De-gendering & Reconceptualizing my Well-known Former Name… now with LC Authority!

[I have moved this post over from its original posting location into its more permanent home here. First, I hope to restart/kickstart this blog again with more academic content. Secondly, as the subject of this post deals with changing my name, largely with respect to its impact on my professional, academic life, I thought it right to place it here.]

2013 January 28

Two things happened in this last week that caused me to think about my former name. First, the ALA conference was in town this week, so I attended. I ran into a great number of people, some of whom I have not seen since before transition and who were not in on the news when it was going around. My mischievous, straightforward way of handling that may be the subject of another post. Suffice it to say that I did not plan anything beforehand and usually didn’t even bother with explaining anything; people, My People, are smart enough to figure things out.

Secondly, an acquaintance mentioned that the local TV station’s evening news magazine show re-ran a story the other night in which I was prominently featured as an “expert”. This is about the fourth time they have re-run it; it is the 5 minutes of minor TV fame that keeps on giving. (Oh let’s all take a look!) Of course, it was recorded before my transition, so it’s great when people tell me, “hey! I saw you on television!” and we can go on talking about the segment itself, with my former identity being no big deal.

I wrote a lot of things under my former name, both entertaining and sincere.[1][2][3] I also wrote a lot of just plain junk. And I’ve made some ungracious mistakes when people have called me out on my bullshit. Those, too, will stain the public record until either the Wayback Machine explodes, Google cache destroys it on account of its profound unmonetizability, or the magnetic storms come and degauss all of our electronic records. I’ve also written a Masters thesis[4] which entailed a lot of fieldwork, research, writing, gin, and coffee. I also co-authored an academic chapter-in-book [5] that was pretty decent (the book is amazing, BTW). And I’ve been in the popular press a few times now in addition to the aforementioned 5 minutes of TV fame.

I’ve done good work all this time. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and who I was. I’ve built up a good CV and resume. Germane to this post, I’ve also built up quite a lot of name recognition in various spheres. Hence my desire to be traceable from my previous name and its reasonable body of work to what I hope will be even better work under my awesome current name.

Additionally, I must admit that for all of my bellicose rogue talk to the contrary, there is a bit of obsessive librarian tendency within me that enjoys bibliographic accuracy. Being in the librarian club, I’m privy to some knowledge of the byzantine structures of bibliographic control that libraries use in order to make sense of the ostensibly lawless information frontier. Librarians are the Freemasons of information; we are everywhere and our tentacles are long. More frighteningly, catalogers are among the deepest, most mysterious, and most sinister rings of the panbiblionicon. Even I pay my tithes and tributes regularly because I do not want to cross any catalogers.

I thank my friend, Lara7P, for calling attention to the obvious course of action that I had to take after my legal name change: an Authority Name change! Briefly, authority files track all of the permutations of spelling, variant names, and languages for a given author. For example, if a librarian runs into a hefty tome penned by “Ḳlansi, Ṭom” or “Клэнси, Том”, the authority record will inform the librarian that this is indeed Tom Clancy and that the book is suitable as a doorstop or, if temperatures dip sufficiently, as kindling.

Thus, I hied me over to the Library of Congress site and with a little bit of digging found out how to change my record. There was a simple web form that spun off an email to appropriate people. Being a proper arm of government, and as a heavy Trogdorian one at that, I expected the lumbering bureaucracy to take years, maybe decades, to churn my request.

It was, therefore, with no small sense of extremely pleasant shock that I received an email the following day informing me that the record had been changed and that all systems should update within 24 hours. The following day, I was presented with the sweet record depicted above.

Now, on the one hand, the librarian in me finds this kind of exciting. It is made more exciting by the fact that I initiated it. I had some control in defining the narrative of my past, as evidenced by the inclusion of my email snippet.

[Edited to add:] I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Library of Congress for their sensitivity and discretion in including only the bare necessary details of my original email in the public record. Thank you.

On the other hand, trans* people know all too well of Anti-Trans Trope #374: Divulging of Former Name. In truth, I, too, am getting a little tired of the media’s insistence on printing junk like

…Awesome Trans* Person, who was born as Former Name that may cause the amazing person about which we write no small amount of pain because the world is entitled to that private detail, grew up blah blah blah we trail gently into next trope probably something to do with playing with toys of the un/assigned-at-birth gender…

I am, thus, possibly aiding and abetting this trope. I may draw up something like a model release form for future interviewers to sign setting ground rules for what they may ask and eventually publish.

However, my former name is no state secret. Being in my late 30s, I have made an inordinate number of personal and professional connections. I walk down the street and invariably run into people, most of whom knew me under my former name. If I wanted to go stealth, I would have to stage my own death. Additionally, I have a sordid and promiscuous digital and physical paper-trail with cross-referencable identifiers littered throughout. I am a genealogist’s dream! Future muckrakers would not find it difficult to figure out. Fortunately, I’m too small a player to be a target of trans-haters who relish in digging up former names and old photos. (The latter are pretty easy to find as well, possible future haters. As an archivist, I’ve made it easy for you. Let me know if you need help.)

As I have mentioned before that my former name holds no special attachment to me anymore, I now consider the recorded presence of my former name largely as a nom de plume that I happened to have once used. It is a little like my former thesis advisor writes when she references herself in articles: “Now!Me (then writing as Then!Me) writes [brilliant things]…”

That’s the key: brilliant things. I don’t want to distance myself from my past brilliance. There have been too many stories of trans people having amazing careers pre-transition who have had to drop out and start from scratch doing something vastly different and unwanted post-transition. Forget that; I own my past and I sure as hell will bring it into my future.

Therefore, in taking this philosophical turn regarding my former name as being some mere variant of my current name, I’ve de-gendered it. In truth, I started internally de-gendering my former name long ago. For example, I often used it as a pro/noun replacement; it was easy and reasonably non-clunky to refer to my name instead of man or he/him/his. At the same time, historiographically, I have also been re-gendering my past in my mind with my new name. Thus, my former name no longer signifies some pre-transition me; rather, it just signifies a convenient label that I used back then. [–Totes brill, by Barthes!]

If I hesitate to actually print my former name now, it is only because, like a pen name, it is not who I truly am, or was. Moreover, I love my new, chosen name. Actually, no, let me amend that statement: I love love love adore love adore it. AMY. I love seeing it in print. I can’t say that I’ve been really down since transitioning so… somedays, when I’m bored or neutral, all I have to do is just look at my name. This will either cause me to tear up in ridiculous joy or smile widely, usually both.

Sometimes I stare like a dork at my name, or look at it in another window, and I will beam.

Here’s the rules:

1. If you knew me before transition and accidentally slip and use my former name, I will point a stern finger at you. I will not take any offense; put this at the bottom of your list of things which least concern you. However, do apologize sheepishly and move on quickly back to the topic at hand.

2. If you call me by my former name to get a rise out of me, I will politely but emphatically beat you down, preferably in a very public manner.

I’m not wounded by my former name. I’ve spent the last few months defusing it, largely through lazy atrophy. However, I believe most of us have strong noses for discerning why somebody calls us by our former names. Doing it willfully is utterly impolite, disrespectful, and in bad social form. In most cases, they are no longer our legal names. In all cases, they are no longer our real names.

So I’m leaving my former nom de plume out there as a mere historical and bibliographical fact. I’m not afraid of my past, nor do I want to bury it. I’m proud of where I came from; it helped shape who I am today. Ultimately, though, I am no longer the 400a field that is my former name. Rather, I am assuredly the 100a: Dobrowolsky, Amy Anne.

Remember too: when you cross me, you also cross the catalogers at the Library of Congress. And you will be defeated by the tentacles of both.

1. “A Fine Day For Lederhosen”. Seattlest. August 17, 2007. http://seattlest.com/2007/08/17/a_fine_day_for.php
2. “Life on the Duwamish.” Seattlest. October 17, 2008. http://seattlest.com/2008/10/17/life_on_the_duwamish.php
3. “Cafe-ligraphy.” Seattlest. February 20, 2008. http://seattlest.com/2008/02/20/cafeligraphy.php/
4. “Wisla on the Sound : information grounds and identity in Seattle’s Polish community.” http://www.worldcat.org/title/wisla-on-the-sound-information-grounds-and-identity-in-seattles-polish-community/oclc/69259543
5. “”Urban Archives: Public Memories of Everyday Places.” in Hou, Jeffrey, Ed. Insurgent Public Space Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities Routledge, 2010. http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415779661/

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