Let’s Talk About Names: Tawny


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 is sitting in front of a window. You can see the buildings of Houston behind her. She is wearing a black, button-down shit, green head phones, and her red, short hair is spiked in a single wave in the front. She's turning her head just so, giving us a three-quarter profile. She is bad ass.
Tawny Tidwell. Image used with permission of the author.

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.

Blocks of different colors and sizes. You can not see entire piece of art, only a section. Some blocks are flushed to the wall, some stick out more.
“Synchronicity of Color.” Artwork by Margo Sawyer. Discovery Green Park. Houston, Texas. Image by dr_marvel on flickr.

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.


This post is part of an on-going roundtable on naming that Flyover Feminism is doing in conjunction with Are Women Human?

Let’s Talk About Names: Ali, hooks, Lee Boggs is the previous post in the series.

Let’s Talk About Names: Mattie is the next post in the series.


Please see Flyover Feminism’s comment policy before leaving comments on the site. Comments that violate the policy will be deleted.

Also, if you’d like to be a contributor here at Flyover, please see our submissions page.


9 Responses to “Let’s Talk About Names: Tawny”

  1. Yellow

    This “Let’s Talk About Names” series is really coming across as a “F**K You, Jill Filipovic” series. It seems vindictive. The overall tone undermines what could be an interesting series. I’m not singling out this post in particular, but just commenting on the series as a whole.

    As for the closing of this particular post:

    The real question isn’t “Should women change their names?” it’s “Why are we letting our discourse exist in such narrow, pointless terms?”

    Patriarchal naming, which is not a worldwide phenomenon but is the norm in the USA, is an important feminist issue. It is not narrow and pointless, but rather goes to the heart of what patriarchy is. I know men who want to have sons so they can “carry on the family name.” How anyone can argue that this issue isn’t of the utmost importance for feminists is beyond me.

    Reply
    • Grace

      Figured I’d comment on this as one of the organizers of this series.

      I find the idea that this series is “vindictive” or a “fuck you” towards Jill Filipovic interesting. A few pieces – by my count, only two – have directly challenged her specific argument about name changes in straight marriages. The rest have been, as the series is, more broadly in response to the notion that “your name is your identity.” All are stories about names – and so far, all but one are personal stories from the authors’ experiences.

      So I guess first of all, it strikes me as strange that the take away from people telling their own (or otherwise meaningful) stories about naming in response to an argument that erased or ignored so many perspectives on naming is that it’s in effect a punishment of the person who put forward the problematic argument. In fact, I think it’s an example of the same individualistic and narrow approach to feminism in the piece to see people sharing their personal stories as doing so to spite a single white feminist.

      It’s also worth noting that the roundtable was explicitly in response to the fact that this is a circular debate that Jill’s piece was just the latest iteration of, and in response to the pushback – from many feminists besides Jill – on those of us who pointed out the issues with it. The piece, as we said in our intro, was an example of an issue in mainstream feminism that is much bigger than Jill. It’s not just about her.

      As for Tawny’s last point – I read that not as a statement that it’s unimportant to think about patriarchal naming traditions in the U.S., but that 1) only talking about anglo american naming traditions in straight marriage is narrow and 2) framing limited choices women make within a patriarchal culture as “unfeminist” is a pointless framing that serves no one. I agree with her.

      Reply
    • Amadi

      “Utmost importance” is a stretch, to me. The issue of names and identity is important, clearly, or we wouldn’t be talking about it. Utmost, though? Names don’t confer protection against the majority of hardships or injustices that women face nor make navigating them any less fraught. Names (in this context, at least) don’t have an impact on sexual violence or harassment, poverty, workplace inequity, reproductive justice or healthcare access. To say “utmost” importance suggests a perspective on the actual formidable struggles women are facing in everyday life I can’t even begin to comprehend.

      Reply
      • Yellow

        Names don’t have any impact on issues such as reproductive justice? I disagree. The issue here isn’t about individual women’s “names.” It’s about a *system* of naming that is a linchpin of patriarchy. Patriarchal naming is reflective of the way that women have historically moved from father’s ownership to husband’s ownership. These ideas are at the heart of debates over reproductive rights. Conservatives find the idea of women controlling their own reproduction to be deeply threatening because it gives power to women and removes it from men. Historically, men have had total authority over women’s lives. This is obviously directly linked to many problems women face, including violence, harassment and workplace inequality. What all these issues have in common is that men try to exert their authority over women. Patriarchal naming is part of this same system. Women who keep their own last names often face pressure and harassment because their actions are seen as a challenge to male authority and privilege. Dismantling this system of naming — on a societal level — is essential if one wishes to dismantle patriarchy.

        Reply
    • Tawny

      I wrote a very long comment in response to this, but in truth I can reduce everything I said to this: if your takeaway from this or any other post in this series is an individual criticism of women’s choices in a vacuum, you need to read this series again and again until it sinks in.

      Reply
      • Yellow

        It’s unclear to me where my comment offered “an individual criticism of women’s choices in a vacuum”?

        Reply
  2. Let’s Talk About Names: Mattie

    [...] Let’s Talk About Names: Tawny is the previous post in the series. /* Share this: Tags: #letstalknames × AWH/FF naming roundtable × Mattie Brice × Persona 4 × video games « Previous [...]

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