What’s in a name? (Name Day, Sept. 16)

Francis Joseph Fried.

There — I said it. I can’t believe I wrote it of my own free will.

For one of the final times in my life.

If you don’t know me well — or maybe even if you do — you don’t know how much the name sends nails on blackboard through me.

My own name.

But it was the one I was given when I popped out of Mom years ago. And while I’ve gone by Fran since, say, freshman year of high school, it keeps popping up in my life. And it reminds me of years of pain. I might be a lot happier these days, unemployment aside, but I’m blessed/cursed with a damn good memory, and the memory of pain, especially emotional pain, never truly goes away.

And thanks to Big Brother’s tightening of rules on official ID names in recent years — most especially in air travel — I’ve been forced against my will to use the name on flights and at the Department of Motor Vehicles. And it’s made me cringe to have to just type the damn name in, in a way that you might not comprehend.

Well, no more.

This was something I was planning on doing when the time was right, long before I even had my gender epiphany. The time was finally right.

I call it my last official act of manhood.

I went to court yesterday morning as Francis; I left, legally in the eyes of the state of California, as Fran.

Three little letters. One huge bit of relief.

I no longer have to cringe when I book flights. I no longer have to use that name on official documents. From here on out, it’s Fran Fried, plain and simple.

Free at last. Or should I say Fried at last.

You must understand right off that changing my name is not an insult to any relatives living or dead, nor should it be. Hell, truth be told, my namesake didn’t even go by Francis.

I was named after Frank Fried, my paternal grandfather — who might have met me once, but I sure wouldn’t remember. He was dying of stomach cancer while my mom was carrying me. My Aunt Lucy was also pregnant at the time, and it was agreed that whoever had the boy first would name it after him. Mom had Francis two months before Frank Fried died; Luce had Trisha two months after he passed.

But he never went by his formal name, either. His obit and headstone both say Frank. And one of my aunts told me once that not only did he go by Frank, but some of his friends called him Hank as well. I’m still trying to figure that one.

The truth is that I’ve wanted to do this for years — long, long before I had my epiphany about the gender thing — and it never was the right time.

My formal name reminds me of just so much pain as a child that I still wince. The slight, sensitive, towheaded goody-goody boy, the altar boy, the A student, always trying to please; the little shits in my class who would taunt me seemingly endlessly from fourth grade on for the crime of being sensitive. Just the sing-songy nature of my name being said by some of the same little shits. Just the first push down the decades-long slide of low self-esteem. Just a lot of things. (On the humorous side, there was the occasional reference to Francis the Talking Mule …)

That was the name I was known by through most of grade school. By seventh grade, I was writing my name “F. Fried” on papers in order to avoid the offending name — starting to use “Fran” but not quite feeling comfortable with it.

Freshman year of high school — a new start. I very briefly tried out “Frank,” and that’s how Miss Minardo, my English teacher that year, continued to refer to me my four years there. But it didn’t sit right. I sure didn’t feel like a Frank. Frank was a name for someone who was one of the guys. I wasn’t one of the guys. I probably knew then that I was much more androgynous in spirit than I realized, or could articulate to that point. So I settled for Fran.

I do remember that the first time I scratched out the offending three letters at the end of my name was in my high school yearbook. I would do that a lot over the next 30 years, from my name tag at my high school reunion to my severance agreement from my last job. And wherever possible, I simply used Fran for matters large and small. My credit cards, bank account and car registration are all under Fran, as is my unemployment.

It wasn’t very long after that I saw “Stripes” for the first time and nearly fell out laughing at one particular scene. And while I didn’t feel Psycho, I did understand the sentiment …

And I learned something about how culture can vary widely between two places geographically close. When I graduated from my Catholic high school, I was one of at least four guys in my class named Fran. It was a very Catholic name, as in one of my favorite people, Francis of Assisi. But when I got to college on Long Island, in Nassau County, an area with a much heavier Jewish population, more than once I heard someone say, in a nasal voice, “Fran — isn’t that a girl’s name?”

And somewhere along the way, I learned a little something about my name.

This stuff is readily available now on the Web, though not back then; thinkbabynames.com says “Francis” is a 12th-century French word whose meanings included “free man.” And another site cites that “Frank” is actually older than Francis, and it either meant “javelin” or “sincere.” (I sure don’t feel like a Javelin, but they were pretty damn nice cars.) And “Fried” (pronounced “freed,” of course, unless you live in California) means “free” in German. So my name is a redundancy meaning “free” twice over. And I always have been a free spirit, even if some of it was suppressed for a long time.

But as for my formal first name? Since grade school, there have been only four people who were allowed to call me that: Frank Monardo — a longtime sports deskman at my first paper, the most evil Waterbury Republican-American, and one of the oddest ducks in the history of an overcrowded journalistic pond of odd ducks — because we shared the same first name; Joe Erwin, a dear friend since we worked in sports at said first paper, because he said it in Frank voice; Colleen Shaddox, yet another dear friend from my first paper, who always said it in a lilting Irish voice (and who readily shifted from calling me “lad” to “lass” a year ago); and Drew Cucuzza, one of my closest friends, my one-man fan club when I was the entertainment editor/music writer at the New Haven Register — the man who once told me the immortal words I still live by: “Franner, if I thought you sucked, I would have told you you were interesting.”

The upshot was that I settled nicely into a life of Frandom — at least until it was time to confront the gender matter.

*****

Along the early part of the way through the gender journey, I thought, “Now what can I call myself?”

Francine was the early leader in the clubhouse, but I rejected that one pretty handily. Francine was a name of derision, one of those names people, including a relative or two, would bring up snidely in teasing (or was it something deeper and harsher?). It made me cringe almost as readily as the name I was shedding. (Of course, given that, Frances was totally out of the question, to any of you who asked, “What about Frances? It’s the same name.”)

Francie was another consideration — after all, she was Barbie’s mod cousin when I was a kid, and I have a seriously mod ’60s streak, and I kinda wish I could’ve had a wardrobe like hers, or Marlo Thomas’ in “That Girl.” (Regard the mad paisley that heads my blog — from a ’60s Van Heusen 417 Nehru-collar shirt that’s my favorite article of clothing I’ve ever owned.) But as girlie as I can be, the name is just a liiiiitle too foofy for a big girl nearing 50.

Francesca is a pretty name, but too many syllables.

Of course, I tried to think of something not related to my birth name at all. And failed miserably. I can’t even think of one, to tell you.

In the end, after not a lot of debate, it was settled: I’m Fran. It’s my persona. It’s my personality. Unlike a lot of girls wrangling with the gender matter, I was blessed with an androgynous name, and I’ll always have parts of both genders swimming around in there. Plus, as I said, my name means “free” twice over, and that’s a great thing.

And to put a fine point on it all: I’m still the same person. Just cuter.

Fran it was; Fran it is. Done. One less thing to worry about.

*****

The name change would stay on the burner, though, until I was ready. Deep down, I knew there would come a time when I would be. It just wasn’t time yet.

I first pondered the legal name change in earnest a year ago August; I attended a workshop on name and gender change that the Transgender Law Center was holding at the San Francisco LGBT Center. It would cost some money, though — a goodly sum for the filing fee, plus the cost of a required legal notice to run in a newspaper for four weeks.

Also, I was pleased to learn that evening that the California DMV has made it so easy to change name and gender on a driver’s license. For the name change, of course, I would need the judge’s ruling. For the gender change, since the trans spectrum is so broad, all that’s needed for the change of sex on the license — regardless of whether you have the full surgery or not — is a note from your doctor attesting that you’ve had some sort of physical modification. And hormone replacement therapy counts as a physical mod.

Last November, as I started to crawl out of six of the most despair-filled weeks of my life, and as I was (very quickly) being greenlighted by my therapist for the psychological testing as a prelude to hormones, I was thinking it was about time.

This was going to take longer than I thought — one afternoon, three buildings, just to get the forms.

I started at the public records building neighboring the county courthouse downtown. A wait on line to have the woman tell me I needed to go to the courthouse. Then, another line next door to have the woman tell me I needed to go to the new courthouse building, in a converted banquet hall about four blocks away on Tuolomne Street. Then another line to pay a buck and get about a quarter-ream of papers to fill out.

She told me the process would take seven weeks — something I wasn’t prepared for. I would have to run a notice in a local newspaper for four weeks running, in case anyone had any objections to the change. She included a list of daily and weekly papers in which to run the notices. She said it was up to me which paper — just as long as it ran in one. After that, it would be about three weeks until my court date. Ohhhhh-kaaaaaaaayyyy …

Then I brought the forms home and let them sit. For months.

I had other things to do. Like restore some of my sanity. Like go home to Connecticut for eight weeks over three trips in four months.

Like start my hormone therapy when I got back.

I wasn’t ready yet.

*****

Fast-forward to late July. The winds seemed to be strongly blowing me back home.

The inner voice that’s come through loud and clear all through my life changes the last seven years, from going for the Fresno Bee job to coming out to the layoff, told me I needed to email the editor of my last paper in Connecticut, the New Haven Register. I ignored it. Now why the hell would I have to email Jack? I mean, I left on good terms, and I would occasionally email him from the Bee with Connecticut-related items I’d see on the wires. But I hadn’t been in touch since the layoff.

Anyway, over the next few days, four of my ex-colleagues either found my blog or my Twitter account. Coincidence? I don’t think so … That was a sign if there ever was. One of my friends said she knew about the girl, but had just found out about my blog through my successor, Pat. And by the way, did you know Pat was leaving?

And that was the day I was mailing my father’s 80th birthday gifts back home. It really hit home, no pun intended: I need to be home for my folks’ final years. I called Jack the next day. (I eventually found out that there’s a hiring freeze, it turns out; they don’t even know if they’ll ever be able to fill the job, let alone when. On the good side, Jack told me he had heard about my life changes, and it didn’t change what he thought of me one way or the other. That’s very encouraging unto itself.)

And with the winds seeming to blow me back, and the possibility of flying across the country soon for at least some job — and knowing that other states’ name/gender change policies aren’t nearly as liberal as California’s — I realized I better jump on the name change thing. Besides, if I get this all out of the way, maybe some cosmic doors will open, and having been jobless as long as I have, maybe this is the jump-start I need. If anything has a chance of working, I’m all for it.

So a few days later, I went down to the courthouse for some unexpected ping-pong. The clerk told me I needed to complete a few more things. Like a few places on the form that seemed to be duplicates, triplicates or even quadruplicates. And she told me I needed to change almost all of the Frans on my form to my formal name. (Cringe — do I really have to? At she sounded apologetic about it.) She also told me I have to pick out a newspaper in which to run the public notice. Then she told me to come back when I had the forms completed. But hey, I was thinking — don’t I have to have a court date first before I can run it? Maybe there’s something I don’t know. Oh well …

I went out to the car and ran down the list. The Bee was at the top of the list, of course, but so was its price — $510 for four weeks of public notices. Hell, no. (Not that I would give my business to the place that discarded me, anyway.) At the bottom of the list was the Fowler Ensign (pronounced en-sign, as opposed to the naval pronunciation, en-sin), a weekly produced by the Sanger Herald. Four weeks — $35. Schweeeet … And off I headed to the 180 freeway, eastbound though the dust of farmlands and freeway construction and the notorious heat of late July, to the sleepy little city of Sanger, 20 minutes away.

I parked in front of the Herald office, got to the front desk and the woman looked at the forms and said, “You have to get a court date first.”

I wasn’t happy.

“You know, the clerk at the courthouse told me I had to go pick out a paper, then come back.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” the woman at the desk said.

“I know,” I said. Oh well …

So, with a little exasperation, exacerbated by the heat, it was back to Fresno for another trip to the courthouse. The forms were complete where I needed to complete them — even the offending name. It was just the matter of the court date.

Despite me wanting to say, “Why the hell did you go tell me to get a newspaper lined up when I didn’t even have a court date? I just drove 20 minutes to Sanger for nothing,” I bit my tongue as I approached the clerk again and she checked the forms again, and at least knowing what paper I was planning to run the notice in, she took my money and gave me a court date: Thursday, Sept. 16, 9 a.m. I would have to bring proof of publication; if I brought it down ahead of my court date, so they could put it in the files, all the better.

Cool, but why the hell didn’t she tell me that in the first place? That I just had to put down the name of a paper for her sake? The way she had phrased it, she made it sound as if I had to go to the paper first and take out the ad. But I just wanted to get it over with. Besides, you never know what will happen when you deal with bureaucrats when they get mad, and especially with something this important to me. So I just let it go.

Again I made the trek through the heat and dust to Sanger, back to the Herald. This time, of course, all was well. The woman told me the listing would run in the Ensign Aug. 4, 11, 18 and 25. After the listing ran, I would receive my proof-of-publication form in the mail.

And that was that. In early September I received my proof of publication: a form with a hard copy of the legal notice rubber-cemented to it, the running dates and a signature from someone at the Herald.

*****

I had Sept. 16 seared into my skull the way a little kid burns in Dec. 25. When I went to my doctor in late August for my three-month visit, she filled out Form DL329 for me — the DMV form for the gender change.

Meanwhile, I sweltered, squirmed, raged and despaired through an entire August of job- and- family-related anxiety. And once that subsided, the mental speedbumps — the questions of “What the hell are you doing?” — reappeared, as I somewhat expected.

All that led into this week. I brought the proof-of-publication form down to the courthouse on Tuesday in anticipation of the big day.

In my mind, I was expecting that I would go down to the court — in this case, the Juvenile Dependency Court in the Fulton Mall — wait an hour or so, then have the judge grill me, and then I would get my approval — after which I would go home, doll out, go to DMV, fill out my DL 44 form for the name change, then get a license with my new name, photo and gender. It would be my true girl’s day, a genuine rebirth.

The mental speedbumps were loud and strong — after all, this license thing would have some sort of finality about it, the true gender switch at last, since I’m not planning on the full surgery. Are you really a woman? Can you really do this full time? Do you really want to go through all this? Are you ready?

Wednesday night I attended the opening night of Reel Pride, Fresno’s 21st annual LGBT film festival. (For such an ignorant radical-right cowtown to have such a film fest, and for so long, says volumes. As does the number of people here who have been supportive of my transition the last two years.) It was actually at the 2006 Reel Pride — for a Spanish film called “20 Centimeters,” about a transwoman who sells her biggest asset on the street to raise the money she needs to one day get rid of it and become fully female — that I first got dressed en femme for real for the first time. That was a year and a half before my epiphany.

For such a momentous day ahead, this lady in red had a lot of fun the night before — I hung out, watched the brilliant opening movie. “A Marine Story,” with my Tower friend Hickey, then went next door for the afterparty. There was no anxiety. I wouldn’t call it anticipation, either, though I had been looking forward to this court date for seven weeks. I just had fun and made sure I was home before midnight.

*****

I set both my cell phone alarm clocks before bed — one for 6:45, the other for 7.

But I was awake on my own about 10 minutes before that.

And thus I started my day yesterday.

For one last time, I pulled a boy shirt out of the closet (that’s literally, not metaphorically). I put on a pair of my boy jeans and saw just how much weight I’ve lost these past few months; the 44 waist had a couple of inches to give, and my belt needs a couple of holes past where the holes end.

And one last time, I pulled what’s left of my real my hair back, grabbed an elastic and made a ponytail. It was a look I wore from the late ’80s, when I started losing my long blonde hair, until just before the layoff in early 2009, when I just started wearing my hair loose. It’s the reason my friend Ida, the former longtime features assistant at the Register, called me “Ponytail.” It reminded me of the fat, ugly, miserable, depression-prone man I was. Except when I did it yesterday, I saw a different person staring back at me in the mirror. My face and neck are considerably thinner than the last time I tied my hair back, and the way my clothes sat on me, I felt like the little kid trying on an older sibling’s clothes.

My housemate Nancy, who’s usually up this early, was surprised to see me, even though she knew this was the morning. She took a couple photos for posterity.

I left the house a few minutes after 8; I wanted to leave early so I could find a parking meter on Fulton Street north of the mall, so I could find the courthouse (which I failed to spot the day before on a bike ride through the mall), and just in case the car broke down, so I could still get to court in plenty of time.

I was there about 10 after 8. I didn’t put 1 and 1 together — that the building I had passed so many times with the multicolored silhouette of a child holding balloons was the Juvenile Dependency courthouse. I sat on a bench outside the court building, read a couple of chapters of my Jon Krakauer book on Pat Tillman, “Where Men Win Glory,” and killed some time until about 8:35. Then I walked a block back to the car, filled the meter to two hours, then headed back and entered the courthouse.

I walked into the nondescript courtroom with a young woman, late teens/early 20s, maybe an inch taller than me, with the long, straight, black, shiny hair of an indigenous tribe. And a tank top, tats, jeans and big white snakeskin cowboy boots. She passed extremely well, was very pretty, but I knew she was one of my tribe as well. She was tall, her shoulders were slightly on the broad side, her hands were a little on the large side, and I’d have to say she wore a shoe size bigger than mine.

And at that moment, I kind of cursed myself for not showing up at court as my better half. But I didn’t think people needed to know any more about me than I wanted to let them know, and besides, all the reasons I gave for my name change are true: I’ve hated my name for a long time, and my bank account, credit cards and registration are all under Fran, so I’m just formalizing it.

The girl was actually brought outside by an assistant to handle her situation, whatever that may be. I checked in with the bailiff and sat and waited my turn and watched the judge patiently sit through an assembly line of cases.

This was moving pretty quickly. I don’t think any of the cases ahead of me lasted longer than two minutes.

Finally, around quarter after 9, the judge said, “Next I have a name change case for Francis Joseph … Freed? Fryed?”

“Freed.” I stepped up to the desk. No raising of right hands or anything; just an exchange of plesantries.

“Mr. … it’s Freed, right?”

“Yes, your honor.”

“Well, I have your proof of publication,” the judge said, “and we’re satisfied that you’re neither a parolee nor a sex offender. Is there anything you’d like to add?”

You mean besides my gender transition and that I can’t wait to get out of here and go home and get ready to go to DMV and get my new license?

“No.”

“OK,” he said. “Your request has been approved. We’ll mail the paperwork, and you should have it within a week. Will that work for you?”

What?!? Whaddya mean a week? You mean I can’t just go to a desk and pick it up after the hearing? Shit!

“Sure,” I said. We exchanged smiles and that was that.

All that took less than a minute.

I didn’t feel any sense of the relief I should have felt, probably because I don’t have the paperwork yet. Plus, I don’t feel any different. Anyway, I texted my friend Heather, as well as Nancy; got a “Yippee!” in return from Nancy and an eventual call from Heather.

I then celebrated by doing something decidedly not girly: Since I was two blocks away, I went and played in the $14 hold ‘em tournament with about 40 other guys at Club One Casino, the cardhouse downtown. I at least had a moral victory; I made it to about 14th, midway through the next-to-last table; I had never gotten past the halfway point at a tournament before. Plus, I pulled three rivers out of my ass just to stay in that long. On one of them, my pockets were a queen and a jack. A Q and a J came up on the flop, the guy next to me went head-on with me, then he pushed me all in on the turn. He had turned the straight to my two pairs. But the river was the third queen for the boat.

Anyway, no money to show for my troubles but a good, competitive morning. And I treated myself to my usual Club One lunch: the best Chicken Pad Thai in Fresno and iced tea. Then I came home, tried to write, went on a late bike ride, then dolled up late to meet up with Heather and our pal, the esteemed thespian and all-around brilliant guy Jaguar Bennett, at the Landmark, before settling at Livingstone’s for the rest of the night.

But it was just a half-celebration, really — no revelry. The revelry will come later, as Heather has told me she’s throwing me an “It’s a Girl” party when the time comes and that I have no say in this.

But for now, it’s a quiet victory. And a low-key reaction. Sept. 16 may be Mexican Independence Day, but in Franorama World, it’s Name Day.

Frandependence Day. Fran at last.

UPDATE 9/19: Came back from coffee this afternoon and found that my housemates had rummaged through the weekend mail, and there were three items sitting on the mail table outside my door. Two were junk mail; the other was my name change form, in triplicate, signed by the judge. Fran it is; now to get past that final speedbump …

6 Responses to “What’s in a name? (Name Day, Sept. 16)”

  1. blake Says:

    I’ve also long admired St. Francis.
    I think I told you the story of the exchange student –Francesca, and her taking Lauri and I to a monestary in the hills above Florence where she was surprised to run into a monk whom she went to high school with (not in Fresno) called Francesco. You come from a line of cool people with similair names.

  2. Peggy Nemeth Says:

    I’m going to ask my students to write blogs about their own identities. Your story is certainly a statement about the importance of identity. Congratulations on the progress in so many areas! I still have to think about how to spell your last name. “i before e except after c…”

  3. Karen Olson Says:

    Congratulations!! A rebirth. Although I never thought of you as that other name. You have always been Fran to me!

  4. It’s a girl! « Franorama World Says:

    [...] Thursday, when the judge approved my legal name change, I was all ready to go home, doll up and head to DMV for the new license. However, he threw a [...]

  5. Ask Aunt Fran: Legally female « Franorama World Says:

    [...] court date for the name change was Sept. 16, a Thursday, in another Superior Court building in downtown Fresno. I spent all of a minute in front [...]

  6. What the hell — let’s have some fun: Poker with the boys « Franorama World Says:

    [...] judge, leading to my official name and gender and photo change at DMV five days later — by heading over to Club One afterward to play the 10 o’clock. I actually made it the farthest I’d ever gotten [...]

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