At time of writing, my name is Niko Drew Stratis. This is simply stating a matter of fact. This is now the second name I have attributed to myself in a post transition landscape. The first being one that has been referenced in previous writings and does not need much in the way or re-introduction. Suffice it to say it rhymed with Laundrea. That should be hint enough. My name is not really the interesting point of this as much as the process of getting there is.
Like many of you, I was given two identities at birth. First was male. This was assigned to be in a binary fashion wherein a doctor, someone of higher learning and distinction, takes a quick look under the hood and assigns me my gender going forward. This process does not take into account my feelings on the matter, but those will surface later in life. The other identity is given to me by my parents. Once the gender has been decided for me, I am then given a name by the ruling class of the familial unit. Generally, or rather I should say often, these names have some level of significance. Maybe it was a previous important member of the family. Perhaps it’s from a song or piece of literature that held some deep meaning and sentimental value. My name was given to me because my parents forgot they were going to name me Spencer, and when the time came to put ink to paper on a fresh name for me they just sort of went for it and gave me the name [REDACTED]. Full name [REDACTED] Gerald George Stratis. First of my name. So named because….well I don’t really know. The name [REDACTED] was just something they thought sounded nice I guess. And the other two are older gentleman I’ve never met, but have heard mixed stories about. Initially my name was to be [REDACTED] Stanley Stratis. But then my initials would have been, of course, ASS. Which, I think would be kind of funny but I suppose my sense of humour is less sophisticated then some.
Truth be told, I never liked the name [REDACTED].
Maybe due to its relationship to a gender I didn’t have fond feelings for either, but it just never sat right with me. I would always sort of mumble my way through it, or speed read it. Just to get it over with and all that. Most people adopted to only referring to me by my last name, which I like and gets around the hard business of a name I don’t particularly care for, but still does’t solve the problem at hand.
Of course, the easiest answer was to publicly transition, ostracize friends and family, have a series of mental breakdowns and severe panic attacks and then pay the department of Vital Statistics $50 to legally change my name. Easy peasy. This came after a series of back and forths, writing names down, trying them out. Walking around my house saying names out loud and seeing if any stuck. This highly scientific process yielded few rewards, aside from the name Niko, which I had originally thought of due to my listening to a lot of Velvet Underground at the time, and also the occasional Neko Case record. I filed that in the “maybe” pile. I also had some friends over for a naming party, where I asked them to try and come up with something new for me. Like my parents before them, I really was fine to let the naming of me be someone else’s job. I had far bigger things to worry about.
Speaking of parents. They were a factor in this equation as well. By the time of the naming party I had come out to them. The shaving of my beard a few weeks earlier had been the opening salvo to my eventual coming out. The story goes that when I came out to my mom, I was driving her to an appointment. It seemed to go well, she was supportive and just wanted me to be happy. As all good mothers do. She said I would always be her son, which was a nice sign she had very little concept of the information I was providing her. After I dropped her off I called my sister and came out to her, emboldened as I was by the good chat with my mom. She had to run into a meeting, but would call me later she said. When we spoke next, she told me she didn’t think mom really understood what I was telling her. She drove that point home by saying “mom fundamentally misunderstands what being trans is. She said ‘well, it’s not like he’ll be changing his name and wearing women’s clothes’!” When I told my mom, I had been wearing women’s clothes; black ankle skinny jeans and a shirt from Joe Fresh.
Safe to say if I could do it all again I would have had a name in the can so I could say “my name is Andrea and I’m here to say, I am Transgender in a major way”
I decided on Andrea to make my parents happy. As time went on I got the sense they were uneasy about my transition, and I thought if I went with a variation on my deadname they would be happier. Andrea was basically my acquiescence to the fact that it still wasn’t my identity to claim. Still something assigned to me by a doctor and my parents. Andrea never felt right to me. To make matters worse, it took a while for my parents to come around to it. To date, my mom still forgets that’s my name. I am still [REDACTED] to her. I think there’s a distinct possibility I always will be. My dad steadfastly refused to change my name. They had given me my old name, and it was good! Still plenty of miles left on it. I asked them if there was a dollar figure tied to my name and if I could just buy them out of it outright. I wanted to stop paying interest on an identity that no longer held any credit to me. Eventually, my sister talked to him about how hard this might be for me, and maybe they could consider me more than themselves in the situation.
I got a text from my dad one afternoon. “Hi Andrea, do you want to come by the house for a coffee later? Dad” It read. My dad signs his texts from time to time, and always starts them with the name of the recipient. This was the first time he had used my name, I still have the screenshot of that moment. I went over and we chatted idly about work and whatnot before he launched into it: “we need to talk about this name thing”, he said to me. Uh oh. “You’re pronouncing it wrong you know, it should be Andrea (rhymes with Laundrea), I looked it up and because of our heritage and the etymology of the name, that’s how it should be”. That’s maybe the closest my father has even come to saying I love you to me. So Andrea it was. I paid the bureau of stats 50 bucks, and I changed my drivers license so I would have at least one piece of ID with the right name on it.
But the name still didn’t feel right. I was making decisions based on how to best make other people comfortable, how to make sure they never felt put out or ashamed of me. I wanted everyone, my family most of all, to still want me. And I thought if I chose a name close to my old one, my mom could still call me “And” like she always did.
Here’s what they don’t teach you in transgender school. This is something you’re doing for yourself. As such, it’s okay to do things that feel affirming. If your name doesn’t feel right, it’s within your purview to find one that does. You will find a lot of things that make you unhappy in this world, your name shouldn’t be one of them. When I shook peoples hands and said “hi I’m Andrea” it always felt forced. I felt a shame mechanism coming back up my hand, through my arm into my heart. I was naming myself to make the people that still called me [REDACTED] 90% of the time happy.
I used to joke a lot that I should have chosen a cooler name. My sister, in fact, said to me once “any name in the world you could have chosen, and you went with Andrea?”. My sister is often the smartest person in my family. I would think a lot that I had made a mistake, that I had fucked up and chosen too soon. And I had, really. I took the name of Andrea Drew Stratis because that’s what I felt was the best move to make for everyone else. The easiest transition. But there is truly no such thing as an easy transition. Transition is a long process with a lot of absolute highs and a series of increasingly different lows. But you get to choose your way through some parts of it. A lot of things are out of your control. Your name is not one of them.
It was Sunday. Mid July. my girlfriend shipped me a box for my birthday (thank you). On said box was my name, Andrea Drew Stratis. The mail delivery person looked at the box, looked at me, looked at the box again and said, in front of god and everyone “got a box here for [REDACTED]”. The unmitigated gall of this man. I awkwardly and meekly said that was me, and I took my package and my shame and brought it back inside with me. This was the straw that broke the camels back.
I jokingly posted on Twitter that I was now taking commissions for a new name. The last one having lost it’s pizazz. But I knew who I was by the time I posted that. I am Niko. Niko Drew Stratis. First of their name. A lot of people had suggestions, many of them assumed I was joking. I had already chosen a name, I had already paid that clerk the 50 bucks it cost to claim an identity. But, I had done it for the wrong reasons. I was saying on a regular basis, especially when I was meeting new people “I should have chosen a cooler name”. You know, one of those jokes that is hiding a lot of truths. Like when one half of a couple jokes about breaking up a lot. Eventually you know a hard conversation is coming your way. I had just started a relationship with this name but it was already losing its appeal It was time to break up.
So naturally I want back to my original idea for a name. Which, I’ll say right now, was Nico spelled like Nico of Velvet Underground fame. Someone was kind enough to remind me that said Nico was known for being a famous chanteuse, but also a bit of a racist. Niko sprang to mind. A portmanteau of the two Niko’s that served to partially inspire it. I remember being alone in my bedroom and saying “hi, I’m Niko” to no one. This was the first time introducing myself to anyone, even no one at all, felt affirming. It felt like mine. Finally something belonged to me, and I didn’t worry about what my parents would think, what friends or family or neighbourhood cats would think.
I am Niko. Niko Drew Stratis. First of their name.