The first time I received a name– the way most people come into the possession of one, legally, culturally, socially– I was given David. Despite a particularly strange backstory (that my mother had once dated a boy in high school of the same name, that he later gave his daughter hers), my parents liked the general roundness and symmetry of David. They liked it’s interpretation from the Hebrew, meaning “beloved,” and the sonority and percussion of its five-lettered utterance.
Throughout my childhood and adolescence, any affinity I, on the other hand, held for David was constantly wavering. I would toil for new names. Upon receiving a nickname, any nickname, even when its reception was largely imaginary, I would lean into it with my full weight. These nascent identities would always peel away, however, as quickly and as easily as when they arrived.
“Somewhere, there’s a room where things go/ to lose their names,” Cameron Awkward-Rich writes, “A rose becomes [ ]. A/ daughter becomes [ ]. Her son [ ].” David was a room in which I lived, a room I could step out of briefly in order to attend another, to briefly walk the length of the hallway, to briefly feel the cool linoleum of the kitchen floor against my bare toes, but a room I would always be required to return to. It did not become clear to me, until much later, that the tension I felt with David was one of dysphoria, a gendered and gendering locus in a greater social map that I had yet to consent to or contend with. This realization was a difficult one to arrive at. For a number of years, from my late teens into my early twenties, I would constantly entertain the thought that I might be trans (at the time, the limits of identification rested upon “genderfluid”), but I would frequently be dissuaded, feeling few inklings of bodily dysphoria (as I age, this changes) and no strong desire to dress in the high-femme attire that a number of my transfeminine friends and acquaintances were drawn to (or, as is often the case, were pressured into under the mainstream gendered optics of validity and validation). My experiences of gender and gender-expansivity have always been primarily internal, psycho-emotional, social, and affective, and, then, only secondarily, expressive. As such, the language I could afford to pin to these experiences was invariably failing and faulty. A name resists ineffability, and while it more often than not places one within an entire network of power relations, it can also resist them.
In early 2018, during a time when I was (again) considering a new name, new pronouns, when I was concurrently entering the field of professional interpreting, and around the time when I, too, would be diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, I read the opening line to Solmaz Sharif’s collection of poetry, Look. “It matters what you call a thing,” Sharif writes. The impetus for such a claim was immediately clear–– language does something to the world, and, by extension, to the figures within it. In Look, Sharif examines the ways in which the Department of Defense has appropriated aspects of the English language for the purpose of resignification, to codify and euphemize the ultra-violent actions of the nation-state. In my life, David was busy codifying an adjacency to forms of masculinity that no longer fully resonated within my personal and private ecosystem. If Judith Butler’s analyses of the performative speech act and the performative (ie. the doctor asserts “It’s a boy!” and the baby becomes a boy, the parents assert “It’s a David,” and the baby becomes a David), hold true, I was performing David, but the stage was rotting beneath me.
I found Day at the end of 2018, while driving home through Las Tunas Canyon after a long afternoon of work, the autumnal sun setting at my back. The name occurred to me suddenly and without prompt or preamble. I liked its brevity, that David’s phonetic resonances still echoed within it. I liked that it pushed against binary and binding strictures of appellation. I liked its brightness, the possibility of stepping into a new Day each morning (corny, I know– just let me have this one). Like the writer, Cyrus Dunham, proclaims after changing his name, it was absolutely like falling in love. By the outset of 2019, I began using, requesting, and enforcing the name, as well as the singular they, everywhere I could manage– with my partner, with friends, with my nuclear family, online, at cafés, in my writing, with co-workers. It’s honey quickly dissolved sweetly on my tongue.
Simultaneously, David, and the personage it was supposed to represent, were beginning to feel increasingly discordant. I had, and still have, no qualms with people knowing my legal name (alternatively, my birth name or my deadname), with the caveat that they use my chosen name (alternatively, my name) always and whenever legally possible. While plausible ramifications of writing my deadname publicly are not lost on me (it is, more than some people might recognize, a deeply vulnerable act), I have no strict desire to be secretive about it, necessarily. But David crops up in every corner of my globe. Certain, if not most, family members still insist on calling me David. At work, I’m registered in the computer system as David (Day) Nixon, and, as such, receive emails and texts daily which open with the almost ridiculous salutation, “Good morning David (Day).” Regularly, I am addressed or introduced as David, before I am given the opportunity to introduce myself.
This dance between David and Day continues to galvanize an exceptional amount of discomfort for me, but I’m doubtful that my concern is couched specifically in the knowing of others. It lies, rather, in others knowing without my consent, in others using the name without my consent, using the name against my wishes, having access to an aspect of my history (gendered and otherwise) that I did not elect to share with them. It lies in having no control over David. I often pray, when people speak to me in caveats and codes and euphemisms about their trans friends (“My friend Stephanie, who used to be Steven”), that they don’t speak about me similarly. I know that they probably do.
Then, some months ago, while walking through the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden, my partner and I stumbled upon a crop of daylilies. “What if Day was short for Daylily?” she offered. She pronounced the spell, and there I was, a Daylily in the garden. That addition of “Lily” seemed an appropriate and lovely nod to Lili Elbe, the transfeminine Danish painter (b. 1882), and to Lilley Mountain, in Yosemite Lakes Park, where my grandparents lived throughout my childhood and where my mother was raised. Now, when I am asked if Day is short for something (this is an obsession for some), I tell them exactly this. “Like the flower,” I say.
I discovered DAVID while scanning Twitter early during the COVID-19 nation-wide shelter-in-place order. In the first essay of the series, David Davis writes:
That’s when I began collecting Davids. If Davis is one of the world’s most common last names, David and its iterations must be even more so. I keep a list on my phone. I often talk about someday writing a book to house my Davids. “A Bluets for Davids,” I offer as my pitch, imagining an essay collection about all of the Davids I’ve been exposed to, the people and characters that predated or inform the David(s) that I am now.
“A Bluets for Davids,” I considered, imagining Maggie Nelson collecting her many-hued Davids on the windowsill, watching them over time as they first shimmer, and then become bleached in the glassy daylight, unable to bring herself to move them elsewhere. How beautiful, I thought–– a transmasculine person stepping into the room of David finding, perhaps, what I have found, stepping out.
In his earth-shattering debut collection, The Year of Blue Water, Yanyi writes, “Diana tells me that to be trans or nonbinary is not to be a woman but to be of women…Womanhood is the country I come from, a home I reach back for to reproduce, recreate, replenish.” This is a telling marker for the ways Yanyi might personally locate himself in the world as a transmasculine person, yet the concept is jarring when I first discover it, sitting under a shaft of sunlight at Cuties Café, in Los Angeles. It could mean, conversely (and it’s likely I misinterpret his intention here), that I would therefore be “of men,” that I would have “manhood as a country to come home to.” The framework as applied to my own nonbinary transness comes to be of little use, or, alternatively, of far too much. It, in fact, makes me effectively anxious. On this side, I write to myself a week later, rather dramatically, I have left the valley of men with little interest in return.
Yet, I’m considering now a country of Davids–– replete both with the Davids who resuscitate me, and, conversely, those who disturb me. The Davids of fiction and of real life. I’m considering what it means to fall amongst and to be in legacy with David Wojnarowicz, David Lynch, David Attenbourough, David Bowie, Michaelangelo’s David, David Bowman, David Davis. What would it mean to no longer be a David, but to be of Davids? To be in line with their living. Their dying. Their naming (and amongst the few of us who are lucky enough to participate in the generative process of revision, their renaming). To also be in communion, thus, with the post-Davids of the world.
When I first began to read the DAVID series, I was struck by the grief I felt in the loss of David, not the being (living trans and otherwise gender-expansive people are not dead cis people, no matter how hard cis people try to imagine us as such), but the being part of. Nonetheless, I know, for my sake, health, and overall well being, that I cannot return to public Davidness. David and its gendered ascriptions have been, and remain, on the whole, fairly harmful to me. I am, however, a post-David, of a legacy that only I need to comprehend, that only I need to have access to.
I have yet to change my name legally. The costs and extensive procedures related to name and gender-marker changes can be particularly prohibitive (though, admittedly, less so in California). I nevertheless hope to complete the process soon, if only to be reified, and thereby more invisible to the scrutinous and panoptic eye of ritualized verification (“But what is your real name?”). I do, however, find it imperative to note that the room that I move into is a room is a room is a room, and that no amount of institutional substantiation and reinforcement (via the State, the bank, the Starbucks, etc.) makes the room any more or less so.
It was only after stepping out of the room of David, that I could love the room for what it was, that I could open the room for anyone else searching for a domicile within its walls. It matters what you call a thing, Solmaz Sharif writes. It matters what you call a thing, I read, a shimmering blue stone on the windowsill.
Day Heisinger-Nixon is a nonbinary & disabled poet, essayist, interpreter, and translator. Raised in an ASL-English bilingual home in Fresno, California, Day holds an MA in Deaf Studies from Gallaudet University. Their work has been published in Disability Studies Quarterly and Witness Magazine. They live in Los Angeles with their partner, cat, and a small commune of forever moribund houseplants and edible herbs.