One of the first questions I ask another transgender person, when I first meet her/him, is how they came to choose the name they now identify as. Answers are many and varied, some try to keep the same initials they had, as my friend Wendy did, others name themselves for other family members, friends, celebrities, literally…there are many reasons why transgender people choose their names. In a few cases, the transgender person was accepted by their parents, and the parents chose the new name. That is a bit more common now – than when I first came out. I did once have occasion to ask my mom, though (who now accepts me, though initially did not) what she would have named me…had I been born in the correct body in the first place. I would have been Renee.
Our names are a core part of our identity, whether we are transgender or not…though, as transgender people we often choose our names, instead of having them chosen for us. Many non-transgender people use nicknames, or informally adopt a different name, for example, a guy named Robert might prefer to be called Jim, and his friends will probably do so. Others end up going by their middle name instead of their first name, as my nephew does.
Many transgender people have a story behind their name…and I am one of them. My name is reflective of my journey. No, I am not going to reveal my former name, or what we transgender people call our dead name. What I will tell you is that I was originally named for the priest who married my parents.
The only part of my original given name at birth that is left is my last name. Bridgman. It is my given birth last name, and shall be until (If I am lucky) I find Mr. Right and take his last name, as is customary for women to do…though many women these days choose to keep their original name. I am more old-fashioned. I remember, when I first was dating a man my mother knew about, and she was horrified I might change my last name…until I told her that it was customary for a woman to take her husband’s name…just as she had.
So…my full name is Angela Fox Bridgman, legally. Privately, is it Angela Louise Fox Bridgman. Some very close intimate friends actually do call me Louise. It is because at the time I came out, there was another well-known Angela who was also transgender, living about fifty miles from me, in Philadelphia, and we ran in the same circles, and were both officers in the same organization. So, because she was Angela first, I became known to many of those people as Louise, or as Angie…which is a name I honestly don’t like anymore (there’s a whole story behind that…but that is for a different article.)
Now, my first name, Angela…I chose for myself in honor of a girl I admired in high school. I sat behind her for years in homeroom. I admired her from afar. I never had the guts to even talk to her…but she was everything I wanted to be then…and wasn’t. She was funny, popular, smart, pretty…and she was a GIRL…as I said…everything I wanted to be and wasn’t (well, except for the smart part…I was that.)
I had occasion, at our ten-year high school reunion, to tell her I had named myself for her. She actually asked me how I had come by the name Angela, as it was not even close to my deadname…it did not even start with the same letter. And I told her the truth…that I had named myself for her…and told her why. And she cried, saying it was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her. So that was the girl I admired from afar, and never had the guts to talk to…until then. As an aside, I was unanimously voted “Most Changed” at our ten-year reunion (big surprise, yeah??)
Louise was in honor of yet a second girl…though this one I “dated” in high school, and Louise had been her middle name…thus it became mine. I didn’t actually date her…I smothered her. But…I had no idea how to be a guy…it did not come natural for me, so, as many other transgender women will tell you of their previous life…they overcompensated, and overacted…and played to the absolutely worst stereotypes of the gender we were expected to conform to. Because we did not know how to be that gender. And of course, we had to suppress what we truly felt…we did not want to have our ass kicked every day after school! And every message we got from society told us that what we felt was shameful, something to be embarrassed of. “Boys Don’t Cry” and all that…right?
Now, at our ten year reunion, I spent a lot of time with Cindy…who is the girl for whom I selected my middle name, by selecting hers. Another way to honor a girl who had meant a lot to me. And YES…she often was called “Cindy Lou Who.” I remember Cindy and I were talking together, at a table by ourselves, and her mother showed up – as she had been the Hall Monitor when she and I were in school together. Shirley took one look at me and started shaking her head…”Cindy…what did you DO to this poor boy?” LOL.
I corrected her. I said, “No, Shirley, the correct question is what did I do to your poor daughter. I smothered her in high school…because I never had any feel for how to be a boy, or a man.”
Now, in my generation of trans women, this is actually fairly common…and you will find many of us have a history of military service, or being in the police force. Because these are “macho” occupations…and another way for us to fight what we felt. I, myself, tried to join the New Jersey National Guard. I was turned down due to my inguinal hernia and my eyesight. Believe it or not, folks…a lot of us struggled for YEARS…to be what everyone else said we were and wanted us to be. And it is gut-wrenching. And it is a remembrance of that struggle, and my journey, that my middle name is now Fox…and the Louise is now a part of my name only unofficially.
So…Fox originally was my last name, “en-femme” as we referred to it in those days of the early-mid 1990’s. “En-femme” was how we were when dressed as female, presenting and identifying as female. And I went through the stage where I tried to convince myself and everyone else that I was “just a crossdresser.” It was also very common then…so much so that the running joke then in our community, such as it was then…was Q: What is the difference between a crossdresser and a transsexual? A: Five years. (Yes, back then we also still used the term transsexual…a term which has since fallen out of favor with much of the community…but one with which I still identify. That, too, will be a subject for another article.)
Now, the reason I changed my last name, “en-femme” was because my given and current last name is so very uncommon…especially spelled as I spell it (the Welsh spelling.) And I could not be going around then, as Angela Bridgman. Had my last name been Smith or Jones, i would have left it alone…but I was leading a double life in these early years, and, simply, I did not want the two worlds to collide. I was still trying to convince myself I was “only a crossdresser” and riding Roman…leading my double life. So, needing a more-common last name, I looked through the phone book, to find all the names I could that had at least 100 listings. And said my name, Angela, with each of them. I ended up picking Fox…because I liked it…I could say I was “A. Fox” (LOL) – so thus it was I became Angela Louise Fox “en-femme.” Now, when I did drag shows (yes I did them long ago) my drag queen name was Tammy Wynotte.
So…in 1995, when I was 23, I began my transition, more or less officially…I was now living out my entire life as Angela Louise Fox…except at work. There, I was still the name I was given by my parents. And the weird thing about that was…three of my co-workers lived in the same building I did! It was known where i worked I did drag shows…what they did NOT know was that I was living this almost full-time, and I was working towards a full transition.
The transition began in earnest in 1996, by which time I was no longer working with the company in which co-workers lived in my building, and it was at that time I decided I was going to keep my original last name, Bridgman. And I decided to take Fox as my middle name…as a reminder of what I had gone though…to get to the point I was now at. So that is what is in my name.