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My Name Is Iden | What’s in a dead name?

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What would it be like to watch yourself die? To be at the bedside, holding your own hand for your final breath? What would it be like for you as you stood in the rain, a lone mourner, tossing a single flower into your own grave, turning, and walking away?

I can answer that.

My name is Iden. I say that all the time. If anyone ever wants to know who I am, there it is. I am Iden. But I wasn’t always.

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 * * * 

I legally changed my name in January 2021. In the trans community, we call your old name your dead name.

A gender transition is a complicated thing. It is no small thing to become a new person. I think a lot of trans/nonbinary folks would take exception to part of that statement. I think the common response to the idea that one becomes a “new person” would be to say that they are the same person they have always been. The only thing that changed is they communicated the truth of who they are to the world.

That is true, in a way. It is true that I have always been transgender and that now I express that outwardly, but I think that this is too simplistic a telling of the story. The real truth is that I was always what I am, but I was not always who I am.

Everyone changes. That is life. That is living. No one reading this is the same person they were a decade ago.

Time and events shaped me continually, weathering me like the waves against the shore. That sort of change is slow, it is gradual. That sort of change is easy to predict and easy to accept. Then I came out and things were not so easy any longer.

There is a reason that they name storms.

I began my transition and quickly learned that transition is not just another wave. My transition was a hurricane, a tsunami, a colossus of change that swept the old coast away in what seemed like no more than a breath.

Coming out as trans was not a mistake. I knew, with complete certainty, that I did not want to continue living as a man. I knew that I wanted to be known by a different name from then on because I did not want to be the same person that I had been. I knew this and I shouted it, out loud, to the world.

That was my coming out, a public declaration of intent. But coming out is nothing. It is terrifying and difficult without question, but it is nothing when it is held beside what comes after. Coming out is merely a forecast of the storm to come, and like most people, I found myself ill-equipped when that storm made landfall.

 * * *  

Each time I have told my coming out story, and I have told it many times, I have given an abridged recounting. I have presented, at best, a two-dimensional view. This was not done in an attempt to conceal or withhold. It was done for brevity. It was done because I knew there was a certain side of that story that people were expecting, and it was done because there was a part of my story that I myself had not yet fully processed.

I am not unique in this oversimplification. I have listened to many trans and genderqueer people tell their stories. I have heard the struggles of finding the acceptance of one’s true nature from without and within. I have heard of the lost jobs and relationships. I have heard of the joy, the relief and the freedom that come with telling the truth. And, oh, the hours I have spent talking hormones, surgery, clothing and makeup.

But, in all of that, never once have I heard anyone say what it means to become a new person. To become Iden, to become that self that had been buried, to become the me who I had always dreamed of being, meant letting go of the me who I was.

What is not told, perhaps not understood, is that transition has nothing to do with gender. Gender is nothing more than a convenient and easily understood metaphor for what is a deep, complicated, and personal journey. The makeup, the hormones, the surgeries, the clothes — those are all just ways to show the world, and yourself, that you have been changed by that journey.

That road is a difficult one. Transition is not so simple as making a few phone calls or as small a thing as tears shed in front of the mirror. It is a shifting of perspective. It is a destruction of ego, a radical reconstructing of self. It is painful and frightening and thrilling. It is humbling and powerfully rewarding, and one does not come out the other side the same as one enters.

It is a new person, built from the pieces of the old, that emerges again into the world. A person whose essence is familiar but who has been so changed by their experience that they may not be recognizable to all but a few. So changed that the old name, that once symbolized this person, no longer fits.

This newly formed self requires a new name. Something that can serve as shorthand for the entirety of what was gained and what was lost.

 * * * 

I stood in the bathroom, looking into the mirror. It was the evening after I came out to my family and only three days from my decision to transition. I was looking at two selves, old and new, and for once in my life that was not confusing. That was the moment I realized only one of us could remain. It was the moment I realized I would have to say goodbye to myself, and I wasn’t ready for it.

It was an experience of emotion I will never have again. Feelings gusted over, under and through me. Those feelings uprooted all I had thought to be true about myself, took heavy, solid, sure things and tossed them aside. I cried. I cried so much. My tears were falling onto the ground, literally like rain, and for the first time ever, I did not try to stop them.

The fullness of what was to come was there. I was looking her in the eyes. The person I was, with all of their thoughts and memories, would never, could never, be again. There was not room for two.

I spoke to her. I put my palm to her palm. I said, “Thank you.” I said, “It’s OK.” I said, “Sorry.” I said, “Don’t be. I understand.”

The rate of change far outpaced my ability to understand the extent of change. But, little by little, day by day, I saw that the way I was had become the way that I am. Everyday brought me closer to comprehension.

The way I viewed the world, and my place in it, had evolved dramatically. The way I interacted with the people in my life had changed in an equally dramatic way. It took time for me to accept the completeness of this transformation, but little by little, day by day, the thoughts and memories I held from that past life seemed less and less my own.

Was this body the body that had traveled through those spaces? Was this the mind that had recorded those events? Yes, of course but, no, obviously not.

A person is not built of fact. Every bit of me, my experience of me, is subjective. I am my interpretation of self. I am my understanding of self, and that understanding had changed. In every way, it had changed. And yet, the memories remained as they were.

I continued to experience the world, moving through it as this new person, my new self. I continued to gather new memories and make new friends, even as I lost my grip on the old. With each exchange I was called by my new name. With each exchange, the person who had carried that old name came a step closer to dying. Each moment that solidified the new me faded the old until, at last, she blew away.

What a sorrow it is to see someone so brave and so worthy fade into story. What a pity that the moment of their final passing should go unnoticed by all but one. But that is how it must be.

Transition is a journey of the self. Only one person could be there for the end. Only the new me could understand what it was to be the old me. Only Me Now could hold Me Then as we faced the final and the first moment of life. What an honor it was to be that one.

My old name is a dead name. It is a metaphor for a dead conception of self. It is shorthand for what was before the storm came. I am not that person anymore, but I am as I have always been.

The wind may tear the trees loose from the shoreline. Floods may wash away all that was built there, and waves may redraw its face. But the shore remains earth as it ever was. It greets the sea as it ever has. People will return, trees will grow, and the memory of what was before will recede further and further into myth.

There will be a new place where the old was. People will call it by a new name. Change will return to the old slow pace, the old predictability, measured in gently lapping waves. People will forget the old name entirely.

Or not. Maybe there will remain some who remember. Some who still see the old within the new. Maybe those few will honor what was and honor the storm that changed everything into what is. Maybe a few will remain to tell the old tales.

My name is Iden. But it wasn’t always.

 * * * 

This is the last essay I will write for this column. It has been a wonderful experience, and I am grateful to have been granted this space. I have shared 24 pieces of me with you here, and it has been more than I ever thought it would be.

I have many more stories, many more thoughts, many more pieces of me that I would like to share, but those will have to wait. It is time for me to step aside. It is time to take the great gift of this place and grant it to another.

I am thankful a thousand times over to all of you who have spent your time reading my words and hearing my story. I hope you found something equal to what you have given to me. I will find a new space for sharing and new ways to share, and I hope that, when I have, you will join me again.   

*The author is an artist and writer. She lives in Yellow Springs with her wife and three children. You can follow her work at


One Response to “My Name Is Iden | What’s in a dead name?”

  1. Grant Crawford says:

    thoughtful & powerful words. best of luck in your future pursuits.

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