It’s been a few months now, and my newly adopted real-life name has become much more natural. Our families and friends know me by it now, and it’s no longer something I have to remind myself of just to get it to sink in. I sense I’m quite a ways into the arbitrarily-designated third phase, incorporating it as a part of myself, but not quite at the point where it’s just as deeply and thoroughly entrenched as my previous name was. It’s still a notable thing in my mind, whereas a name that’s become natural to you is a non-thought.
Regular usage for a lengthy period, by myself and others, seems to be crucial to accepting it as actually being my name – there’s no way around that. Everyone changing my name to it on their phones, listing it as “parent 2” in the contact information for our son’s school, signing it on his behavior sheet every day, registering a new Gmail account under it, generating a PGP keypair for it, filling it out on forms for my doctors, drawing up papers for a legal name change, all of these otherwise mundane instances are small pieces helping to bridge the gap between an old label and a new one. But there are also ways to nudge the process along.
It’s sometimes helped me to run through my very early memories and visualize them as being revised to include my new name. My mother asking me if I want to help mix the cookie batter. My kindergarten teacher calling on me when I raise my hand. My grandparents getting me a bicycle with training wheels and a custom “license plate”. Slowly typing my name into the crude word processor of ClarisWorks for Kids. And learning how to sign it.
That last one is significant. After spending a few days in the first grade, I was subjected to a battery of tests, and then placed in the third grade for the remainder of the year. One problem, among many others that would eventually manifest, was that we were supposed to learn cursive in second grade. Of course, they were used to making special accommodations by now, and I was given two weeks of individual instruction so that I could catch up. The teacher for the gifted students spent an hour with me every day as I scrawled words nearly half my height onto a chalkboard. For me, the result of learning cursive in two weeks was forever adopting a writing style that closely mimicked the look of the archetypal examples of all the letters, filtered through a slow and unsteady hand. I honestly have no idea how people like my partner can let the words flow from their fingers in such graceful, swooping, personalized, soulful arcs. My writing has scarcely improved since I was 6 years old – it’s still the same process of slowly and deliberately drawing out the loops and lines.
This is why I rarely bother writing by hand, except when it’s unavoidable. One such instance would be my signature. The concept of a signature was initially explained to me as nothing more than writing your full name in cursive, which is basically accurate but fails to capture its purpose as a personalized mark. My signature is no more special than anything else I write in cursive; nothing about it stands out, and it could just as easily be anyone else’s name that I’m writing. No barely legible split-second scribbles for me – it’s as drawn-out and deliberate as ever. Years of practice have not changed this, and cashiers probably imagine I’m sending coded messages to terrorists through the banking system or something. Of all the challenges that have accompanied taking a new name, learning to sign it hasn’t been one of them.
But there was one thing I found that, for a short time, made writing by hand almost fun: Gelly Roll pens. Sakura Gelly Roll gel pens were the thing to have when I was in the sixth grade. If you’re too young or old to have experienced these as a milestone of your upbringing, they were right at the apex of the hierarchy of needs when it came to pens. Yes, they wrote, and they wrote very smoothly – but they didn’t just write. They wrote in pale blue, chartreuse, pastel pink, deep purple, mint green, teal, gold, silver, and almost any color you could imagine. Colored pens? What’s the big deal? Well, these had glitter in the ink. I loved them, and so did everyone else.
Some people might interpret an intense interest in multicolored sparkly pens as an early sign of feminine identity on my part. But this wouldn’t really be indicative of anything like that, because we all had these pens, boys and girls alike. It wasn’t even about actually writing with them most of the time – sure, it was nice to have so many options, but the teachers strongly discouraged using glittery ink on our work. Instead, they were more of a status symbol, bridging the trend gap in our little town between Tamagotchis and Pokemon cards. The more Gelly Roll pens you had, the higher your social standing. These things take on an inordinate importance when you’re in sixth grade.
Indeed, they were so important that someone – still unknown all these years later – was compelled to steal them out of my starry cloth pencil pouch. It really did hurt. For all of their meaningless, artificial social value, they made it seem like my crude cursive squiggles were alright, like it didn’t matter how wobbly they were. They sparkled just the same. It wasn’t long before holographic Charizards were the new rage and everyone had moved on from those strange and frivolous pens. But they stayed with me. Their unmistakable translucent cases revealing the color inside, rounded glittery caps and bar codes on the side would be recognizable for life.
After the stores stopped selling them, I gave up hope of finding them again. What else can you do when you’re 9 years old and it’s 1998? Your world is pretty small, and your reach is even smaller. Where would you get them from? How would you know where to look? We didn’t even have the internet at home, not that finding something like that online would have been very easy at the turn of the century. People remember 9/11, but they sometimes forget how primitive the web was back then. (It was that long ago? Yep.) After enough time without seeing them anywhere, I accepted that they were nothing more than a memory now – and one that hardly anyone else seemed to cherish.
I rarely thought about them until earlier this year, when I took my new name. In an attempt to brute-force it into my identity, I would sign it over and over, filling sheets of paper with it, trying to get used to the feeling of it coming out of my hand. You can only write the same thing so many times before it starts to lose all meaning, but that wasn’t really a problem – it was supposed to become instinctual, something I didn’t have to think about. Still, something occurred to me as I watched my fingernails in motion, an iridescent blue against the dull, flat black of the ink. Didn’t there used to be some way I could feel like my handwriting was truly mine?
On a recent trip to Target, we stopped in the office supplies aisle to look for more of the composition notebooks my partner uses – when penmanship comes easy to you, filling hundreds of pages with artful cursive must be a joy. Then I caught a glimpse of something buried on the bottom shelf. Those rounded caps, sparkling: “Gel ink pens. Fashion and glitter pack. 10 assorted colors. Lovely lines.” No, not real Gelly Rolls, but the closest thing I’ve found in the past decade.
I couldn’t wait to try them out, and the lovely lines were just as incredible as I remembered.
The same old sparkle was still there – tacky, childish, and completely awesome. At last, it flowed right out of my fingertips and onto the page. This is how we rewrite history: in hot pink glitter.