Name use tips

A reader sent this in September 2003.

I did not see this issue mentioned anywhere on your sites that I can recall, but I have found that it might be an important thing for people in transition to know about. It came to mind when I was redoing my name change write-up, and I touched on it briefly in there. But I wanted to elaborate more on it to see if anyone else could benefit from it. If our society becomes less tolerant of those in our community, this information may well prove to be even more vital to our well-being.

I found that when changing your name, especially when you change all of your name, you are in a situation where you are fighting years and in some cases decades of conditioning. I found that, even with spending many dozens of hours practicing and many more idly doodling my new name and saying it, I still "missed" a lot at first. Even now, I can still "hear" myself "responding" to my mother using my childhood name.

To illustrate, in the very beginning, I would hurriedly pick up the phone when it rang (a good thing to do :) and absent-mindedly say, "This is <old name>". Or, when in a hurry at the store, I would sign the check wrong. Or, when I was in a crowded room and someone hollered out my old name, my head would instinctively turn. Once I even verbally responded - to everyone's confusion.

Most of the time people were understanding, as they knew me by both names and therefore knew what I was going through, but I dreaded the day when I would do so in a different context when I did not wish to draw attention to myself in this way. I also wanted to be able to "look cool" should someone mention my old name one day when we were talking and making eye contact, and not "telegraph" any signals to them. This last one has proven to be harder to do.

So, I turned to psychology to understand the fundamental reasons behind how we are conditioned. I learned that it is essentially a Pavlovian conditioning process. One that is reinforced over and over again in so many different contexts.

Plus, from some of my safety and law enforcement training experiences that I had in the past, I remembered that people, especially when under stress, will predictably revert to ingrained habits. This is a survival instinct, possibly even an evolutionary one. Firemen, for example, know that terrified people in a burning building will cry out in their native tongues. Also, police officers who are thrust into sudden stressful situations such as armed confrontations will respond predictably as they have trained themselves to do so at the academy. If there is no training, then they simply panic or freeze up in shock. This is why people "gaze in horror" at accident scenes or in panic situations. There is usually no trained response, so they go "blank" or just fall apart.

This last point was especially of concern to me in its implications for members of our community.

Most of us are at greatest risk to be outed at precisely our most vulnerable moments, and in a potentially devastating way - the fear of being outed is of such a primal nature that it is almost a guarantee of reversion to old behaviors of some kind. This has been my experience - thankfully, nothing serious beyond some minor embarrassments. I don't know if it reflects your experiences or not.

I couldn't help but wonder also if this reversion was in fact responsible for exacerbating the outcome of particularly violent and horrible encounters. Were these women, thrust into moments of sudden danger, instinctively sabotaging even more their chances of dealing with or defusing the situation?

To be sure, this issue impacts other areas such as mannerisms, persona presentation, etc. For example, when I feel uncomfortable or nervous or simply do not trust someone, I "resonate" soundly and solidly male. This comes from my rearing - I literally thought my parents would kill me if they ever "found out" about me, so understandably I learned my expected role very well. This undesirable "vibing" has been the source of a lot of difficulty for me and members of my present and past family, and for others who have known me as well. I am happy to report, though, that it has improved quite a bit since I first started.

Anyway, back to the name issue. I found that the solution was actually quite simple. I used the process of "mental visualization" to overlay the old programming in my mind and replace it with new programming. For some reason that I do not understand, the old name does not have to be "unlearned" - it is quite sufficient to "learn" the new name. Eventually the impulse to respond to the old name simply fades into nothing. Even more interestingly, I found that the more vividly that I visualized myself being called "Julian", my responding positively to it, my head turning to whomever had addressed me, etc. the quicker the old response faded! I worried that I would have to visualize myself "not responding" to the old name, but I did not have to do this. Very interesting...

Also, in line with the "stress" issue raised above, the times that I slipped the most seemed to occur precisely during those tense moments. Not just plain stress, but anger, fear, sorrow, fatigue, etc. And these seemed especially resistant to change. And this was not just with myself, either. I have observed situations where TS women, especially those just starting transition, become emotional and predictably start vibing male, where before they were vibing quite naturally as female. In contrast, I would watch my ex when she was angry, and she was solidly, 100% female, but still quite mean! I wondered if visualization could help as well here, particularly with regards to the old name. Could I use visualization to give myself a mental "handle" to grab onto where I could "catch" myself when the stress hit and change my response? Even more powerfully (as Melanie Anne Phillips pointed out in one of her essays) could I do an end-run around the stress-induced response and replace it with one where I would used the new name and the new way?

The wonderful answer was: Yes.

I did this by practicing "freaking myself out" in a manner of speaking in my mind, and then training myself to respond visually with my new name, and also with the "new context" of my transition, if you will. This parallels the training that emergency personnel are given where they visualize an emergency situation, as vividly as they can, and then they rehearse themselves acting in the desired manner. Most importantly, it is urged that they *never* allow themselves to visualize themselves failing, or doing the wrong thing. So, when I visualized myself in a stressful or freaked-out situation, I rehearsed practicing not just with my new name, but also with a female response. I am still working on this part, but already the results are amazing. When I get emotional in reality, I have noticed that my mental "map" of myself is female, my name is my new name and not the old one, and so on. I also appear quite female, in quite an amusing manner I might add, according to those around me! Apparently one has to perfect their "annoyed response" just like every other! I do not vibe male as much any more, except for my danged writing sometimes! How do I change that?!

The most convincing result was several months back when I answered the phone out of a dead sleep and used my new name without thinking! The phone was right next to me in bed - before this I had kept it across the room to give myself a fighting chance of answering it right, because I would have to get up and walk several feet, and in that time I would establish enough of a presence of mind that I would use my new name. It wasn't until several minutes later that I realized what I did! It's a good thing - it was someone calling me from work! I am even using my new name in dreams. The old name appears to truly be a thing of the past, and it actually appears no different to me than any other "boy" name.

This is far from a perfect system, though. It seems that there is always a "meme" or two hiding somewhere in my brain with my old name or persona stapled securely to it. By and large, though, this method of visualization seems to have worked where rote repetition and practice have not.