Trudy Hamilton is a writer and culture critic at Gradient Lair (@GradientLair), and a photographer, writer and eBook author at Drift Sojourn. She has a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice with additional graduate work in Psychology. Her interests include critical media/art examination, and media/art’s impact on a plethora of sociopolitical issues. She identifies as a Womanist/ intersectional feminist. Follow her daily musings on Twitter: @thetrudz
“Raceless” Names, “Acceptable” Names and Employment
A Rose by any other name may be a Black woman who has to worry about whether or not her name makes her “unemployable.” It doesn’t really matter if her actual name provides zero insight into whether or not she can perform the tasks required of a job and doesn’t correlate to her résumé indicating whether or not she has the education and skills that even warrant a callback. Her name alone can mean that a door is never opened to even be slammed in her face later.
We are in the age of the intersection of social media and labor, where protected class and other information is easily accessible prior to interviews and can be legally used to disqualify a candidate (though ridiculously, i.e. an after-hours party photograph interpreted as a person cannot perform their job during work hours) or illegally used to disqualify a candidate (i.e. a profile photo that reveals race, gender, and/or age and this information is used to disqualify a candidate).
However, easy access information was not always the norm. A name, address, high school/college attended and professional interests on a faxed or emailed résumé used to be almost all of the information available to employers prior to interviews, yet this is more than enough information to weed people out.
A zip code can reveal that a candidate lives in an area that’s not suburban or “White.” HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) listed in the education section of a résumé can reveal that the candidate is Black. A name deemed “urban,” “ghetto,” or just “ethnic” is enough information to disregard a candidate altogether. A name that doesn’t indicate race on sight is often assumed to be a White one. The presumed “universality” of Whiteness allows many employers to assume that if a name doesn’t appear to be “ethnic,” it’s a “good name” and must belong to a White person. Some especially think this is true if the résumé pleases them. Except for the times when it isn’t true.
I know these times well. My name is Trudy Hamilton. I’m a Black woman who’s always assumed to be White until proven otherwise.
Sarah Gilbert is an award-winning memoirist and editor-in-chief of Stealing Time Magazine. She founded Stealing Time Magazine in 2012 with the goal of offering a space where non-normative parenting voices could speak free of judgment and restraint.
The publication describes itself as a “community of writers and readers: parents who come together […] to celebrate that a parent’s work is intellectual as well as emotional.” Stealing Time Magazine aims to change the way parenting is talked about in mainstream media as well as what it is that makes a parent. To that end, the magazine features narratives from an open and all-encompassing perspective:
“All content must be parenting-related, broadly construed. We are eager to give expression to the broadest possible spectrum of parenting experience. Naturally we want to see parenting essays that reflect monogamous heterosexual families as well as single parents, queer parents, transgendered parents and parents of transgendered children, blended families, grandparents raising grandchildren, families including children or parents with a special needs diagnosis, parents of children lost or deceased, and other less conventional parents and caregivers of children.”
Gilbert also blogs as Cafe Mama, which she dubs a “domestic realist” space, and can also be found on Twitter @sarahgilbert.
1. You are founder and editor-in-chief of Stealing Time Magazine, a literary magazine for parents. In your mission statement, you write that you want the magazine to represent parenting experiences outside of the mainstream, giving voice to queer parents, single parents, parents of adopted children, etc. What motivated you to come up with this kind of parenting publication?
This idea came from where come all good ideas: the void. Specifically, a void of truly-told, carefully-examined parenting stories. There are many parenting stories in the mainstream media, but they’re often very flat and one-dimensional. In my experience as a consumer of other parenting stories and as a writer of them, I have repeatedly felt this hunger for better, clearer, wider-angle looks at the spectrum of parenting experience, told without the context of what you should do, or what a perfect socially-acceptable, best-of-all-possible-worlds parent would do, feel, think — but what we actually DO. How we navigate the flawed world as individuals who are not flawed in all the right ways — and still strive to be good people, good models, and authentic versions of ourselves (gay, straight, step-, infertile, special needs parents or parents of special needs, all of it). It’s a delicate dance; it’s worth telling all these stories. Brave stories that lay themselves open to judgment without offering any. It’s sure as hell worth reading.
Laura is a feminist activist living in the suburbs of DC. She tweets as @crafting_change, is the voice behind the Fully Engaged Feminism Podcast and works locally with grassroots groups. Nearly middle aged and full of privilege Laura simultaneously pursues an undergrad degree at night while seeking to liberate education from traditional academic settings to promote enthusiastic learning in everywhere.
To be honest, I think the story on how I got my first name is far more interesting, and telling, than that of my last name. See, my father wanted to name me after a sexy “Bond girl” actress, purely because of her “sex appeal.” My mom wanted to name me Nikki (not even Nicole) for some reason she’s never elaborated on.
So when my Mom’s labor began and they still hadn’t decided on a name, they opened a baby names book to a random page and debated through contractions and the bustle of the hospital until ‘Laura’ was picked. As a pagan, it humors me to no end that my first name was found through a sort of reductive bibliomancy, since the last name typed on my birth certificate was one of various deceptions and concessions.
My father acquired his last name through adoption: at age 3, his stepfather gained custodial rights to him, and his name was changed. This identity and history that was kept from him until his teens, and in turn was not shared with my generation until we were old enough to start questioning family history. My mother’s paternal side of the family changed their last name upon fleeing Ireland, to hide their identity from the legal forces in pursuit. Through each name change on both sides of the family, what would eventually become my ‘original’ surname became more generically “white” and “relatable.’”
Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler was the first doctoral graduate from Northwestern’s African American Studies program. He began his site blac (k) academic while in graduate school and has continued writing there since leaving academia. Receiving much recognition for his work, blac (k) ademic has won a Black Weblog Award, was nominated for a 2012 Transguys Community Award for Best Blog, and a 2013 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Blog.
Ziegler is also a filmmaker. He wrote and directed the first film to ever profile the black trans male community with, Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen. The experimental documentary profiles “six thoughtful, eloquent, and diverse transmen” in which each man discusses “the connections they have to their bodies, social status and the consequences of being black, transgender and men.” Still Black was the Audience Choice for Best Documentary at the Reelout Film Festival in 2009 and the Isaac Julien Experimental Award Winner from Queer Black Cinema in 2008. The film has gone on to show on screens worldwide including countries such as Switzerland, The Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and has an upcoming screening in Jamaica.
In addition, Ziegler is an entrepreneur who has his hand in multiple business ventures, including founding Who We Know, an organization that helps to economically empower trans people of color. From Who We Know’s site: “We work to build alliances between the trans of color community and progressive organizations in the [San Francisco] bay area through a 10-month living wage paid fellowship. We recruit talented transgender professionals of color with a demonstrated ability to launch and lead conceptually driven social justice projects. We then connect them with the resources and networks of progressive organizations to produce innovative products, campaigns, or business models that seek to dissolve barriers to economic access for all trans people of color.”
1. Why is title of your blog “blac (k) ademic”? What is the importance of those two words to you?
The title is a visual and sonic representation of how I see myself. Its an obvious play on being black and an intellectual figure but the parenthetical k represents my uniqueness and different scholarly approach. Because I am an independent scholar with no ties to an academic institution, I have much more freedom to express myself and be different. blac (k) ademic represents that.
Gaayathri is a young feminist hailing from Auckland, New Zealand. She is the child of diaspora two times over and is deeply passionate about all forms of social justice. She can be found tweeting sporadically @A_Gaayathri and blogging at A Human Story. She is currently working in Malaysia for a regional reproductive rights NGO.
I got married earlier this year, so issues about naming are very much fresh in my head. I strongly believe that choosing or keeping a name is a deeply personal decision. I don’t need to get into the myriad reasons why someone might choose to change or retain their surname upon marriage; those have been elaborated many times over by people more eloquent than me. Instead, I would simply like to give you a drop in the ocean, one story among many.
I briefly considered changing my name to match my husband’s. The best way of describing my relationship with my father is strained. Did I want to continue to be chained to him by way of our common surname? It was a difficult decision. What would I gain from taking my husband’s name? What would I lose if I left my old name behind?
Sharmin is a student at CUNY Hunter, a student organizer and a youth activist trainer at the Ya-Ya Network. She coordinates a political education program for young people of color training to become community organizers. She develops curriculum to build and create movements for anti-oppressive spaces. In particular, she works in demilitarizing schools and addressing police brutality and the presence of the NYPD in schools.
Before attending Hunter College, Sharmin was a student at SUNY Albany, where she organized and worked with Save Our SUNY to fight against budget cuts and the shutting down of important departments. Living in New York City and working in student organizing since her high school years, Sharmin is currently working in political education and youth empowerment through activism. She is studying in the South Asian studies and Political Science department.
1. What is the importance of community organizing for you? Why do you take the time to teach young people of color to do that job?
Community organizing is changing the way we look at our roles in society and the way our work reflects larger issues and initiatives to address socio-economic inequality. To educate, learn and build a movement with grassroots leadership is very empowering, and it is important for me to be involved in work that maximizes the potential for myself and others to build alternatives within our community.
I take time to educate and create resources for young people because it is the lack of investment and social reminders that have politically silenced and marginalized most of the working class people who are actively influencing the hyper capitalist system. The time it takes for us to build our community from the bottom up, is the time we take to carefully reflect on our values, roles, and impact as people living in a world that may not reflect the values and beliefs of society.
We are excited to announce that we have two new editors for our site.
Alessandra Mondin is an Italian currently living in the UK and doing a PhD at the University of Sunderland. She holds a BA in Visual Arts and an Erasmus Mundus MA in Women’s and Gender Studies. In her spare time you can find her cooking and baking vegan food, taking pictures, blogging, and seldomly writing for an online independent Italian music magazine. She also volunteers as a proofreader and editor for R-A-S-P, a company which publishes books by authors who are dyslexic. You can follow her on Twitter @VanillaWater.
Jhuma Sen is a lawyer and legal researcher based in New Delhi. She primarily practices in the Supreme Court of India and is a consultant with Lawyers Collective, an NGO offering public interest service through human rights advocacy, legal aid and litigation. She was an American Association of University Women’s International Fellow at University of California at Berkeley where she pursued her Masters in Laws (LL.M) in International Law. She views laws and the legal through a feminist lens and intends to write on feminist politics and law. She can be reached at email@example.com and occasionally tweets @inabluehouse.
This means that we currently have seven editors spread out across the world: Malaysia, Texas, United Kingdom, Indiana, Pennsylvania, India, and Iowa.
Flyover Feminism is forever a work in progress. It’s an idea, and we hope its shape and scope will change as more people share their perspectives and experiences.
We want to make our space less US centered and we know that starts with who is running and editing the site. Therefore, we would like to bring on one more editor who lives outside of the US.
We are seeking someone to be a fully vested editorial partner, who is willing to volunteer time and energy alongside us to recruit writers, edit submissions, moderate comments, and manage the space.
Final note: this site is a labor of love for everyone involved. The funds for this site come out of our pockets. Therefore, we cannot provide any compensation for editors at this time. This will be a volunteer position.
If you are interested in applying for the Flyover Feminism editor position, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us why you’d like to be an editor for the site and why you think you would be a good editor for Flyover. We will be keeping the search for an editor open until we fill the position.
William is a trans man living and studying in the UK. He’s active in LGBTQ, feminist, and disability activism. He’s shared his history of family abuse with few people; we appreciate his sharing his story with all of us for this roundtable.
[Content note/trigger warning: transphobia, family abuse, PTSD.]
As a trans person, one of the things I got to do was choose my own name. I was just nineteen at the time; with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I’d chosen differently.
When I was choosing my name, I was still desperately trying to win back the approval of my parents – approval that would never actually return. I wanted to make it was easy for them as possible to accept that their eldest “daughter” was in fact their eldest son – I knew from past difficulties around accepting that I wasn’t 100% pure heterosexual that it would not be easy for them, or for me.
So, I looked at my siblings’ names and found a pattern: multisyllabic names that could be shortened, relatively common English names, historical figures from British history. I found a name I liked that ticked all of those boxes, and that’s how I became William.
Kristin Craig Lai is a feminist life coach, activist, and work at home mom. She writes about feminism, mental health, and queer identity at kristincraiglai.com/blog.
I was three when my father died. I have spent my life collecting any memories or stories I could get out of anyone that knew him. It still hurts that so many people have a full imprint of him on their hearts, while I have a head full of stories.
As I grew up, I became very close to my Nana (his mother). She became like a second parent to me. I feel more closely connected to her and her spirit than I do to anyone else on either side of my extended family. She died 10 years ago.
So when I think about my last name, I think about my dad and my Nana. That name connects me, not only to them as individuals, but to those character traits that many of us Craig cousins hold dear. When I think about being a Craig, I think about not putting up with bullshit, of fierce and embracing love, of an irreverent and goofy sense of humour. I also think about a deeply held sense of fairness and a natural inclination to stand up for it. Giving up that name was never an option. I have always been and will always be a Craig.
Nevertheless, when my partner and I got engaged I had to put a lot of thought into what to do about my name. I knew I didn’t want a hyphenated name. I knew I wouldn’t give up Craig, but I also knew that I didn’t want to have a completely different last name from my partner and any kids we might have. As we talked about it, he said he’d be perfectly happy to take my name. I really appreciated that he volunteered to do that, but for me that wasn’t the point. I didn’t need him to have that connection to my dad and Nana; I also didn’t want him to give up his Chinese last name for my Scottish name.
More to the point, knowing that our kid(s) would be mixed, I didn’t want to do anything that would further remove them from their Chinese heritage. I knew they would likely not learn Cantonese, as my partner can barely speak it himself. His parents aren’t the type to pass along traditions or family stories; we see his aunts and uncles and cousins once a year. There was no way I was going to take away my kid’s Chinese surname.
So there I was, wanting to keep my name but share a name with my partner and kid(s) without having them take on my last name. In the end I simply added his name after mine. I have my dad’s name, I share a name with my partner and child, and they both still have that connection to their Chinese heritage. It’s kind of messy, and occasionally confuses people, but in the end I figured out what made sense for me.
Was taking my male partner’s name an inherently “unfeminist” choice? Would that the world were that simple. Names, relationships, culture and family relationships are complicated and messy. There are infinite factors that someone might consider. All that really matters is that we create a system and cultural environment that gives us room to make whatever choice makes the most sense for us.
So rather than setting up yet another artificial division within feminism, we need to think about what kinds of barriers are in place that make it difficult, even impossible, for some women to make their own choices. I was lucky. I had the privilege of family and friends who didn’t care what I did, and a partner who felt the same. Not everyone has that privilege; if we can’t recognize that then the conversation is over before it even gets started.
A quick note about images in this series: each essay will include an image of a place that holds personal meaning for the author.
Tawny Tidwell is a white genderfluid queer reprojustice activist living in Houston, TX. She hopes to someday start posting more stuff to her blog, Boyvoice, but generally is too wrapped up in bikes, climbing, and being gross with Asher Aaron to get around to it.
Tawny Tidwell Thinks These Are The Wrong Questions
There are a lot of things that are part of the canon of moderate, reasonable feminist thought that I reject, and can do so because I am in a position where rejection of those thoughts is possible.
I grew up masculine because I was raised by a mother who (for the most part) didn’t tell me not to do something if it wasn’t actually harmful. For most of my childhood, I refused to acknowledge that there was something different about me from my boy best friend, even though I was definitely absorbing some latent cultural messages to the contrary.
I do not know what it is like to be at peace with being feminine, or for that matter, to have your physical sex and mental gender match up. I don’t know what it is like to imagine your future wedding because I’ve never cared about that, and I don’t know what it is like to come up with names for future children because I have never wanted any.
I do know what it is like to feel constantly out of place and in opposition to the world around you. I do know what it is like to have been raised in heteronormativity and lose the opportunities and peace that would have come with growing up in a queer world. I do know how it feels to have had constant anxiety about being too much: too loud, too strong, too rowdy, too brash, too short-haired, too androgynous.
I also have the unique perspective of having grown up inundated in superheroes, in a world of popping colors and dynamic typefaces. Early homemade gifts were caricatures of me and my sister drawn by our dad, with our names comic style above; early bedtime stories were Mario and Luigi excitedly grabbing the next issue of The Adventures of Tawny and Tori off the shelf.
My name has been a constant comfort to me. Tawny Tidwell is weird. Tawny Tidwell is someone you don’t soon forget. Tawny Tidwell is TOTALLY A WITCH LESBIAN. Tawny Tidwell laughs at rumors. Tawny Tidwell is genderless; Tawny Tidwell is surely the name of an alter ego. Tawny Tidwell has to pull out her driver’s license to prove her name to straight white guys, who are understandably jealous existing as John Smith and Chad Whatever.
And it’s only natural that Tawny Tidwell would meet Aaron Asher. And it only makes sense that both would hate the entire idea of combining identities.
And it would make sense that Aaron Asher would not be comfortable with the gender people applied to him, that Aaron Asher would prefer Asher Aaron, snagging some ambiguity for himself so that he can elide masculinity.
We do not fit into a heteronormative, establishment-supporting world. We don’t want a “traditional marriage;” hell, we don’t even want the piece of paper that we’re getting so that Asher Aaron can have health insurance. We just want a committed relationship we define on our own terms.
So when you bring me the question, “Should women change their names?” my kneejerk answer is “HELL NO,” because I don’t understand the world the question comes from, and I’m privileged enough to not have to deal with immigration law, with questions of the legitimacy of my relationship, with a slew of issues that I may not even realize intersect this issue because I am actually fairly oblivious having been white, American, and insulated my whole life.
But then I think: That’s not a question; that’s neoliberalism playing tricks on us, getting us to treat individual choices as made in a vacuum as Rational Actors free to do whatever we please without repercussion. It is an irrelevant distraction that attacks straight cis women for no reason other than that they are a far easier target than a racist, sexist, heteronormative, xenophobic, and violent state.
It’s far easier for us to snark about what we would do in an individual situation than it is for us to admit that marriage is probably not a salvageable institution, or that we should be trying to create space in the world for already existing family structures that currently have no cultural or legal legitimacy into one that is actively failing us (leaving many families out to dry, like single parents or polyamorous folks).
The real question isn’t “Should women change their names?” it’s “Why are we letting our discourse exist in such narrow, pointless terms?”
A quick note about images in this series: each essay will include an image of a place that holds personal meaning for the author.