One great thing about my new girlfriend is meeting her friends and expanding my social circle. My girlfriend’s best friend (GBF) lives in the Columbia City area of Seattle and we went down Friday night so I could meet GBF and her family.
GBF was great and also sings with a band at times. Part of the reason we went Friday was because there was a cocktail hour/backyard band and birthday party for the bassist, who I’ll call Walker. Walker’s house is your typical South Seattle large Craftsman house, and the back yard has a large concrete patio with two, huge mature fig trees on either side.
When we arrived the band was already playing and as we came around the corner of the house, we saw them on a low stage up against the fence. They were talking playing a jazzy sort of hip-hop and sounded good.
My girlfriend and I hung stage left under a tree because the back yard was crowded and we didn’t see any open seats on the garden furniture. We also didn’t know a soul there other than GBF. GBF went off to say hello to people they knew and the hostess while my girlfriend and I enjoyed the music.
Eventually, we moved up towards a covered porch when some seats opened up next to GBF. On our way up, we ran into the hostess, Tonya, who is married to Walker.
GBF stood to introduce us, and as Tonya and I introduced ourselves the back of my brain went, ‘I know this woman from somewhere. Is she someone I used to work with?’
As my gears ground trying to place her, I could see she was doing the same thing.
As I became more sure I used to know her and that she was someone I’d be happy to see again, her face dawned with surprise and a huge smile and yelled, ‘Oh my god! <Deadname>!’ while throwing her arms around me in a big hug.
We knew each other for sure, even if I still couldn’t place her. The band was loud-ish, but anyone within ten feet could hear her, including my girlfriend and GBF.
I returned the hug and as I pulled away, I said, ‘It’s Heather now, not <Deadname>.’
I’m fortunate my deadname is gender-neutral or it could have been more awkward.
She put me out of my memory misery by mentioning mutual friends from my past and it all snapped in. Our mutual friends were a contractor I’d hired twenty years ago and her husband. (Sonya and Chuck.) We had become friends through my first wife, who met Sonya at a user group meeting.
Not only did I know Tonya and Walker, I’d had dinner and drinks with them many times, and we even went on a group camping trip together.
Nineteen years ago.
As we marveled at the randomness of meeting, I was also aware that she had not flinched or been surprised to see me as me. It was a pleasant surprise, but it shouldn’t have been because Tonya is an accepting person and Sonya was one of first people I’d ever told about my gender struggles, and I’m sure Sonya and Tonya talked.
Tonya had to host her party and we promised to talk later. My girlfriend and GBF wore bemused faces, and my girlfriend commented that I knew more people at the party than she did.
After a while it was time to go and I hadn’t yet talked to either Tonya or Walker, so I waited until Walker wasn’t mobbed and re-introduced myself. He seemed somewhat confused when I introduced myself as, ‘Heather <Lastname>. You used to know me as <Full Deadname>.’
‘Oh. <Deadname>! How are you?’
‘It’s Heather now,’ and etc.
‘Oh. Good to see you,’ and that was that.
My girlfriend and I caught Tonya on the way out, she deadnamed me again, and I corrected her.
‘So it’s Heather now? You’ve changed your name?’
‘Ah, nice to meet you Heather,’ she said with a smile. We promised to connect again and we left.
On the way home I reflected on how small Seattle can still be, the random chances that led me to Tonya and Walker’s house, and how I dealt with what could have been a distressing situation.
There used to be a time when a loud deadnaming like that would have made me want to melt into the ground. With my girlfriend and GBF standing there, it could have been mortifying.
It’s a testament to how far I’ve come because it didn’t rattle me. Maybe if Tonya’s reaction was different, it might have been different; I don’t know. As it was, how could I be uncomfortable with a friend deadnaming me who only knew me from lifetimes ago as a different person?
The whole episode was a reminder of how life flows on, how impossible it is to leave my past entirely behind me, and how comfortable I am in my own skin now. Tonya’s welcome and swift acceptance of the current version of me was also very empowering and how it should be for everyone.
I don’t know who else I’ll run into from my past in the future, but I’m ready to meet them again. Even if they deadname me.
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2016: Poems from a Year of Change
Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition