Michelle knew today was the day for the big reveal. Her family and friends had suspected something was up for a while. They could see how hard it was for her to continue to pretend. This would be no surprise to them. But for her workplace, a busy advertising office with many prominent clients, this would come as a shock, if not a joke. It would be difficult for them to accept this new reality because there had been no signs. She had played her role well.
You see, Michelle knew down in her bones that she had been born into the wrong body. Now, it wasn’t a case of gender. She was sure she was a woman, whatever that meant. The roles and rules had shifted over the years in women’s favor and she could make do and make a life within these constraints.
Michelle‘s difference was that she was African, not Caucasian. She had always been drawn to the African culture and stories. She’d dated guys from Kenya and Egypt and Mali, despite concerns from her mother that it wasn’t safe. Her mother had said that others they would encounter when they were out together might cause trouble. Michelle was unfazed – her mother’s life was full of fear and imagined danger, and she was sure that fear would kill her mother before any stranger would harm herself. Michelle was determined to not adopt her viewpoint.
It wasn’t out of spite that she dismissed her mother’s concerns. She knew, deep down, that her mother’s version of reality was not her truth. Soon she started examining everything else in her life to see if it was valid. She didn’t want to live her life – her one, precious, beautiful life, – following someone else’s pattern. So everything she had been told and taught got questioned and challenged. Her parents and friends thought she was going through a rebellious phase but she knew better. The unexamined life was indeed not worth living.
So that Tuesday she called a meeting and told everyone that she had to speak her truth. She was, despite appearances to the contrary, African, and from henceforth she expected all of them to call her by the name Kipepeo, which was Swahili for “butterfly”. She would not answer to anything else. HR was consulted. The legal team was notified. She had no plans of going before a judge and legally changing her name. She cited men who were named Robert who insisted on being called Bob. She cited Native Americans who had gone on a vision quest and come back with a new name. And then she stopped explaining.
Kipepeo insisted that her employer print out new business cards for her, the same as if she had gotten married and changed her name. Except she hadn’t. She insisted that the nameplate on her office door be changed< as well as what was printed on her checks. She accused anyone who did not call her by her new name of creating a hostile work environment. She called it her true name.
At that, her employer started to look for ways to get her to leave. If anybody was creating a hostile work environment, it was her. They had gone along with her claim that she was actually African. It wasn’t something that affected the workplace. But his name thing was going too far.