We Cannot Leave Our Truths for Dead:

Why I Chose to Change My Name and Modify My Pronouns

In this moment, my new name is holding me in its arms. For the first time in a long time, I feel safe in my truth. I’m a black bisexual woman who has decided to change her name, pronouns, foundational relationships, and interior world. Having been raised in a Pentecostal church, I learned it wasn’t safe to be a woman who loved both womxn and men. Much in my life has now been disrupted, and some days, I feel less safe than others. But my new name reminds me the danger was not disrupting my life, it was allowing it to stay the same.

Last year, I took a transformational two-month medical leave less than a full year into my dream job as a social-justice advocate. At the time, I was in the midst of designing a strategy to help business leaders upend capitalism as we know it. One day, I’ll share the whole story of that time away from work.

 For now, I can say that period allowed me to do life-affirming inner work and embody my spiritual beliefs—God is within us, God is love, God loves us all equally. The seed of my new name was planted then: Sloane Kali Faye. A way of sealing the rite of passage that powerful time allowed me to complete.

The arduous emotional journey showed me the beauty of giving your all to the pursuit of something that enlivens you. And it moves me deeply to know that I have come so far in my journey that the person I loved so much, and was literally willing to die for, was me.

I want to be able to say I have given everything I can for the collective healing of the communities that I belong to, and that belong to me. Our truths, the truths of historically oppressed and marginalized groups, have always mattered—but now, I feel the importance more acutely.

When your living truth offends power structures—like white, western, cis-het, white, male authorities—it is safer to hide or contort your life to make it more palatable for mass consumption. But I have suffered enough in my life. My people have suffered enough. Pretending to be something I’m not is not worth the pain.

Recently, I was exhausted from overworking. I had another big work deliverable due within an unrealistic amount of time. Not being able to finish would disappoint many notable people. But my whole body said no—and I racked my brain about it with my closest friends, wondering whether or not I should push through and force my productivity or allow myself to rest and regroup. I ultimately chose the latter.

When I told my friend Akua that I felt proud for trusting my body, but still slightly guilty for upsetting my colleagues, she shared a saying that settled me. “You know what my grandmother used to say: All I can give you is the truth.”

When you have given your truth, there is nothing left to give. The truth does not merit justification, but respect. Here is why I changed my name and pronouns. This is all I have to give, and like the new me, it is enough.

 

The Meaning of My New Name: Sloane Kali Faye

Standing in my full power means standing in my truth as Sloane Kali Faye. Black people name our children based on the way the sound makes us feel, and I like the way the sound of “Sloane” makes me feel: certain, humble, and empowered. I was always moved by Audre Lorde’s self-description as a warrior. “Sloane” is a Celtic word that means warrior; claiming this name feels like I’m claiming my inheritance. I feel like I’m now cashing in on the spiritual trust fund my ancestors held for me until I was ready to receive.

“Kali” is the name of a Hindu Goddess who intimidated me as much as she intrigued me. She is known as the mother, preserver, and destroyer. She slays attachments and illusions in the maya (illusory nature) of the material world.

My spiritual journey expanded powerfully during my leave. I practiced extreme self-care to address health challenges. During that time, I connected with the maternal and conservationist sides of Kali and learned to welcome and be grateful for the illusions she continues to help me release.

Painful illusions are always rooted in fear. I know fear will always resurface, like I know Kali will never leave me. This article is an offering to her. I choose to lead a life knowing this Goddess watches over and blesses my every move.

“Faye” is my mother’s middle name. My mom is from Mississippi. Even though her first name is Donna, everyone on her side of the family calls her Faye. I love the sound of this name, too.

I remember being a little girl, maybe younger than eight. I looked up from the piece of paper I was writing on and said: “Mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a writer.” And I very vividly remember her face lighting up with a smile, as she nodded her head yes. I can see that moment so clearly today. I appreciate my mother for blessing that dream with her affirmation and delight.

Taking on the name Faye as my last name feels like a way of honoring the blood that runs through the veins of all the women that came before me, knowing that my matrilineal (mitochondrial) DNA will never change. I am grateful for these southern roots that trace back to the Fulani in Guinea Bissau, Kru in Liberia, and Mende and Temne in Sierra Leone.

 

Modifying My Pronouns

I am also modifying my pronouns. Before, my pronouns were she/her. Now, I go by she/they. I move through life as a cis-het, hetero-presenting black woman. I mustered enough social and cultural capital to become the first person in my family to earn a PhD, and a high-paying, high-power professional position as B Lab’s Director of Inclusive Economies.

Every day, because of the way our current economic system and racialized social hierarchy are structured, I avoid taking a hit that someone farther from power bears the brunt of. The little I can do to reform this beastly economic system, I will. But I know that without structural transformation, it will continue to function according to its design: subjugating a working class to empower a ruling class.

LGBTQIIA+ communities around the world continue to be disproportionately impacted by racism and class oppression. It was black womxn from these same LGBTQIIA+ communities, from poor and working-class backgrounds, who expressed the black feminist consciousness that opened my eyes to a truth that made me whole—I am entitled to see myself as the authority on my life and trust and regard myself accordingly.

If I see myself through the eyes of self-appointed authorities that would damage my psyche—only to protect an idealized image of themselves—I will see myself as useless, with the exception of serving as a stepping stool.

Minna Salami’s Sensuous Knowledge, a meditation on the emancipatory power of African feminism, explains the danger of black womxn not defining ourselves on our own terms: “We become a figure in the background of our lives, never really looking at the world with our point of view. Yet never placing myself (however constructed that self is) at the center of my worldview is the most harmful way for a black woman to live. I remain the ‘other’ even to myself.”

When I learned, at 35 years old and through deep trauma work, that I was bisexual, it unlocked something profound within me. I saw a part of myself crying from shame, telling me she had been scared to come out to me all this time for fear I would be upset.

Well, actually, it was more than crying. The sobs that came from her caused her to tremble. A traumatized part of me was still experiencing the pain viscerally, even as she was now free. I think she was scared I might put her back in the dungeon of my subconscious. She had lived there so long. She thought that was where she belonged.

This part of me saw herself as another problem in my life on top of a pile of problems. She felt my pain through the floorboards of my heart, in that dungeon; she knew I was struggling and did not want to make what she felt was already a challenging life any harder for me. She hid herself to protect me from me.

I go by both “she/her” and “they/them” now as a way of calling in all the selves that I have shamed and violently repressed for the security of social conformity. It is a way of letting that suppressed part of my sexual identity know that I will never send her back to that dungeon, because she deserves the space to be herself and thrive. She deserves to experience a life worth living, not hiding.

There’s an African proverb: “A person is a person through other people.” I know that I did not earn my position and power through sheer will, or all alone. “They/them” is a way of choosing to embrace and learn from the parts of myself that social pressure would have me disown. It is also a way of acknowledging the fact that I am a person through other people.

My body is simply the latest physical manifestation of all the ancestors that came before me. And there will be a point in time when I return to spirit to make room for the future ancestors. I want my ancestral memory to enliven liberation, joy, and truth in future generations of black womxn.

 

Embodying My Truth, Reclaiming Hope

“But can I really change my name? I mean—who does that?” I asked myself this question many times, in many ways. Eventually, the rationale crystallized for me: I cannot do the work I am called to do in the world while hiding from myself.

Rechristening myself allowed me to reclaim my hope for the world: that we recognize supremacy in any form as a danger to us all. The most insidious aspects of imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy are structurally ingrained and beyond any one person’s ability to dismantle. This system destroys black lives every day, in every way black bodies can be destroyed.

I will not let it destroy the life my heart feels destined to live as Sloane Kali Faye. I possess me—not capitalist-constructed consumerist desires, feelings of gendered inferiority, or racial myths of my pre-ordained subjugation. I am mine. I belong to me, and you belong to you.

The thought of my new name has given me such peace despite the turmoil taking it on has caused inside. I know even the wildest waves return to stillness in their own time. I choose to go by Sloane Kali Faye now because I choose me. I choose to live my truth, and not leave it for dead.

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Sloane Kali Faye’s writings have appeared in The BBC, BTheChange, PolicyLink, and 2030. A member of the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop as well as a student at Sarah Lawrence College’s Writing Institute and NYU’s Narrative Storytelling Program, Sloane is a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project and recently won their “Write to Change the World” scholarship.

Photo by Autumn Goodman on Unsplash

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