My last name (yes, last name) is Michael, but I wasn’t always called thus.
Once upon a time, my last name was different than what I had now. Not only was I born and mostly raised with one last name, I shortly took upon a step dad’s name. These names were meant to identify and connect me to families that, at some point and in some way, I was once connected.
I bore these names with pride while I growing up — at least for the time I had them. I was one name for most of my life growing up, and still bear the old nicknames related to that original surname. These names are an important part of my past.
But when I was in high school, I came to realize that because I had no blood relation with that name, and did not bear the name of my real father, or even my mother who raised me, that I wanted a new name. I wanted a name that not only described who I was but, more importantly, whom I wanted to become.
After much prayer, I decided I would change my last name to Michael. I’ll fuzz over the details, but I knew that’s the direction I wanted to go.
When I turned 21, I changed my name by a simple legal order. Though Michael had no anchor in my past, it was a name I now wanted to be called. As an intelligent adult capable of making my own decisions, I had every right to ask others to refer to me in a way that was important to me. It didn’t matter if others respected or understood that decision.
There might be some who could consider it morally abhorrent that I would want to change my name to something wholly unconnected from a family who loved me. But it didn’t matter. As a rational human being, I had every right to ask people to refer to me as I wanted them to refer to me. There is no central authority by which I needed moral approval to make this change, save only the ones I held to, myself.
I asked my God and I discussed it with my mom, but ultimately it was my decision and no one else’s to demand I make this change.
Can you question my authority or right to ask others to address me how I wish? You can, actually. But it doesn’t mean your questioning should bear any weight on the outcome of my decisions, especially if I neither know nor care about you.
I have every right. You don’t have to respect that right, nor do you have to abide it. You’re welcome to call me by my old names, or derogatory names. I by equal measure, have every right to call you whatever I like, as well.
Ultimately, I’m a straight white Christian male who changed my name because it was important to me to do so.
No matter what gender, orientation, race, religion or belief system you are, you have every right to ask other people to call you by any other gender, orientation, race, religion or belief system you wish. They don’t have to agree with it. They don’t even have to listen to you, any more than you have to listen to them.
But to those who would treat transgenders, gays, and even transracial people by how you want to treat them as opposed to how they want you to treat them can express a strong dissonance in the society you might want to live in.
Here’s what I mean: if we support a world where rights exist to give us freedom over our own lives, then what difference is there in my changing my name and someone else changing their gender, orientation or race?
And this isn’t an argument for traditional or new science. This isn’t debating the greater issues of social patterning as the roots of gender or race. It’s a simple argument that human beings have the deep right to change their own paradigm. While you should be under no obligation to respect it, I would ask you to take the time to consider it. More importantly, while you don’t have to respect them for making decisions with which you disagree, at least don’t stand in their way.
If you want respect for your life decisions, why not offer the same to those who would change something about themselves, even if you don’t morally agree with it? Remember that morals are great things, but the rule of law best serves when it gives individuals the most freedom within the simple rule that their freedom not infringe on others’ rights over themselves.
Changing your gender, orientation, race and variety of other personal qualities affects yourself. It does not force orientation, race or gender on others. Until the day someone believes they should be able to change YOUR orientation, race or gender, support people in their decisions to change their own.
For Christians (among whom I number), remember that Jesus said to love people, not control people. If you call yourself a Christian, it’s not about changing your beliefs about how you conduct your own life, but about loving others in theirs. Jesus said love them, not fix them, degrade them or browbeat them into believing as you do. He said love, because love is more powerful than any such behavior or treatment. Love everyone so everyone you meet might see Jesus’s love in you. THAT is more powerful than any other way you might treat people with whom you disagree.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[a] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV