Comparison of how my voice has changed on T at 1 week, 2.5 months, and 4 months.
Comparison of how my voice has changed on T at 1 week, 2.5 months, and 4 months.
So I’ve been tweeting daily about my transition from female to male under the hashtag #WakeUpElliot. I’m pretty damn open about it—I encourage people to ask questions, get informed, hear it firsthand from someone who lives it. And I’m going to blog about the most interesting Qs I receive.
Today, on my 111th day on testosterone, I’m tackling a major rite of passage among trans folks:
Choosing a new name.
@ElliotWake curious about the decision 2 change ur last name too.. A lot of Trans folk only change the first.. Slap me if it's too personal!
— Chiyo. (@ChiyoGomes) April 18, 2016
When I was writing my third novel, Cam Girl, I had to confront something deeply discomforting: I was really, really not okay with my gender identity. Over the years I’d defaulted to Not a Girl but never got beyond that. And I knew there was something beyond that, and I was afraid I knew what: that my affinity for masculinity went way farther than the Tomboy label others applied to me.
Writing a nonbinary character like Ellis was incredibly cathartic. Through her, I tested my own boundaries. Ellis knew she was queer—she was assigned female at birth, and she was attracted to girls—but something about the word “lesbian” didn’t fit her, as it didn’t fit me. Because a lesbian is someone who identifies as a girl or woman, and neither of us did.
While Ellis experimented with her identity in Cam Girl, so did I.
“If I ever changed my name,” I thought, “to something gender-neutral, less prescriptively feminine, what would I change it to?” So I made a list. But I didn’t need to.
The first name I imagined for myself was the right one.
Elliot was the name of the hero in the film E.T., which I loved as a kid. (Obvious trans metaphor is obvious: alien crash-lands on Earth, is feared and hated and mistreated despite being harmless, just wants to live in peace.) It also has a fine tradition in literature, including one of my favorite poets, T.S. Eliot (who’s mentioned in the first line of my book Black Iris).
The clincher was how “Elliot” contains the name “Leah” inside it, phonetically: E-leah-t. I wouldn’t be abandoning my female name, which I never considered dead to me—I’d be incorporating it into my new name, building on my past self and experiences.
It was kinda perfect.
This part was fun. All I cared about for my middle name was that it sounded good and more or less fit my personality. Like naming a character in a book.
“Finley” was a name I’d always wanted to give a female character—I love gender-neutral and masculine names for girls (gee, wonder why)—and Finley had good rhythm with Elliot.
But it needed a snappy, powerful, single-syllable surname.
And here’s where I struggled.
I don’t consider my female name a deadname. I have three books published under Leah Raeder, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Though I never identified as a girl, I still see that part of myself as “her”—my femininity, my femaleness. And I’m pretty damn proud of what I accomplished as someone the world labeled a girl. It didn’t matter how I identified inside: I still faced misogyny, still was socialized female, still learned to hate and resent and even fear my body for its femaleness (on top of hating it because it wasn’t male, as my brain expects to see every time I look in a mirror).
I soldiered through sexist bullshit for thirty-three years as a “girl,” according to society. I damn well wanted recognition of that.
But “Elliot Raeder” just didn’t sound right, and it went beyond euphony. There was something that bugged me about keeping the same last name. In a way, I wanted to be separate from Leah Raeder, and I wanted her to be separate from me. Her accomplishments were her own, as someone who was assigned female at birth and fought to succeed without male privilege. Elliot would have privileges she wouldn’t. I didn’t want that to tarnish Leah’s legacy.
And mentally, for myself, I needed a clean break. As an author I’ll always be able to look back at my books published under my female name—that name will never be truly dead. That’s both a blessing and a curse. I didn’t feel I could embody my new name fully as a trans guy unless I changed the whole thing. I’d always be under Leah’s shadow if I kept Raeder.
So, at the last minute, I panicked. I planned to start a new Twitter account on January 1, and I wanted to have my full new name ready to go public. But what the hell would my surname be?
One syllable. Simple, strong, meaningful.
No fucking idea.
I picked “Wake” on a whim, more or less. I made a list of possibilities that had both personal and literary significance to me (thank god I didn’t go with Wolf), but something about Wake seemed right at the time. Dream imagery is a recurring theme in my writing: realizing the hidden meaning of things you’ve seen all along, waking to a higher level of understanding, and whatnot.
As time went on, I grew into it. A Twitter follower suggested the hashtag #WakeUpElliot for my transition tweets, and it resonated with me instantly: my life before transition as a dream I’m slowly coming out of. Waking to my real self.
Plus, ELLIOT WAKE just looks really fucking badass on a book cover. You’ll see it on Bad Boy soon.
So, that’s how I chose my new name. The first part was always with me; the middle was purely for fun; and the last part ended up taking on its own meaning once I chose it.
And on June 14, I will legally be Elliot Finley Wake.
Can’t. Fucking. Wait.
I’m going to update my blog more frequently, and I figured I’d kick it off by sharing something I’ve been super self-conscious about: my voice.
Here’s a comparison of my voice before I started testosterone vs. 81 days on T.
Voice is a major part of “passing” as a certain gender socially. The more it drops, the more at ease people seem with me, because they see and hear a guy. I’m fitting better into their gender binary. Which is okay, because I don’t need everyone to know exactly how I identify inside—I simply want to be seen socially as male.
In turn, being treated as a guy has taken a huge weight off my shoulders. I’m not constantly worrying about the mismatch between my appearance (guy in tie and jacket) and my voice (soprano girl).
Before starting T, my biggest concern about vocal change was losing my ability to sing. Thus far my range is definitely lower and narrower, and my voice cracks and fluctuates. But it feels like, once it settles, I’ll be able to sing comfortably in a lower range. Sometimes I surprise myself by singing an octave+ lower than I could reach before T, with complete control.
Today is my birthday. A small eternity ago (approximately thirty-four years) a baby named Leah was born, and people said, “It’s a girl.” It took Leah most of those years to realize that while her body looked female, she wasn’t a girl inside. She was more of a boy. He wanted to go by male pronouns, and eventually he would start taking testosterone to make his body male, and change his name to Elliot.
Hi. My name is Elliot Wake (formerly Leah Raeder), and I’m transgender.
If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, this is no surprise to you. I’ve been out and proud about being trans for a while. But today is my birthday, and my present to myself is to start my name change process. So I think it’s time to make an official announcement and publically link my old name to my new one.
I’ve formatted this blog post as a FAQ for clarity’s sake. People have had lots of questions. I’m an open book about my identity and transition, and I’ll answer some common questions here.
Nonbinary means I don’t fit into either of the two traditional binary genders: man or woman.
Put together, this means I’m a person who does not identify as either a man or a woman, but who does identify with masculinity.
This is a lot to wrap your head around. You can simply call me a transgender person, a nonbinary person, or even a trans boy—all those terms are fine with me. I do not use the term “trans man,” however, because it has too much baggage and implication. The word “man” does not represent me, so please don’t use it.
If you’d like to understand the various facets of gender better, check out this infographic.
Update, July 2016: I’ve done a lot of self-examination, and I’m now using the term “trans man” to describe myself. Shit changes. The ways we view and define ourselves evolve. As I become more comfortable with my masculinity, I’m embracing these terms that I once shied away from. Yeah, I’m a dude. Guy. Man. I’ll own it.
Since I was a kid, I’ve always had a certain mental image of my physical body. That body has a flat chest, no curves, and gives an overall masculine impression. But when I look in mirrors—or when people call me “miss” or “she”—I’m reminded that my mental image does not match my physical body. This causes me stress, anxiety, panic, and self-loathing. That mismatch between my inner sense of how I should look and sound, and the reality of my body, is called gender dysphoria.
If I could choose, I would have been born in a male body. But since I’m stuck with this one, I’m taking testosterone to transition physically to male. I’ve been on T for 2.5 months, and I feel amazing. My mood and energy have soared, my anxiety has melted away, and I’m finally starting to like the person I see in the mirror.
In my books Cam Girl and the upcoming Bad Boy, I delve into how gender dysphoria feels, and how nonbinary and trans masculine people grapple with their identities. There’s a lot of my own struggle with gender in my books, so if you’re interested in more detail, check them out.
Every day, I tweet about my transition under the hashtag #WakeUpElliot.
I’m totally open about my transition, so feel free to ask me questions on Twitter. My goal in sharing details about my life is to spread knowledge and put a human face to this big, strange, unknown thing. It’s not so strange when you see it up close, happening to someone you know.
My upcoming novel Bad Boy is also about a transgender boy, and describes the gritty details—physical, psychological, and social—of transition from female to male.
My fourth novel, Bad Boy, will be published under the name Elliot Wake in December, 2016.
After discussing my identity and transition with my publisher, we’ve decided to push the publishing date back so we can focus on promoting this the right way. Atria Books wants to highlight the fact that this is a transgender story written by a transgender author. Having the support of my publisher is incredible—I’m honored to work with people who both respect and celebrate my identity.
Plus, I have some Super Secret News about this book that I’m fucking dying to share. SOON.
My first three novels are published under my birth name, Leah Raeder. Feel free to refer to those books with the name on the cover. If you’d like to acknowledge my new name, you can say something like, “Cam Girl, by Elliot Wake (writing as Leah Raeder).”
When you’re referring to Bad Boy or to me personally, please use Elliot Wake and male pronouns (he/him/his). For example: Elliot Wake’s new novel, Bad Boy, is his fourth book.
Am I getting too predictable in my old age? Of course I’m doing a giveaway.
Want to win copies of my first three books, signed with both my old and new names? Enter below. Open internationally.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Black Iris, my super-queer dark-‘n’-twisted blood-soaked revenge thriller, is on bookstore shelves today. Here’s the obligatory link list:
That done, I want to talk about what this book means to me.
It’s personal as hell. It’s dark, twisted, and very queer. And it’s my first purely traditionally-published book, which is amazing in itself: that the first book of mine the industry believed in—without sales numbers to prove it a risk worth taking—is also my most challenging and boundary-pushing one. I’m wildly grateful to Atria Books for taking this chance on me, and for publishing a novel that depicts graphic love between girls. That’s pretty balls out, Atria. Good on you.
Recently, bestselling novelist duo Christina Lauren predicted the future of romance on Bustle:
The voices in this genre are busy telling the world what matters to women. Yes, we care about career, work-life balance, respect — obviously critically important things. But what if, the authors of these books are beginning to ask with their themes, we take those things as given and then ask for more: to be seen as sexual creatures who are in no way delicate, who come in every flavor and color, who like people, actions, or genders society tells them they ought not to? I even predict that within a couple of years we will see LGBTQIA romance alongside M/F romance in major retailers.
And that future is sooner than you think. Right now, in bookstores, Black Iris is sitting side-by-side with hetero romance novels:
Like, hi. Vaginal flower in a B&N endcap. Knowing there is crazy hot f/f inside. Nice to see you. pic.twitter.com/9PJxWGocY3
— Dahlia Adler (@MissDahlELama) April 28, 2015
And that’s pretty fucking amazing.
I’m grateful beyond words to everyone who helped make this happen:
To my awesomely progressive publisher, Atria, and my wonderfully smart, gimlet-eyed, 80s-loving editor, Sarah Cantin.
To my fantastic agent and advocate, Jane Dystel, and everyone at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.
To my blogger and author friends who’ve pushed for more diversity in YA & NA and who’ve promoted Black Iris. There are too many of you to list, but Dahlia Adler gets a special mention for her tireless, selfless advocacy for LGBTQIA+ representation in fiction.
To everyone in my life who’s been supportive and tolerant and loving and kind (even Alex) (jk jk he’s the most ridiculously supportive partner ever).
And most importantly, to every single reader who’s read my work, reviewed it, and talked about it, regardless of whether you liked it or not. The very fact that it makes you think, debate, argue, and discuss with friends is the greatest reward I could hope for.
I sure as hell hope Black Iris does the same. I hope it makes you feel something. I hope it makes you desperate to discuss it with others. And I hope it delivers a swift, hard kick to the floodgate holding back queer love stories in mainstream romance.
Christina Lauren was spot-on about the future of romance novels. And I’m here to help gay up New Adult.
Are you with me?
Once you’ve finished Black Iris, make sure you read the acknowledgments. Trust me.