Published September 5, 2020
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Hello, hooray, let the show begin. I’ve been ready. Well, here it is, it’s begun whether I’m ready or not. The recorder is rolling and the microphone is microphoning. The tangle of wires and all the other little gadgets are doing their things, and the knobs are in prime knob position. It’s alive, and I’m alive and you’re alive, and that’s almost always a good thing. Ready or not. It’s THIS IS NOT A TEST, the show is, and as you may have noticed, it’s now hosted by Hannah Phillips. Who is Hannah Phillips? Some interloper? A ne’er-do-well of ill repute and questionable background? No, it’s still just me. Well, I am a ne’er-do-well, and probably of ill repute, depending on who you ask. But my background is unquestionable. Just ask it. Ask my background. It’ll tell you. Let me know what it says, I’m curious myself.
I made a big stink about changing my name a couple episodes back. I wasn’t really changing it, just adding my middle name to the same old mix. But I talked about it for half an hour, about names and how we’re saddled with names that most of us grow into or accept, but don’t necessarily like or want to be known by. That was in June. Then in August I did the “Putting the T into LGBTQ” episode, and a couple of days after foisting that on a tiny, unsuspecting public, I changed my name again. To Hannah. I know I don’t sound like your garden variety Hannah, but that will probably change over time. If I was clever or weirder I’d use some technical wizardry or technical tomfoolery to raise the pitch of my voice here. But that wouldn’t work, would it. I’d just sound like a weird version of what I sound like now.
Well, now it’s September and I’ve been living with a new name for a month, and it’s still a little disorienting. But then in my last name change episode I talked about how weird it was just going from Mike to Michael. So I’m pretty sure that changing your name is always weird, even when the gender stays the same. I don’t know though, millions of women and dozens of men change their last names every day. When they get married. That’s a weird old tradition that men thought up, and I’m sure that’s discombobulating for a while. But your first name doesn’t usually change after marriage, and our first names are what identify most of us. That or the prefixes we get. Like “doctor” or “senator” or “former serial killing suspect.” They’re all little flags that are planted so that when someone you don’t know happens to cross your path they don’t have to feel uneasy about not knowing what the hell you are.
I said I wasn’t going to make this podcast into a – what did I say? – a “trans-topic” celebration or soapbox, and I still don’t intend to do that. But I’ve always just talked about what’s on my mind on this thing, and as you might imagine, this is what’s been on my mind. But being transgender doesn’t define someone. It sure as hell doesn’t define me. To a lot of the people in the world who don’t know me it will. But I spent the last half century caring what they think, everyone who doesn’t know me. Or you know, probably caring more about what the people who do know me think. But either way, it was a waste of time. And it’s funny, because I only cared what they thought about my gender, or perceived gender. What someone thought about anything else I said or did never concerned me. People have said about me or to me, “Boy, you really don’t care what people think of you, do you?” The joke is that of course I care what some people think when it comes to some things. And I always cared very much about what everyone thought about maybe the most fundamental or important thing about me.
So I say being transgender doesn’t define us, or me, but maybe that’s a dumb thing to think or say. It’s like when someone wins the lottery, or survives a plane crash. Those things don’t define them, but it’s the first thing people are going to want to know about. But if growing up and living in America has taught me anything, it’s taught me that no one gives a shit about you. I mean, they may give a shit in a particular moment, then the moment’s gone, all Dust in the Wind-like, and they’re on to something else. We’ve probably always been that way, us people, but now that we live in the technological future we were warned about, the giving-a-shit timeline has shrunk to hours, rather than days or weeks. Which is fine and appropriate for things like this, but less good when we really should remember things but don’t.
Anywho, it seems like it’s all happening very fast, doesn’t it. This dude suddenly wants us to call him Hannah. But there’s no slow way to change your name, is there. No gradual way to ease people into it. And the same goes for everything else that’s wrapped up in changing gender lanes. But I have to say the idea that there are only two strictly defined genders is really antiquated and unrealistic. Like changing your last name when you marry someone. The same guys are probably responsible for both ideas. The same dudes. The same manly men that run shit. I didn’t have to come out as trans to see that human gender is a wide and slippery highway. But feeling misplaced and misidentified all my life probably had a lot to do with the knowledge, or the realization, whenever I had it.
But I know my worldview is, I don’t know, skewed, when it comes to certain things. I say that lumping all the people in the world into two strictly defined genders is antiquated and unrealistic, but I know that the reality is for half the world it isn’t an antiquated idea at all, it’s just a fact. But I’m the same person who grew up in the 60s and 70s and actually thought and expected that when my generation got their turn to run things everything would change. Everyone was being liberated and everyone was talking about everyone else’s rights as humans. In 1972 congress said, “Maybe we should think about this amendment,” that was proposed in 1923, by the way, fifty years earlier, but “maybe we should think about this amendment to ratify the constitution to say that women are, you know, equal to men or something.” And here we are, nearly half a century after that, and some people are still saying, “Oh, I don’t know if that’s a good idea.” Imagine that. A hundred years after it was proposed, we’re still not sure it’s a good thing to say, as a country, that women should have the same rights that men have.
Not that it would really matter if the constitution was amended. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was meant to put an end to public segregation and employment discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin,” which sounds great, and it did force some changes, so I’m not saying it was for nothing, but come on. Look around. Maybe there’s less employment discrimination, but really it’s only less obvious discrimination. The not so obvious – or not so legally provable – kind of discrimination still happens everywhere every day. And yeah, employment is a big part of life, but having a good job becomes kind of irrelevant when your own government is still openly and unapologetically murdering you in the streets. It was like, okay black folks, immigrants and women, here’s a couple jobs, but, you know, don’t get too uppity about it. We still don’t like you.
Oh lordy. I suppose I’m rambling, or preaching to the choir. I doubt a lot of outwardly hostile racists or misogynists listen to this. But they’re the easy ones to dismiss anyway, because they are outwardly hostile. You know where they stand. It’s the rest of us with our internal biases and prejudices – that are even hidden even to ourselves sometimes – that cause most of the problems. I’m not the idealistic young turd that I was in the 70s, so I’m not surprised anymore when those internal biases come out of someone. Or out of me. Some of it is so subtle. You don’t have to be a misogynist to have a lot of ingrained feelings about gender roles. It’s the way the world made us. Or our world, anyway, or most worlds. So I know when I say “Hannah” but I sound like this and look the way I still look, there’s a big clanging noise in most people’s ears, a kind of hmm-that-don’t-seem-right feeling that isn’t even necessarily conscious.
I know that. And I know all of this seems sudden, but to me it’s been coming forever. Yeah, one day I popped up out of the blue with a podcast saying I’m transgender, and the next day, or over the next few days I changed all my social media to from Michael to Hannah. That’s weird, and it’s sudden, and it’s unexpected, since I didn’t tell anyone before I did any of it. But I think I went all-in on the new name right away because I know myself. I’m an expert procrastinator. If I don’t do something right away, or if I think about it too much, I’ll never do it. I’ll wait for the perfect time, which doesn’t exist, or what I think is a better time. But there’s no right, perfect, or better time for any of this. There’s no way to prevent the clanging.
I hear the clanging too, trust me. I can hardly afford to be oblivious to it. And my clanging is probably much louder than yours. But then my clanging has been going on for so long that I may just be deaf from it in some ways. It’s still there because this is all pretty new, the blabbing openly about it part anyway. But the idea of blabbing about it is to help me get over the secrecy and shame I talked about last time, and to quiet everything down for me. Which is really just me removing it from my head and putting it out there for the world to deal with as it will. Making it your problem so it isn’t my problem anymore. Because this is the way things would have been a long time ago, should have been, if I had the nerve. And lived, you know, in a different world. I don’t have any more nerve now than I did 20 or 30 years ago, but the world is grudgingly changing, and I got to a point where I had to assume that it’s changed enough for me to blab in relative safety.
The reaction I’ve received has done a lot to reassure me that the world has changed enough. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve surrounded myself with good people who wouldn’t reject or ridicule me for being honest about who I am. Most of them, anyway. The overwhelming majority. But you know, there’s always that asshole. That bad card in the deck. That one card that someone spilled guacamole on that one time and it’s stained now so everyone knows when it’s next up in the deck. That guy. But it’s easy enough to block someone from your world these days. I’ve only had to do it once so far. Everyone else I’ve heard from has been very positive, understanding and supportive, and if you’re listening you know who you are and I thank you. Again.
Then there’s the silence. Ha. The reaction from most people I know, honestly, has been no reaction. You can take that as not knowing what to say, which is understandable, or being disapproving, but not voicing the disapproval. And you know, either is okay by me. And I appreciate anyone who has not voiced disapproval. I can take it, it’s just better if I don’t have to. When you decide to be open about something so personal and something that throws a lot of people’s perceptions or preconceptions into question, you can’t expect a parade to be held in your honor. You have to expect a mixed reaction, and I did.
That whole “don’t care what you think” or “thick skin” thing is real. But I’ve always based it on my belief in my own “rightness,” if that makes any sense. Like if someone says to you, “You’re a shitty human being,” but you know you really aren’t a shitty human being, it’s easy to brush it off. You don’t even have to brush it off, because it doesn’t stick. But when you say, “Hi, look at me, I’m different from you and for some reason I feel like you have to be made aware of that,” then they come back and say that your difference is wrong or misguided or makes them want to vomit in their hat, that’s a different thing. Because the difference is real. You know you are different. The otherness is real, so it kind of feels like any negativity expressed about it is valid.
It isn’t valid, but maybe you get what I’m saying. I’ve put myself in the path of – or I’ve made myself open and available to, maybe is a better way to say it – a lot of criticism in my life. Anyone who creates something or puts themselves into the public eye is fair game for the opinions and insults of everyone else. And the internet has put us all into the public eye, even if that public is only a small handful of people. But when I’ve made music or art or a website about a writer, I’ve had that bulletproof layer of protection because I knew if someone didn’t like it, that was only their opinion. Or their loss. It’s been the same thing with this podcast. I know I’m opinionated and my opinions are strong and I know that they aren’t always widely held. So I’ve never taken any criticism to heart.
This is a little different and I’ll admit to being sensitive to criticism about it. because it’s criticism about who I am. Who I’ve been all my life. And that affects even the most clueless among us, and I’m pretty clueless about a lot of things. I think sometimes we’re surprised by worldviews that are different from ours or seem almost opposite to ours. Which reminds me, if you say “complete opposite,” or “exact opposite,” do yourself a favor and knock it off. “Complete” and “exact” are implied in opposite. They’re already there. You don’t have to sprinkle them on top of the word like grated parmesan cheese or CBD oil. Where was I? Being surprised running into opposing worldviews, right. We know they’re out there, we know everyone in the world doesn’t think the way we think, but it can still be surprising.
Like now, yes, with the President of the Apes, but you can feel it everywhere and forever. I talked about the misguided beliefs I had in my generation to change the world, and that realization crashed down on me in 1980 when my friend and former bandmate casually mentioned that he’d voted for Ronald Reagan. I was shocked. I didn’t know how any 20 year old, or whatever he was, 21? 22? he was older than me, but I couldn’t see how he could have voted for someone who openly and obviously hated everything about the way this guy lived. He was an enthusiastic drinker and drug taker and a member of a hardcore punk band. Who voted for Ronald Reagan. Then went to play with his band who sang anti-Reagan songs. Remember those? All the punk bands had to have anti-Reagan songs. Though I guess punk bands are always obligated to have anti songs about whoever happens to be president.
So it started dawning on me then, and continued to dawn on me more brightly over the coming decades that change in society moves slowly. And that a lot of people have certain ideas when they’re young, but those ideas don’t always stand up their own scrutiny, or to the reality of life and aging. “I don’t have time to join your protest, I have to go to the store for diapers and pick up dinner and the toilet won’t stop running and I have no idea know how to fix that. Get out of my way.” But in another way I have to believe that those formative ideas, the ones we pick up or latch onto when we’re young, stay with us, whether we like it or not. I think for the punks and the hippies before them, a lot of those people hold onto some of those ideals even if they’re buried under a heavy layer of conformity-by-necessity.
As the late, great punk rock provocateur and humanist Joe Strummer said, “Punk rock isn’t something you grow out of, Punk rock is like the Mafia, and once you’re made, you’re made. Punk rock is an attitude, and the essence of the attitude is ‘give us some truth.'” Now I’ve veered off of what I was saying, I think, as I tend to do. So, criticism or rejection, yeah. Being a believer in truth as a way of life and recognizing people as the essence of life, I’ve always accepted disagreement with what I happen to say or do or believe. I have to say that playing in a punk band before punk was commodified kind of fostered, I’d say, almost a need for disagreement. It’s like if someone doesn’t disagree with something I’m saying or doing, I feel like there’s something wrong. Or maybe I’m wrong.
That’s not normal, I know, but it’s the result of living as an outsider. And as you know now, I’ve always been outside even when I wasn’t playing in a band or spouting my ideas and opinions online. And that’s how I’m looking at telling you that I’m transgender. It’s just the latest in a long line of things that have left me outside the gates of the picnic. Boo hoo, yeah, I know. I chose to live in the punk rock world, and then later in the Rasta/reggae world, two outlaw clans, those. I chose to be part of those outsider groups. I volunteered. But I didn’t choose my brain and my spirit or my soul or whatever you want to call it. That was given to me, and now I choose to see it as a gift rather than the curse that it’s always felt like.
If being a punk or a Rasta or a Hell’s Angel or a Catholic or a Furry or a Trump supporter gets to be too much for someone they can always quit. Okay, it’s not exactly easy to quit the Hell’s Angels, but it can be done. You get the point. When you volunteer to live outside you don’t necessarily have to live out there for the rest of your life. We’re always growing and learning and sometimes we discover that the group we identify with doesn’t really fit us, or that it was never ours to join in the first place. But for those of us who are queer or trans or don’t otherwise fit the gender or sexual norms of society, there’s no quitting. We can deny and resist and hide, but it’s impossible to quit who you are.
Speaking of who you are, this was supposed to be about my name, but I’ve gone on about everything else and used up all of our time together. But really, who’s to say how long our time together should be? There aren’t any podcast police, yet, so who has imposed the 30 minute limit on this thing? I have. Look at how rigid and conformist I’ve been! What if I want to drop a three hour episode? Well, no one would listen to that, I sure wouldn’t, and don’t worry, this isn’t that. But I’ll tell you a bit about how Hannah came to be, and if that doesn’t interest you, well, you know where the door is.
I should start a podcasting school. Teach people how to choose a microphone and how to work a recorder and then tell them the best thing to do is drive listeners away by telling them to leave if they don’t like what you’re saying. Ha. Not like you have to tell people to leave. They aren’t exactly waiting around for permission. I haven’t looked at the listener statistics for THIS IS NOT A TEST in a couple of years. Not because I don’t care, but they’ve been pretty consistent, so there’s nothing to see. But I looked after the last episode. I thought maybe I’d sunk my battleship with that one. But it was the opposite. Or should I say the exact opposite. More people listened to that one than any other recent blab.
Then I thought, well, obviously. Even I’d listen to that one and I don’t listen to podcasts. I probably shouldn’t say that, should I? “Here, everyone, I make this thing, you should listen to it even though I wouldn’t.” I’ll have to add that to my podcasting class. Anyway, a lot of that additional listening probably came from me changing my name and picture on all my social media. “What the hell is this? When did Mike become Hannah? Someone tell me how to feel…” But why Hannah? because it’s a palindrome and palindromes are awesome? No, that’s not why, but they are.
For someone who has believed that they were a woman for their entire life, I never gave a female name much thought. Probably because I never thought I’d be able to actually live as a female, so what point is there in thinking about a female name for yourself if no one is ever going to know it or use it? But then at the end of July when I was talking to Carol about “coming out,” as the kids say, she asked me what name I was going to go by. Which kind of caught me off guard. I still hadn’t thought about it at that point. But here I was, preparing for my big debut, so I needed a name, didn’t I. Carol started rattling off names, and I threw a few into the mix. From there we went on to brainstorming and Googling, and I was saying, “No…no…oh, I like that,” and eventually we came up with a list.
They were all lovely names, and I’d be glad to sport any of them. But over the next few days I kept looking at the list and didn’t feel like anything was jumping out at me. I thought Molly would be a nice name, and I was going to choose that. But I still wasn’t sure in the way that you’d like to be sure when you’re, you know, choosing a name for yourself. Then for some reason I started saying the names to myself as if I was responding when someone introduced themselves. Doing that was kind of like magic because I couldn’t see myself saying, “Hi, I’m Molly,” or any of the other names. They just didn’t feel right. Until I got to Hannah, and said, “Hi, I’m Hannah.” It was as if the skies opened up and the name gods tapped me on the shoulder with a wet fishing rod. It just felt right, and I knew instantly I would be Hannah.
That doesn’t sound very serious, does it. If I heard that story, a couple of people sitting on a couch saying, “Oh, let’s find a female name for you,” then they started listing and Googling, I’d think, that can’t be all there was to it. It doesn’t sound very inspired, or like finally getting to use a name you’d been yearning to use since you were was seven years old or something. But like I said, I didn’t have that special name in my pocket forever, a name I wanted to be known by. We go through so many changes in life anyway, if I had to stick with a name I’d chosen for myself when I was seven or 17 or 27, I probably wouldn’t like it anymore. It probably wouldn’t fit.
But how much thought goes into our names anyway? None, as far as most of our own names are concerned. We were given names and most of us keep them. You grow into your name, I guess, pretty early on, but I have to say that I never liked saying “Mike” or “Michael.” “Hi, I’m Michael.” It stuck in my throat or brain every time. I never thought much about why that might be, because I’m not particularly thoughtful, but apparently the name gods have answered the question for me. And really, mulling over a list of female names that I liked for a couple of days is kind of the opposite of frivolous. It’s way more thought than I’d ever given to my name before, and probably more thought than your parents gave to your name. I know it’s more thought than my dad gave to my name. He wanted to name me after himself. That might be the world’s laziest way to name a baby.
Anyway, here’s a puzzle for you – try to think of a new name for yourself that doesn’t remind you, or the whole world, of something or someone else. Go ahead, try. No, don’t try, don’t waste your time, because I’ll tell you right now it’s impossible. All the names on the name list that we made reminded me of something or someone else. So you have to go with what feels right to you. If we didn’t ignore the associations we already have with certain names, most of us wouldn’t even have names, would we. Most of our parents weren’t creative enough to invent something new. I mean, you can’t ignore all the associations. I don’t think anyone has named their baby Adolph in quite a while. Or they probably have, people being people and all.
But even after all of that name consideration and plastering it across all of my online comings and goings, I’m sure a lot of people I’ve known forever will still call me Michael. Forty years ago I asked people to stop calling me “Mike” and start calling me “Michael.” But maybe half the people I knew then still call me “Mike.” So good luck with Hannah, I guess. If you call me Michael right now, today, I may still answer, but that won’t always be the case. So use it up now while you can, before I start ignoring you. Just kidding, you know I would never ignore you.
So do be a dear and join me next time, won’t you? We shall sip tea and comport ourselves in a civilized manner, in keeping with our status as upright apes in pants. Or skirts, as the case may be. We shall be beacons of righteousness and compassion, leading by good, Christian example, distributing fancy cakes and sweet gruels to the heathens, who will repay us by plotting, and ultimately carrying out, our grisly, protracted public executions. Doesn’t that sound grand? Never shall the sun set on us or our righteously advanced and divinely inspired ideas and concepts!
Okay okay okay, it’s another day, hello hooray, let’s go away, glue down your toupee and get risque, but don’t overpay, don’t delay, don’t go astray, it’s the only way, what’d you say? Oy vey. Poetray! Okay…bye.