on the show, and it also sounds better to me (no offence to all the care-uhs out there).
The flip side of becoming Kara, of course, is saying goodbye to my dead name. For me, that’s tough. I love my dead name. Also, I came to my realization that I’m trans and proceeded to pick and start using my new name very quickly, so it’s a great deal of adjustment for everyone around me as well as myself. There’s a grieving process involved, and I’d be lying if I said I won’t miss certain aspects of my old name—the alliteration, for instance; also, I have a lot of things with my old name on them, like a stamp for my home library!
Many trans people bury their dead name. That is totally valid! I don’t feel like that’s a realistic option for me, even if I truly wanted it. I lived for 30 years as my old self, accumulated so much history—a lot of it here on the Internet. So, I am making a conscious effort not to use my dead name anymore—for the same reason, I’ve tried to make it clear to all of you that I don’t want you using it either. That’s about respect, but it’s also about helping me get used to being Kara and become comfortable with this part of my identity. I can’t hold on to something that isn’t right for me anymore, no matter how much I like that thing. I have to let go, and in the process of letting go, I might feel adrift for a while.
See, I titled this post very carefully: I am in the process of becoming Kara. I’m not her yet, at least not fully. One day, I will be. I know that much. My gender journey will be with me for the rest of my life, yet my journey to become Kara will conclude one day with me simply being her. And I suspect I won’t even notice that day has come until sometime afterward, when I look back and realize, “Oh. Yeah. I guess I am Kara now.”
Right now I feel very unsure and uncertain about a great many things. That is only to be expected given the magnitude of this transition! I am not uncertain about what I’m doing, mind you; I’m uncertain about whom I’m becoming. A lot of that is to be determined. I know I’m becoming Kara, but what kind of girl is Kara going to be?
Well, that’s for another time.