Identities and Masks: The deadnaming of Jarvis August 29th, 2017
Alright, so, this started as a twitter thread and then I got to 40 tweets and decided it needed to be an essay instead.
There were two things I was sure about when I started transitioning: I wasn’t changing who I am, and I wouldn’t be deadnaming my birthname. I swore to my wife that I would still be the same person she always knew, that I was doing this just to be more comfortable in my body. A few months after I came out to my wife she told me that she did see ways I was changing. She couldn’t give me any clear examples, and I didn’t see any ways I was different, so I refused to believe her. I thought it was just that her perception of who I was had changed, and it was altering her view of me.
I finally noticed it myself the day that I came out at work, when I took off my overshirt and introduced myself as Jocelyn. My entire presentation changed. The rest of the day I interacted differently, I behaved differently, I spoke differently. The way I approached the world had shifted. I can’t really pinpoint how, any more than I can pinpoint the ways my face has changed since starting HRT. It just has.
What struck me the most was how dramatic this change is between being in boymode and girlmode. It has become quite like flipping a switch. The duality of these personalities left me with a lot to think about, trying to understand who I really am.
My wife is still uncomfortable with me being in girlmode when I am out with her and our children. I am, after all, still quite visibly trans at only four months into HRT, and our daughter is still calling me Daddy all the time. It is a significant source of anxiety for her, so I stick to boymode when out and about. She had, however, encouraged me to mix in some of my new clothing in order to reach a more androgynous presentation.
I struggled with this, partly because I could not find the line between andro and femme, but also because it left me feeling very uncomfortable. It triggered an existential crisis. When I’m in boymode I have to be Jarvis. Jarvis cannot wear those clothes, those are Jocelyn’s clothes. Jocelyn is a woman, Jarvis is not. Jarvis has spent his entire life being told that he is not, and believing that he is not. Jarvis’ clothes are men’s t-shirts, gym shorts, sweat pants… That has been his uniform for 30 years. Jarvis cannot show interest in Jocelyn’s clothes, or anything remotely feminine at all, because Jarvis is a shield. Jarvis is a mask.
That persona was created to protect the little girl who never had a name. His entire existence is wrapped up in hiding her from the world. If Jarvis ever showed interest in anything feminine then the shield would be compromised, and people would see through him to the girl inside. The little girl who got bullied and beaten up in grade school, called a faggot, just for being herself.
When I gave up on being that girl at the age of 16, when I chose to be the man everyone told me I was, I built a mask. A mask that I wore so long that I forgot it was even a mask. I became that man and I forgot the girl was there. She went to sleep.
Sometimes, the mask faltered a little bit, much to my wife’s confusion. My curious interest in Project Runway, for example, but only for the outfits. I made the mistake of commenting that I liked her friend’s wedding dress more than hers. What I meant, of course, was that I would have liked it more for me, but I couldn’t explain that. She believed I genuinely thought her dress was inferior. She resented me for that for years.
That little girl started to stir when I decided to transition, but she was still very young and unsure of herself. She started to grow the day my wife gave her a name. Starting hormone therapy fed her and encouraged her to fight back against the mask. As I peeled away the layers and became more comfortable expressing who I really am, I found her again.
Now she is a full grown woman, still unsure of herself, but confident in her existence. She wears the mask, the mask does not wear her. Coming out at work was my first time dramatically ripping off the mask. I will never wear it again at the office. With each passing day I wear the mask less and less, and every day the boundaries of the mask become all the more clearer. When the time comes to cast that mask aside, the name goes with it. I am not Jarvis.
And yet, it is still not a deadname. Jarvis isn’t dead, he never lived to begin with. The things he did shall remain. I will not hide from the name, and I take ownership of the things I did in that name, but I will not embrace it either. In some ways I have usurped him, in others I have severed ties with him. When all is said and done, I will be free of him.
I feared that my wife would be bothered by this. She had a strong attachment early on to her mental image of the man she married. After thinking all of this through for the past two weeks I waited until our couples therapy session and bore it all out before her. She understood it at once, and I didn’t even have to ask if she was ok with it. She told me herself. She likes the changes she’s seen in me and thinks my new personality is an improvement. She loves me, not Jarvis.
The last four nights I have cried in joy before bed. I have had so much happiness in the month of August, I can’t even describe it. This is what being trans is about. This is why we transition. It’s not sexual, it’s not deviousness, it is purely a pursuit of happiness.