My name is Feminista Jones.
It is how I choose to identify myself to and with you. It is the name under which I write and produce other content. It is trademarked. It should be respected because that is the choice I made for myself, in the spirit of Kujichagulia:
Kujichagulia (koo-jee-cha-goo-LEE-ah) Self Determination. “To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.”
This is my favorite principle of Kwanzaa because it is so individually empowering. While the others call for empowerment through unity and other collective acts and behaviors, Kujichagulia is the one that motivates self-determination on an individual as well as collective level.
I chose my name. It empowers me.
Others who chose new names for themselves:
- Joanne Deborah Chesimard
- Malcolm Little
- Gloria Jean Watkins
- Eunice Kathleen Wymon
- Araminta Ross
- Isabella Baumfree
- Michael King, Jr.
What I find fascinating is that we can so readily accept that John Stephens is now John Legend and that Terry Jean Bollea is Hulk Hogan, but so many fight against accepting and acknowledging when trans people change their names and ask to be referred to by their chosen names.
We accept when people get married and change their names.
We assign and accept nicknames.
We respect celebrity single names like Cher, Madonna, and Beyoncé.
We find it so easy to embrace names not assigned at birth or altered in some way to fit the person’s wishes yet when it comes to trans people, people want to act like the world will come to an end because they’ve been asked to respect their names.
And I guess I get even more prickly when I see Black folks do this, particularly descendants of enslaved people whose names were changed and ripped from them. How do we, those whose identities are intertwined with our oppression, dare tell someone else that their chosen name is not to be respected?
Many Black surnames like Freedman and Freeman were names chosen by freed people who either escaped enslavement or were emancipated. They empowered themselves by shedding their masters’ surnames (and often first names) in favor of names that reflected who they believed they truly were: free human beings.
Yet, rampant transphobia that emerges when people arbitrarily decide whose names to respect based on their own bigotry is pitiful. Sad. A hot mess. Shameful.
(and, to some degree, anti-ciswoman sexism because ciswomen changing their names seems to garner more antagonism than men who do, unless, of course, the women are marrying men and changing last names)
I don’t care who you are, how you identify, who you love, or what you do or don’t do in bed. If you introduce yourself to me one way, that’s the way I honor you because I want the same done for me. Yet, I fully call for the acceptance of your full humanity without people feeling the need to erase who you are just to accept you.
For some reason, there are people who insist upon using my given name as a way of stripping me and “exposing” me. They want to pry open my life and rejecting the name I use when presenting myself is one way they can do that because they want the “real” me. Misogynists do it. Reporters do it (AP threatened to not cover #NMOS14 because I didn’t want my given name used). People feel an odd sense of entitlement to using my name and it bugs me (especially on Twitter when people tweet to me–stop that!). It creates a false sense of intimacy and close connection, I guess, but hey… I don’t want that with you if I haven’t made it clear that’s it’s ok to do so.
Anyway, the bottom line is that you absolutely CAN respect a person’s name and use the one they choose. It doesn’t hurt you one bit. When you choose not to, you are intentionally seeking to harm them and erase the humanity of their personal choices and that makes you a complete asshole.
Don’t be an asshole, asshole.
p.s. that’s Assata Shakur, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, bell hooks, Nina Simone, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr…. to you.