Originally published on So, So Gay and cross-posted here with their permission.
There is a moment, after the millionth time that you have been thoughtlessly and/or intentionally misnamed or mispronouned, as a trans person, that you reach anger.
At this point in my life, when dealing with folks who defiantly refuse my identity on a regular basis — especially when people in power do it — I get mad.
We, as trans people, have a right to advocate for ourselves, especially with how we are depicted in media, since the traditional slant has been anything but just.
If the anger in this article is too much for your eyes, you may not be ready to be my ally just yet.
This is not an open letter to Richard Morgan, or to New York Magazine, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or anyone else who prints his work. This is about the importance of my name and what you need to do to respect it as a cis person.
Notice I didn’t say why you need to respect it. If you are a decent human being, you will already make that assumption on your own.
This post most obviously mentions the parties involved in this particular story, but its message is about every person that falls short of trans-allyship and expects me/us to just deal with it.
This post is for my cis-LGBQA+ counterparts that are often gatekeepers within the LGBTQIA+ community and expect us to just accept whatever morsels of attention we are given.
Fuck that. I am an adult, not a puppy, and I do not accept table scraps when I deserve to sit down to dinner.
A few days ago, someone passed my contact information over to an openly gay cis writer named Richard Morgan, who was looking specifically for a trans poet to be interviewed in an article about queer artists of color. (Let’s not even mention the fact that if he was truly part of an inclusive community in NYC, he would already know a trans person to interview.) So we set up a time to talk on the phone.
Once on the phone, I was asked what my name was. Since that was a simple enough question, I said, “Well, as [redacted] said in the e-mail, my name is Mason, and my writing/stage name is J Mase III.”
“But what’s your driver’s license name?”
What? This can’t be real, right? Anyone writing about a trans person must know it is not okay to just ask someone, in the first 30 seconds, what their “real name” is.
When I asked what relevance my legal name had in regards to an article about my art, the response I was given was that since many artists – like Diddy and Ke$ha – change their names, my government name was needed in order to keep a consistent record of “who I was.”
Clearly, as I shared over the phone, Diddy and I changed our names for very different reasons.
And the whole conversation went downhill from there, as I explained that not only was my full government name not even something I get on my paychecks, but that 99% of people in my personal and public life wouldn’t recognize it.
It would be one thing if Mr. Morgan simply said, “Hey, I get that this is important to your identity – let’s just use the name you feel is most representative of you.” However, when I inquired what happens when trans folks aren’t safe or comfortable sharing their legal name, the response was “Well, those people don’t get written about.”
Seriously? This is how we show trans allyship?
I encouraged Mr. Morgan to check in with any of the trans-led and/or inclusive organizations that exist in this massive city – like the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, or FIERCE, or anywhere else there was someone telling him why that was not appropriate – because, clearly, me saying that about my own experience wasn’t enough proof.
I even sent him a section of GLAAD’s Media’s Reference Guide, which details why journalists should acknowledge trans folk’s names and why not doing so is disrespectful.
Because I was defiant about not sharing a name that hasn’t been a part of my vernacular for over ten years, I was “punished” by Richard Morgan, who decided that, in regards to this article, I “don’t have to worry about it,” and that he would “just interview a different poet and note that some trans poets still navigate a sensitive path.”
Wow, condescending much?
As if the pain of being bullied into sharing my legal name – which aligns itself to a gender I do not identify as – in print would have been me overcoming my “sensitive path.” Bravo! You really do get us trans people, don’t you?
If I had simply received an apology or acknowledgement that the expectation around my name was transphobic, you would not be reading this blog post. I do not believe in naming folks that go out of their way to shift when they have made a mistake. I believe in nonviolence and open communication wholeheartedly.
However, I didn’t receive any type of apology. So for all my cis-LGBQA+ counterparts, here is some shit you need to know about my name:
1. My name isn’t about you, boo – but it does have a lot to do with my trans identity.
How dare any person claim to want to lift up a trans person, artist or not, and then use the tactic of needing a government name as a way to hold some kind of collateral over them? As if to say, “If you don’t do this, I won’t support you.”
How about you support the recognition of our names as trans people because you actually give a damn about trans inclusion and not some fallacious world in which all trans people of color need to look, think and act like cis-folks at the New York Times?
2. You recognizing my name ain’t doing me a favor; it’s doing justice.
Stop acting like you are doing me a favor when you use the name I identify with or use the right pronouns. I do that for you all day, and ain’t nobody givin’ me cookies for that!
Recognizing a person as they are and identify is a basic socialization skill. It is not neuroscience or a grad level Physics experiment. Get to the next level already and show me something new!
3. Stop gatekeeping!
It’s one thing to fuck up. We all fuck up. It is another thing entirely to use your gatekeeping, privileged ass to prevent someone from sharing space with you because it is not in a format you like.
True collaborations mean spaces that have traditionally been held for people with certain types of privilege need to change.
4. Don’t tout your affiliation with gay groups to prove your knowledge of trans identities!
Lots of “LGBTQ” organizations exclude trans people on the regular basis. Evidence can be seen in LGBTQ organizations that mention “homophobia” in their mission statements, but leave out “transphobia,” organizations that talk about supporting “gays and lesbians” and just expect that trans people will get the idea and show up.
I mean, c’mon, I typically blog on a page that says “Gay Voices.” Seriously.
5. I don’t care about the one trans person you know who is okay with you doing [xyz].
It is more than insulting for me to tell you something you’re doing is hurtful/transphobic and your response to be, “Well, I’ve known [random-trans-person-who-would-be-embarrassed-if-they-knew-how-you-were-using-their-name], and they’re okay with it.”
Guess what. One of three things might be going on here:
1. That person doesn’t like you enough to tell you different;
2. They’re worried advocating for themselves may harm your relationship;
3. They’re a different person than the one that you’re talking to at the moment.
6. Apologize when you fuck up.
It’s that simple!
7. Adapt already!
I learned this back in sixth grade biology class, but clearly it bears repeating: If you can’t adapt, you get left behind.
We are living in a world where it is becoming increasingly unpopular not to include trans people. In a time of social media, we have the opportunity to speak back! To every cis person — be they gay, straight, bi, queer — adapt, or get left behind.
We are not a new phenomenon, so get with the now.
8. There is too much Google for you to be out here acting like you don’t have the access to information.
If you are reading this article on the World Wide Web, you should already know. Period. If you have time to click on cat pictures and celebrity sex videos all day, you have more than enough time to learn about the world around you.
9. Do better.
I believe the aforementioned writer has the capacity to do a better job of believing trans people about their lived experiences and dismantling transphobia.
When we know better, we should just do better because it is the right thing to do. Social change doesn’t come from us hemming and hawing about what has been done in the past and how we can hold steadfast to that. It comes from making space for those that have been historically denied.
That is simply called human decency. And maybe, even, a little revolutionary.
J Mase III is a black/trans/queer poet currently based in Brooklyn. He is an educator and activist who has worked with thousands of community members and service providers on the needs of LGBTQ youth and adults in spaces such as faith communities, elementary schools, domestic violence shelters, medical agencies, juvenile justice organizations and foster care programs, among others. Follow him on Twitter @jmaseiii or track him on his website at jmaseiii.com.