I’m a woman. Okay, yes for most of you fine readers on this site, that was already a known detail. But what I mean to say is that as of two weeks ago, I’m legally female. On September 30th I walked into a courthouse with one name and walked out with another, as well as a stack of paperwork and a seemingly unending series of organizations that I needed to contact and inform. I’m now legally Riley Jess Silverman, and yes, even though I knew I was going to type that, doing it made the hairs on my arm stand up with a nice little charge.
I was at a party later that night that a friend was throwing and she announced my big news when I came in, which got me a round of congratulations and woo’s, and over the course of the evening the occasional question about the process. And at some point in the party one lady asked “So this must have been like the best day, what all did you do?” And then I had to kind of just quietly go, “Well, I went to a courthouse and a judge signed a document, and then I waited at the clerk’s desk till that document came out and I bought some copies of it. Then later I took that to the Social Security office and they made the change too.” She was disappointed, and to be honest so was I. But that was my day, I did those two things and otherwise I still had to go to work.
I attempted twice to have some sort of party to commemorate the occasion. I live five minutes away from Universal Studios Hollywood, so I’d decided to put together a group outing at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the Sunday after my change went through. It was a bit silly, I know, but I figured at least I’d get to wear a robe, and literature and stories matter to me as much as any faith does. Also I have an annual pass and it wasn’t a blackout date. I’d made mention of the event among my friends about a month prior to the name change, I called it my “First Of Her Name” celebration and I ordered a special dress from ModCloth to match my Slytherin robes:
One friend came. Over the course of the weekend leading up to the event, and especially on the day of, my inbox filled with the regrets of many a friend. So what was supposed to be me celebrating this big day of my life with people close to me was just me and a friend having a day at a theme park. It was something I made the most of anyway. There was a Harry Potter fan group, the Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army, hosting a special “Dress To the 9 and 3/4ths” day. So while I was short on friends, I was rich with awesome cosplayed witches and wizards and I genuinely love stuff like that. I tried to tell myself how understandable it was that almost no one had come, the tickets are expensive and such. To be fair too, a couple of people did show up way later in the day, but not until the disappointment had gotten to me and I had decided to leave.
I decided to throw a second event the next week as a way of netting in the people who couldn’t make it to Universal. I was hosting a comedy show on a Friday evening near a bar that made for a good hang out, and so I made that the “do-over” day. Three people came to that who weren’t already performing on the show that I was hosting.
If I stopped writing here, I’m sure this would seem like the most self-pitying post ever. Oh no Riley, people didn’t come to your party? Yes, I know. But yeah, it hurt. I was a little resentful, and there was about a week where I really let this get to me. Because for me, this ‘Nameday’ was one of the most significant parts of my life. And I know people who have flown across the country for weddings (I did,) and for baby showers or such. I couldn’t get people to spend $95 on a ticket for a fun theme park day. That was rattling around in my brain for a week, and then when the bar night was a bust too, I felt sort of over it.
But then something started happening. Letters started arriving in the mail, letters containing credit cards with the name Riley on them. Emails from my insurance company telling me that my information had been updated. I got the first writers paycheck from Pajiba that was written out to Riley Silverman and not some guy people used to confuse me for. Party or not, there was a very intense moment of realization that this was how it was going to be from now on. Every piece of identification (except for my birth certificate, thanks State of Ohio for your outdated ID laws!) from now on will show me as Riley. There is something intensely bizarre about starting to sob at a form email sent from American Express.
I’ve been thinking a lot about ceremony in the wake of this. As I mentioned above, part of the resentment I felt for the lack of turnout was knowing how much people will bend over backwards to accommodate wedding expenses or other commonly held ceremonial celebrations in our culture. The thing is, given my social status and my track history, even though I would like to be married someday, I don’t really take for granted that this will happen. It’s possible I’ll never have a wedding. Due to my anatomy, I’ll never have a baby for whom to shower either. (That’s a baby shower, right? You just rinse the infant under the spray for a minute?) It feels like for me, this might have been the closest thing I’ll ever come to a significant enough life moment as an adult to celebrate with any pomp and circumstance. Basically, I graduated college and this was it. (Although credit where it’s due, on the one year anniversary of my starting hormone therapy, several of my friends surprised me with a gift basket full of cool lady-themed presents, so it was a bit like a mini-shower.)
But babies and weddings have been around for like, a really long time. They’re both so ingrained in our culture that the inability to have one or either can easily be used as a quick pitch for a film or TV show plot. The downside of that is that they sit so heavily on our culture that at times it seems considered the height of the value of a woman. The upside is that the rituals attached to them are just immediately recognized, even when no longer tied to any specific religious faith.
So while my immediate feeling was of hurt resentment, the more I think about it, the more I try to imagine trying to explain the concept of a wedding to someone who had never known a cultural need for one before.
“Hey, so there’s this woman that I really love, and she loves me, and we think on Saturday we’re going to have a get together and just like, tell everyone how much we love each other.”
“..Okay, but didn’t you just tell me you loved her now though?”
“Yeah, but we’re gonna tell each other on Saturday”
“I mean I’ve gone clubbing with you, I’ve seen you two kiss and stuff. I feel like you’ve said you love her a few times.”
“…sure but this is like, a party we’re throwing, but we’re gonna start it off with the I love you stuff. It’s a thing.”
“Hmm, well I might swing by at some point. I have some stuff going on that day already.”
The thing is, I could probably rage right now, I could say a lot of things about the place of cis and heteronormative life experiences at the top of the cultural foodchain, about how there’s no known ceremony for the legal transition of a person from one name and gender for another because currently there’s varying levels of legality to even do that thing in different states. And yeah, I am mad about that. It feels like major life events in our modern society are a mix of ceremony and bureaucracy (you gotta sign that wedding license, baby has to get that birth certificate that he, she, or they can’t change.) Right now I’m just getting the bureaucracy. I blame SOCIETY, man.
Currently there is beginning to be precedent for a name change celebration. The Church of England for example has considered a re-baptism ritual for their trans congregants, and some other churches have experimented with different varieties as well. It would be cool if there was something of a more secular nature with still some ritual elements to it for atheists or those of us without a significant connection to a particular faith.
But who knows. Perhaps standing on the precipice of a new cultural understanding at this moment means we’re crafting the beginnings of what will become the rituals of future generations. Maybe after the great solar flare, the remnants of society will gather around with tattered, hand re-written copies of the Harry Potter books, confused about the canonical potential of fan fiction discovered in the tucked away drawers of burned houses, standing around a young transgender woman who has been renamed. “Congratulations, your name is now Riley Jess, you are a woman, and you’ve been sorted into Slytherin.”
Or maybe they’ll all just read from a credit card statement and collectively sob.
Riley Silverman’s ambition is to one day be cited in the Book of Snape.