When I was first invited to Freethought Blogs last year, there were a lot of reasons to be excited. I couldn’t believe that I’d be blogging alongside Greta, PZ, Ian, Jen, Ed, and everyone else here – as well as JT, Dan, Chris, and the others who have now moved elsewhere. Getting to join a community that I already admired immensely was, and still is, something I’m very proud of.
But the most prestigious part of it for me, the one thing I was happiest about, was that I would be writing on the same site as Natalie Reed.
Before I joined up, I had already been following Natalie’s work for months, on FTB and elsewhere. At the time, there were a lot of changes going on in my life: I’d moved across the country on a permanent basis, I was out on my own for the first time, I had a partner and kids to care for… and I was still working out all of this gender-related stuff.
I thought I was done with all of that, and that my gender situation was stable, but it really wasn’t. Back then, I usually didn’t cover many trans-specific issues, because I didn’t feel qualified – I wasn’t even sure if I was “really trans”, and I didn’t want to risk speaking as a member of a group that I might not really be a part of.
I might not have been comfortable writing about all that – but Natalie was. And reading her work was what helped me reach a point where I could start to make sense of myself and figure out what I really wanted for my life. Her writings are of the sort where, when I read them, I can only say: why didn’t I think of that? And that’s the one quality that, to me, marks someone’s work as extraordinarily valuable and insightful. It fills in the deficiencies in my own comprehension. It does something beyond what I was capable of on my own. Even now, I often find myself re-reading her archives just to remember what it was like to feel all those little moments where something popped right into place, and I learned something new about feminism, about gender roles and social expectations, about what being trans could mean. And this was the intellectual development I needed to fuel my personal development.
Without Natalie’s help, I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t be who I am now, or where I am now. There have been times when I went to her directly for advice, because I didn’t know who else I could ask about certain things. When I realized that I needed to make some decisions about what I wanted to do with my whole gender thing, she was the first one I asked about the questions that had slowly begun to eat at me. When I had to choose whether to start going through “official channels” for this, seeing therapists and doctors and making serious medical changes, she gave me the information that reassured me. When I was scared of either future – dreading what I knew would happen to me if I didn’t do it, and uncertain of what might happen if I did – she made me realize that this could be done. She helped me feel, truly and deeply, that it would be okay.
Natalie is the reason I have my new name. I once asked her whether potentially hostile therapists would take issue with my choice of an odd name like Zinnia, and if I should go with something more average (of course, she told me that nobody should force me to make a choice like that). Just as an example, I contrasted it with a name that I picked out on the spot from the popular ones when I was born. It wasn’t meant to mean anything – but for some reason, it stuck with me. And a few days later, I was Lauren. It wasn’t any sort of compromise of my identity, just another thing that happened to pop right into place. I’ve never looked back.
Natalie’s posts are something that I’ve always looked forward to, and I’m really going to miss her blog. I’m sure countless others will, too. I’ve rarely seen anyone pour themselves into such important work for such a long time, and for the benefit of so many of us out there who desperately needed to hear what she’s saying. Her work has changed lives, mine included. But at the same time, I’m so happy that she’s pursuing what’s best for her – which is exactly what she’s always taught me to do. There are very, very few people I would consider role models, and she’s one of them.
Thank you, Natalie. Thank you.