Earning my Warrior Name

Amethysta Herrick
Amethysta Herrick

In the article “Feral Cats Make Me a Better Woman,” I discussed the Warriors series of books as an allegory for human life in general, and the transgender experience in particular. I will be using terminology introduced in that article here, and if you find yourself immediately confused, it might help to read the first article.

My journey from “kittypet male” to “Clan Cat Transgender Woman” has only just begun at the time of writing, and I still consider myself an Apprentice. This week, however, I fought my first true battle and realized just a bit more what I have signed up for. Like Fireheart, I glanced back at my kittypet life and wondered for a brief moment.

I intend to change the name and gender marker on my birth certificate and supporting documents as I transition. To me, this represents a formal and legal recognition of my authentic self: a formal recognition for myself and a legal recognition for people who may not want to use my new name and gender pronouns. I attended a fantastic seminar this past weekend by The Colorado Name Change Project that helped me get started. I must thank Shannara Quissell for her information and her tireless efforts to help those of us in need. You are an inspiration, Shannara.

As a quick aside, I learned an interesting tidbit at the seminar: the US Government doesn’t give a rat’s ass about my name. I am very literally a number to them — my Social Security Number. As long as one State Government legally recognizes a moniker — any moniker — the US Government and all other State Governments will use it verbatim. In fact, the real record of my existence is not my birth certificate, as I initially expected. That document is merely a legal recognition of a name that ended up being used to create a Social Security Number. (The sudden extinguishing of the spark of my identity is disconcerting; how about you? Remember this the next time you hear politicians claim how much they care about you and how much you should vote for them.)

The process for a legal name change, then, begins with convincing a state to recognize your chosen name. At that point, you can change the name on your Social Security record, and updating remaining documents — including your birth certificate — consists largely of paying people money to change them and waiting around until they do. It does, however, take some effort to convince a State Government to recognize your chosen name. You must get a background check to ensure that you are not changing your name for fraudulent purposes. That’s right — I can change my name to Slappy LaRue Underpants and enjoy the sweet sound of a judge calling me “Miss Underpants” so long as I have no obvious felonies I am attempting to dodge. (SPOILER ALERT: I will not change my name to Slappy LaRue Underpants.)

The First Battle

So where am I going with this? I went to get fingerprinted yesterday. In fact, I signed up to be fingerprinted during the seminar this past weekend and took the first convenient date and time that was available. After the seminar, I talked to my wife about the upcoming appointment and I realized that this is really happening. I have had several moments during the past almost-four-months where I stepped back and felt — existentially and unequivocally — that I am changing myself completely. I am discarding the person I lived as for 52 years to become who I truly am. While this is exciting, it also scares the bejesus out of me.

I am not the kind of person who appreciates change. In fact, the words I used as I spoke to my wife were “I don’t like the unknown.” I like things to be planned and to be predictable. If there were a way I could make a Gantt chart of my transition and blindly do the tasks in the timeline as they are laid out, I would feel comforted. There are people out there who love to be surprised, who love to play life free and easy and just let things occur the way that they do. That is not for me.

The Hanged Man

Just hanging around — The Hanged Man Tarot card, drawn by Oswald Wirth, 1887

There is a card in the Tarot — a Major Arcana card named The Hanged Man. That card indicates the need to surrender to the underlying process of the Universe, to trust that what is coming will work out whether you worry about it or not. This card has come up quite a bit for me in my life. If you appreciate Mary K. Greer’s Birth Cards, you may chuckle to hear that my birth date reduces to 12 (the number of The Hanged Man), which reduces further to 3 (the number of The Empress). This describes my life incredibly well.

I have struggled with letting the Universe take its direction my whole life and I continue to do so. As I transition, I have received many signals that I am going down the right path for me, that this is my time. All I need to do is trust and wait. I need to surrender. But holy cats, that is difficult for me. Leaving my kittypet roots requires me to take a leap that both Fireheart and I have struggled to reconcile with the distinct possibility of failure.

The Prerequisite to True Freedom

In all of this, I am reminded of a couple of quotes from the book The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer[1].

You will get to a point in your growth where you understand that if you protect yourself, you will never be free. (p. 97)

In other words, if I want to grow, if I want to change, if I want to be whom I believe I can be, I must embrace the momentary pain of each small challenge I experience. By embracing it, feeling it, and then letting it go as simply an object of my soul’s observation, I can realize my limits while expanding them. The more pain I feel, the saying goes, the greater my pain threshold grows.

Singer asserts many times in the book that “all you must do is simply let it go.” Simple, yes. One instruction — let it go. Easy? Not at all — this is why each of us stalls in our development. Feeling pain, after all, is what causes suffering, isn’t it? If you don’t feel pain, you can’t suffer, right? Singer’s answer to this question is:

The prerequisite to true freedom is to decide that you do not want to to suffer anymore. (p. 142)

His point is that we suffer because we don’t feel the pain. The more we attempt not to feel pain, the more we must structure our lives around protecting ourselves from pain. That is the definition of suffering — not the momentary experience of anguish with the possibility of recovery, but an underlying, eternal, self-imposed crisis from which we can never escape.

Fireheart experiences many trials as a Clan Cat. What distinguishes him as a character in the books is that he feels his pain and he consistently decides that he will go on. I’ve lived the life of a kittypet for so long; it has been difficult to feel the shame and humiliation I have when expressing femininity throughout my life. What seems to distinguish me in this transgender experience is that I keep going back to being a kittypet.

Yes, I Am

As I stood in the fingerprinting office, fidgeting slightly as I ticked over all of the above in my head, the person who would scan my fingerprints turned and asked brightly:

“OK, let’s see…you’re here for a legal name change…?”

He looked up expectantly, waiting for my answer. I could hang up my attempts at pretending to be a Clan Cat. I could return to my kittypet male life and nobody would be the wiser. It would be so easy just to stop. I simply…stop. Forget the weekly estradiol injections. Get a haircut. Return the makeup books. Put the nail polish and the first dress I bought for myself ever into storage. Cancel my appointments at the clinic and with the speech therapist. Tell this nice man at the fingerprinting office that I made an error, that I suddenly remembered I needed to vacuum my cat, that I only wondered what the inside of a fingerprinting office looked like and this seemed like the easiest way to find out.

I took a deep breath. I glanced back at my Clan.

“Yes, I am,” I said.

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Amethysta Herrick

Ami is a transgender woman dedicated to exploring identity and gender. She is Editor-in-Chief of Purplepaw Publications, LLC.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the offical policy or position of Purplepaw Publications, LLC. Please view the Disclaimer page for further information.