I’m writing this article partially to share my experience with the world, and partially because I’m too scared to explain all of this to my family in person. I love my family so much, but sometimes they can make it hard to share things about myself. They aren’t really the judgmental type – in the typical sense; in fact they are very loving and open and accepting people, but still… sometimes I’m left feeling misunderstood and somewhat erased (or re-written) by their own ideas of me. I just so desperately want to be seen for who I truly am.
How It All Began
Some back story: When I was in high school I was extremely depressed. People didn’t seem to notice, because I was always so active and social. My life was full of events and parties and people. I was never still, I kept moving from the second I woke up til the second I went to sleep. The problem was that the only reason I kept doing so much all the time was because I was terrified to be left alone with myself. Terrified of the silence. Every time I came home I felt instantly trapped, as if I’d never left. So I stayed out as much as I could. I indulged in tons of different kinds of drugs, trying to make my life seem like something worth living. Yes – I had some really fun times, but it was all just distractions. My entire life was a facade. A mask. Something to occupy my time with so that I couldn’t slip into my own head. I was lost. Horribly lost.
I just wanted out. I wanted help. I even tried to express to my mom how awful I felt, saying that I thought I needed professional help. A therapist. Someone to fix me. I was so anxious and restless and just needed someone to hold my hand and help push me through it. I tried to make her understand how badly I was suffering. But she didn’t see inside my head. She didn’t see how often I thought about death, about how pointless and worthless I was. She didn’t know that I had no self-esteem. That life felt fake. That I was numb to everything around me. That I was drowning. She couldn’t see all of that. So, she didn’t take me seriously. And I never got any help.
It isn’t her fault. I don’t blame her now anymore than I did then. She didn’t understand, not truly. She wanted to believe I was okay. She wanted to be blind to my pain so that she wouldn’t have to worry about me. I understand. I’m not mad, but it still hurts. However, it was through this pain that I reached out into my imagination for some solace. Some comfort. Any form of hope that could make me feel like moving forward was worth it. That’s when I had a vision of myself. It was a possible future. I was living in a new place. Living a new life. Living as a new me. In this vision, I had a girlfriend. She called out to me – “Johnny” she said. And it made me smile. It was then and there that I realized how much trauma was wrapped up inside my current identity.
My birth name suddenly felt like a weight, and hearing my imaginary gf call me by my new name…it felt like that weight was being lifted. I felt free. Free to be whoever I wanted to be. To live whatever kind of life I cared to choose. For just a second I felt limitless, and I could breathe again. It was then I decided to change my name. I put Johnny as my name on FB. I chose the last name Hope and the middle initial S, so that it would read “Johnny S. Hope” like “Johnny is hope.” Because I needed some hope. That’s what this new name signified for me… hope. When I started college I emailed all of my professors ahead of time, before the beginning of each semester, to make sure they knew the right way to address me. This way I didn’t have to go through correcting them on the first day of class, or having anyone else learn my birth name. They were all very understanding.
My College Experience
It was magical being called Johnny by all my professors and classmates. I finally felt seen and heard, in a way I just had never been before. It seemed silly, but it really made all the difference to me. Through these tiny gestures, I was able to start seeing myself clearly. I was my own person. I held my future in my hands. I got to choose who I was. My past didn’t have to cling to me constantly like fly paper, I was able to shed it like a snake sheds its skin. So, slowly, I reinvented myself. Redefined what it meant to be me. I was still dealing with depression, but I finally felt like I had purpose. I was worthy of life.
Some amount of time into my college education I ended up changing the spelling of my name. I changed Johnny to Jauni. It was my own creation and allowed it to be unique and more feminine. I got rid of the middle initial, and changed the last name from Hope to Hopesphire (combining both Hope and my cat’s name Sapphire – I had had him for about 18 years before he died, he felt like a part of me and I wanted him to live on). Finally, I had arrived at my current name: Jauni Hopesphire. It was perfect.
Now, during one of my college courses I had a teacher pass out forms on the first day asking us to provide her with our preferred names and pronouns. I had never had anybody ask me that before. It had never occurred to me. But a sudden rush of relief came over me as I filled out the pronouns section with “They/Them.” It was like I had found a tiny piece of myself that allowed me to feel more at home within my own skin. Throughout college I continued to have tiny, but impactful, experiences like this that helped shape me. Helped me figure out who I was. Ironically, with the birth of each new child…I started to lose myself again. Within the romantic relationships I was engaged with, and within the identity I held as a mother. I began to feel lost again. The one glimmer of light I was able to hold onto was my name. I knew that above all else – THAT was me. The true me.
The Big Move
After I moved states away from my hometown I was able to start rebuilding myself. Everyone I met knew me as Jauni. I had no threatening ties to my past that hung over my head like anvils waiting to drop. Nonetheless, I still felt lost. It was an interesting, and somewhat challenging, experience. It helped shaped me, too. Of course, it wasn’t until my husband and I split that I truly discovered the breadth of myself. I discovered polyamory and researched the hell out of it. I studied up on all sorts of Queer topics, and non-monogamous topics. I read tons of books and articles and watched a plethora of videos. I ate up the information as if it were the food and drink my body depended on to sustain itself. It briefly consumed me – it was all I could think about. I was opened up to this world of possibilities I didn’t even know existed, and I was determined to figure out where I fit into it all.
Through it all, my name was the one constant. My base. The access point from which all else branched out. It kept me grounded. Made me feel whole. As I tried on one thing or another, discarded things that didn’t feel right, and found others that fit like a glove, my name was there. It saw me through my identity crisis. It saw me through multiple identity crises. I finally found my labels, and continued to perfect them as time went along. As I learned more about myself. About the world. About everything. I continued to adapt, evolve, and transform. I can tell you, I have never felt more myself than I do right now. I am me. I am ME. No one can take my identity away from me. No one can shake the foundation to this home I’ve built inside myself.
Still, though, others don’t understand. When I initially tried to tell my family about the name change I was met with what felt like endless eye rolls. They were used to me trying to recreate myself. They didn’t think it was real, or serious. They didn’t think it would stick. But they also didn’t know how badly I needed this reinvention. I craved it. I ached for it. I literally could not live without it. My mother in particular had a hard time with it. She seemed to be almost in a panic, as if I were suffocating her with my words. She told me she felt betrayed. She didn’t understand why I’d want to give up the name she gave me. She told me how hard she had had to fight to get people to accept the name she chose for me, and to have me abandon it now felt horrible. She also worried about what others would think or say. She told me she didn’t know what to tell them when they asked about why I had changed it. I told her that it wasn’t her story to tell, and that she should simply point them in my direction. That seemed to calm her nerves a bit, but she still didn’t get it.
After a chat I had with my dad’s wife, she seemed to see me. She began to understand why it was so important to me. She said she hadn’t realized. And after that both her and my father (surprisingly), started calling me by my chosen name. My grandma (my dad’s mom) even refers to me as such. It literally makes me feel so loved inside. Such a simple act, but so powerful. It makes me cry just thinking about it. I appreciate it more than they could ever possibly know. My mom, on the other hand, still calls me by my birth name. It makes me wince. Every time I hear my birth name it stings. I feel like I’m ripping off layers of myself, discarding who I’ve become. Forcing myself back into a painful box that I wish would just disappear forever. I hate it. She’s told me it’s just hard to remember, and it doesn’t feel right to her. She just still doesn’t get it. My sister still calls me by my birth name, too. I’ve never had an honest conversation with her about why it’s so important, though. She never had a chance to truly know, or understand. That’s partially why I’m writing this today. I have so much to say, and I just can’t express it properly in a quick dialogue with her. I feel too sensitive, too vulnerable. This feels safer.
Acceptance of My Trans Son
It’s funny, sort of. My son came out as trans when he was 4. Almost 4 years again now. There was some uproar at the beginning, mainly from some of my husband’s family, at the time. Also partly from my mom. She doesn’t really understand the complexities of gender, and had the same concerns of a lot of people who just don’t get it – “Isn’t he too young to be thinking about these kinds of things?” Oh well, I did what I could to try and explain. Point is, though, that regardless of all the push back or confusion… my entire family (excluding my very old great grandma) has accepted his identity. They use his chosen pronouns and his chosen name. He just gets to exist and be himself. I’m genuinely so happy for him. I am so happy I could create a space for him where he has been able to decide for himself who he is. It’s beautiful. The sad part, though, is that I don’t feel like my identity is being accepted by my family with the same heart and soul as they have accepted my son’s.
Again, I’m hoping it’s just because they don’t truly understand. I haven’t had a long enough conversation detailing all the reasoning behind it. I haven’t had enough heart-to-hearts. I’ve hidden inside myself and allowed myself to just be whatever they think I am. Who cares how I exist within their minds, right? Well, I’m really starting to care. More and more as time goes on. Because it hurts. It hurts to not be recognized for your true self when your around your family. It hurts when you bring up wishing for a woman companion to share your life with romantically, and your mother thinks you’re just not getting enough support in your life and you only want to be with a woman because it’d be more emotionally fulfilling – and should thus find more women friends. The same mother who always had to whisper the word “bi” after you came out as such in 7th or 8th grade, because she felt so uncomfortable about it. And it hurts when your mother… who apparently loves you more than anything else in the world… refuses to call you by your name, your chosen name, your real name, your true name. It hurts. There’s a lot of hurt…
A Little Bit Of Hope
My hopes for this article are these 3 things. First, I hope that anyone out there who feels like their identity is being erased can feel company in their suffering and see hope for their future. You are not alone in your experiences – there are so many of us out there. Second, I hope that this helps others understand the importance of identity and self-chosen labels. That you will take more time to get to know the person under the surface, and that you will respect the words a person chooses to define themself with. And third, I hope that my family reads this and gets a better look at what life has been like for me. And in doing such, comes to understand me better and accept me for who I am. Mainly, I hope that my family (all of my family) will see this as the push they need to get over their own feelings of discomfort, and start calling me by my chosen name. It isn’t about you – it’s about me. It’s about all of us out there who feel unseen, or disrespected. It isn’t just some fictional people out there who need you to stand up for their rights. We’re real. We exist. I am right here, in front of you. I deserve just as much respect as you’d show to anyone else.
My name is Jauni Hopesphire. That is who I am. To me it signifies my psychological journey and personal growth. It is a key factor in my identity – a defining factor of what makes me who I am, of my resilience and my ability to recreate (or re-imagine) myself, and thus take steps to move myself forward. They aren’t just any other words. They hold great meaning. They are the stones on which I stand. I do not exist without them. They encompass the vast entity that is me – including my sexual, romantic, and relationship orientations, my gender identity, and my self-love. Please do not erase me. Do not look blindly upon me. Do not hold steadfast to an idea of me that is based on an old identity, a ghost, a person who no longer exists. I am a living, breathing person. Forever changing and growing. Please accept me for who I am. For who I see myself as, not who you wish me to be. My name is Jauni Hopesphire. Can you see me?
P.S. A Message To My Family: This was a very emotional piece for me to write. It rehashed a lot of old memories that I would rather forget. It brought back the pain of each deafening moment. I hope y’all can read this with an open heart. I love you all! I just don’t want to feel like I’m faking anymore. I deserve to be out and proud. I deserve to exist. I deserve to be seen.