Monday, 22 October 2012

Identity

1 November next will be the third anniversary of changing my name by Deed Poll to Lucy Melford, which I did eleven months after beginning a semi full time existence as Lucy. By 'semi' I mean that although I lived on my own as Lucy, and conducted my life as Lucy, I regularly had to present as the Old Person when seeing my ex-partner and my parents. It was irksome, and seemed a false thing to do, but it was necessary to keep the peace.

By the end of October 2009 my parents were gone, my partner had relinquished any say in my transition, and nearly all the residual legal stuff connected with my parents' estates had been dealt with. It was a natural moment to change my name forever.

It felt very much like entering a brand new phase, as if I were getting married and taking a new identity. The Deed Poll had real significance. It became a vital documentary indicator that I was 'full time' from 1 November 2009. Using it, I set up further essential documentation and record-changes. A 'female' NHS record, passport and driving licence were all in place by the end of January 2010. Other important documentation has followed, as you know.

I am now legally bulletproof, beyond challenge. Though so far as the actual name goes, not beyond amendment. A further name change to Lucy Somethingelse will always be possible. Conceivably back to my father's surname, the one on my birth certificate. But I'm so comfortable with 'Lucy Melford' that I intend to stick with it. I've grown into it.

I'd even say that I look like a woman who would be called 'Lucy Melford'. It's a name that, for me, says 'pleasant middle-class lady with a good family and educational background', and that's the presentation that suits me most. I don't want an edgy, gritty, fought-her-way-up-from-the-gutter-and-never-went-to-school image. Nor a super-posh-loadsamoney-always-had-a-smooth-and-easy-ride image either. I want to be Miss Nice, Miss Pleasant, Miss Chatty, the sort of woman you bump into at friendly places where civilisation and afternoon tea are serious concepts. That means cafes and restaurants in old hotels, museums, galleries, and National Trust properties. One day, fifteen years from now, I shall become Miss Marple and take up amateur sleuthing!

Funny thing, this business of identity.

I've been looking closer at The Angels and Rose's, and I've been speculating on the names people choose for their online identities. Let's make up a few typical ones: LongLegsNottingham, JasmineTGirl, NikkiGlasgow, LindaLovelyLips, Hopeful7053, JustOutLiverpool, BristolBev, Anna SadEyes, PartyGoer. Often it's a name that hints at status ('JustOut'), personal inclination ('LovingLady') and locality ('Hertford'). There's this new trend of sending all and sundry a message (sometimes fierce and aggressive) in your home wi-fi name. But the message in these names is overwhelmingly 'I'm-nice-to-know, good to be with', or 'I'm-fun-with-a-great-sense-of-humour-but-I-need to-be-understood'. These two forums are very welcoming to newcomers, very supportive if a genuine problem is aired, and the overall sense of community is warm and deep. It's understood that if any of these girls link up in real life, then pretence will be dropped and disclosures made. Meanwhile the online name is a protection, just in case suspicious family or work colleagues visit the site. Sometimes there is a proper name ('Lucy Melford') but that's a little exceptional. It's a luxury item for people who are secure and have nothing to lose by being up front and open.

Clearly a lot of the names are temporary, and could get discarded if there is progress in whatever direction these girls are going in. That they persist, sometimes for several years, suggests that for many no progress is possible, or that progress is only something to talk about. Which means that there are a lot of people out there who live double lives, with a double identity, for years on end.

Now I couldn't stand that, not as a long-term proposition. I'd find it very unsettling, juggling two names, two lives, having to remember who I'm supposed to be at any given moment, and what might be the consequences of introducing myself as one person or the other. I couldn't do it. In real life, I adopted the persona and life of Lucy Melford as rapidly and as completely as I could. One identity was quite enough. Two parallel identities would have been dangerously confusing. It would also have perpetuated the Old Life, which I quickly saw had been lived on a mistaken basis. It seemed intolerable to keep it going. It was also emotionally difficult, and in some fundamental way dishonest, even though the duality was imposed on me from outside, against my will. The worst period for me was the first twelve months after coming out, during which I had to maintain two very different lives. I had no compunction or second thoughts about taking all my Old Life clothes to the charity shop (see my post Time for a wardrobe purge, 9 September 2009).

It's an old (and true) proverb that no man can serve two masters. I'd add that nobody can juggle two identities - not without problems that will completely stress them out.

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Lucy Melford