What’s in a name? A lot.
I’ve often times told a story of a pastor who, years ago, could never remember my name. This pastor called me the wrong name for years; and it wasn’t just that I was called the wrong name, it was that it was really similar to my name, just not my name. And they did it in front of everyone! It drove me nuts because I corrected this person multiple times. I even shared this story in the Youth Cartel’s latest book, 4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers. I use this story to give an example of why it’s important to call someone by their chosen name and chosen pronouns.
I could have people call me Michelle, but that’s not my name. But there’s nothing stopping me from using that, because Shelley is often a nickname for Michelle. I could just have people call me Shell, a shortened version of my name. Heck, I could have people call me by my middle name, Claire. But that’s not who I am. I’m Shelley and I’d appreciate it if that is the name I was recognized by.
Just like my name, it’s important that people use the pronouns that I identify with. They just happen to be female. Trust me, if you’ve ever been someone who has called me “sir” or “mister,” you’ve gotten the stare (you can ask my students about the stare). It happens because someone isn’t paying attention. Because they don’t care enough to even pay attention long enough to see someone.
But God cares. Because God sees us for who we are. Regardless of how others see us, God sees us and no matter how hard we try, we can’t escape. Which means, God sees who we truly are. And yes, God sees our pronouns. Because living into the people God created us to be means living honestly and faithfully into the complicated people we are. And it’s our job to figure that out and to be as authentic as God made us capable of being. Despite what everyone thinks, God sees us for who we really are. Check out Psalm 139: 1-18:
Lord you have examined me. You know me. You know when I sit down and I stand up. Even from far away you comprehend my plans. You study my traveling and resting. You are throughly familiar with all my ways. There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord, that you don’t already know completely. You surround me – front and back. You put your hand on me. That kind of knowledge is too much for me; it’s so high above me I can’t fathom it.
Where could I go to get away from your Spirit? Where could I go to escape from your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too! If I could fly on the wings of dawn, stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean – even there your hand would guide me; even there your strongest hand would hold me tight! If I said, “The darkness will definetly hide me; the light will become night around me,” even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you! Nighttime would shine bright as day, because darkness is the same as light to you!
You are the one who created my innermost parts; you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb.I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart. Your works are wonderful-I know that very well. My bones weren’t hidden from you when I was being put together in a secret place, when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my embryo, and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me, before anyone of them had yet happened. God, your plans are incomprehensible to me! Their total number is countless! If I tried to count them – they outnumber grains of sand! If I came to the very end – I’d still be with you.
I say all of this because of an article a friend shared with me today about using chosen names for youth who are transgender from the University of Texas at Austin: Using Chosen Names Reduces Odds of Depression and Suicide in Transgender Youths. I write all this and summon the words of the Psalmist because it is literally life or death for people. And if we’re really Christians who value human life, why aren’t we picketing for people to support those who are at risk for taking their own lives because our culture and our misuse of Christianity have told them they are less than? Why aren’t we fighting to do all we can to know one another as God knows us? Why aren’t we paying attention and seeing one another as God sees us?
It’s honestly not that hard. We just have to ask, “what’s your name?”