I just found this article, which is pretty good: 8 Things Not to Say to a Transgender Person.
Sorry for Cosmo link but NUMBER 7 NUMBER 7 NUMBER 7. I’ve been asked “What’s your REAL name?” several times, and every time it stings. My real name is the name I tell you it is. If I tell you my name is Twinklepuff von Glitterpants, you RESPECT THAT. Yeah, I changed my name. No, I’m not going to tell you what from, because there is only one reason people ask that, and it is so they can smugly know who I “really” am – i.e. they think that the me I am now is a fraud.
Asking any person their ‘real’ name or ‘old’ name is rude beyond belief. Wee Chum once asked a visiting priest (long story!) what his old name had been, as the priest mentioned that he had chosen his current name. I was horrified, and immediately told Chum that he shouldn’t ask people that because it puts them in an awkward position. “Do I tell the person my old name, and feel uncomfortable with them for the rest of my life knowing they think they know my ‘true identity’, or do I refuse to tell them and then feel rude/mean or have them pester me about it not being ‘a big deal’ and telling me ‘I can trust them’?” In this case, the man in question was happy to tell Chum his old name, but Chum still apologised once he realised it was an inappropriate question.
I have changed my name twice in my life. Once from my birth name to a similar feminine name, and then from that name to Quentin. Not one person asked me what I had changed my name from when I was read as a cisgender woman. It wasn’t so important, I suppose, because my gender wasn’t in question. I wasn’t necessarily being ‘fraudulent’ in other people’s eyes, as many seem to believe I am being now. In fact, I’ve never felt less fraudulent in my life. Oldname, now he was fraudulent. He was trying desperately to convince himself and the world that he was a woman, for Christ’s sake. Quentin – the person I am now – well, I’ve never been more genuine, more real, more ‘me’.
Names are intrinsically tied up with genders. If you have a ‘masculine’ name, people assume you are a man, if you have a ‘feminine’ name, they assume you are a woman. If you have a ‘gender neutral’ name – like I do – it confuses people, especially if your gender is difficult to immediately decode because you don’t ‘look gendered’ (or in my case, if you’re a man who could be a butch woman, or could be a feminine dude, but nobody’s ever quite sure). People like to put others in boxes, and it would seem the gender box is the first box we put a person in when we meet them. Even when a baby is born, most of the time, its gender is determined before it is even told the name its parents have chosen for it!
People see the gender first – and often it’s the gender they think you are, rather than the gender you actually are, if you’re not cisgender – and once they have committed themselves to you being that gender, they find a certain amount of cognitive dissonance at being told your name is of the ‘opposite’ gender to the box they have mentally shut you into. And so, “What’s your real name?” becomes the first question they ask.
My name is Quentin and I chose that name, for sure, but it is on my driving licence, my passport, my bank statements, imprinted on my husband’s and son’s hearts. This is my real name. I am a real person. Don’t try to take that away from me.
I originally posted this on my old blog on July 25th, 2015.