Before September 11, 2001, all I had to do was tell people there was a typo on my birth certificate, and they would use my actual name. On occasion, I would show a driver's license or other document to prove my sincerity. When I moved to Maryland in 2003, the Motor Vehicle Administration here simply transferred the information from my old New Jersey license onto a new Maryland one. I don't know why there was an issue, 5 years later, when I went to renew it. They insisted that all documents had to match; and because they'd begun scanning and storing this information, I would have to provide a birth certificate that matched, exactly, all of my others IDs. And so I requested that the state of Florida change my name. To Adrian. So that a piece of paper reflected reality. Weird, right? I know!
Today, for only the second time—and the last—I have legally changed my name. This time, the last name. It's one of those things I didn't really consider at first. All those years of struggling to gain access to marriage equality...in the beginning, it was purely a fairness and justice issue for me. I was single, with only the hope of one day finding the right guy and no viable prospects around. Having to change my name was least of the things I thought about when dreaming of marriage equality. Fast forward several years from then—I remained a committed activist but also became half of a committed couple. Once gay couples gained access to marriage rights in Maryland, what would I do with my name after getting married?
I fantasized about many different options, some more realistic than others. What if we both changed our names to something different? What if we combined our current last names...just smoosh them together and take a few letters out? Hilliham? Grilliard? Would we hyphenate? If so, whose name would go first? The younger one's? Would we put them in alphabetical order? What would the new names sound like? Joel has a PhD, so he's earned the right to be called "Dr."; how would my name sound with a title, should I ever get one other than "Mr."? What would it look like in print, if I ever publish anything, as he has? If we had the same name, would answering a land-line phone, should we ever get one at home, be impossible? (Which Mr. X do you want?!?) Well, we decided pretty early on that Joel wouldn't be changing his name, so the theoretical change would be up to me if it was to happen. After all, we wouldn't be required to change anything...many people don't these days! The choice was mostly mine then.
I did not want a hyphenated name. That just wasn't appealing to me at all. The next best option in my mind was just to have a double last name, so the choice became whether my name should come first or his. I chose to have mine first, and immediately after being married I updated all of my social media profiles to have my new name: Adrian Hilliard Graham. I read somewhere that Maryland considers actual usage when determining the legitimacy of a name change (outside of the whole marriage process), so I began using Hilliard Graham everywhere.
But people still called me Mr. Graham. And I didn't mind. When Joel and I checked into our hotel suite the night before the wedding, I asked the guy at the front desk to look up the reservation under Hilliard. He couldn't find it. I took a deep breath so as not to get frustrated—we had a wedding block staying there, of course we had a reservation!—and then I asked him to look under the name Graham. Eureka! "Adrian and Joel?," he said. "Yes!," I exclaimed. He checked us in, told us to call if we needed anything, etc. And then he said, "Have a good evening, Mr. Graham." For a split second, I wanted to say "No, it's Hilliard. His name is Graham. And it's Dr." Why? Because I was exhausted, and feeling snarky, and I have grown accustomed to correcting confused people. But instead, I paused and let his words sink in, and I realized that I would be getting married the next morning (!), and this man's "mistake" gave me a visceral understanding of what that could mean. Starting a new life...taking on a new identity as a married man...taking on a new name...
Being a gay couple comprised of one white man and one black man, we, by default, bring a lot of diversity to our relationship and we present such to the world at large. Some day (no, not this year!) we hope to adopt children, and who knows what their ethnic or racial makeup might be. The world we inhabit being such as it is, our children will already have certain challenges to face simply because of who their parents are. Of all the reasons I could come up with for a unified family name, this was the best. Both Joel and I want to ensure that no matter the background(s) of our future children, there's something concrete that ties us all together and gives us strength as a family. The first thing that will do that is love, because love is most important of all. But the next thing will be our name. Of course, having the same name doesn't mean much at all without love; and the presence of love can overcome even differences in names to create the bonds of family. But every little thing helps!
So I let all of that sink in and soaked it up for several days. A few weeks, actually. It was only a few days ago that I settled on moving my last name to a second middle name and adopting his last name as my own. I was still considering the double last name thing, telling myself that I could use both or either, depending on the circumstance, and I didn't want to feel like I was losing my identity altogether. I guess I could still use both, but my legal last name will be the same as my husband's. In Maryland, you first have to acquire a certified copy of the marriage license showing both names, then you have to go the the Social Security Administration and have them update your name in their records and issue a new card, then you have to go to the MVA and have them update your state-issued ID, and THEN you can change everything else. I'd hoped to get everything done today, but apparently the SSA needs 48 hours to completely update their records electronically, so I have to wait a few days before I can get a new driver's license. In the meanwhile, I will begin tackling the rest of my life.
It feels good to have come to this place. It feels...legitimate. And legitimizing. I would never admit to needing legitimization, but having received it I can say however that it feels really good! Of course my activism does not stop here; there are so many more battles to be fought. But I can pause for a while and savor the moment, for as long as possible! And yes, I am still glowing! It feels good to be married. It feels good to wear my new name. It's going to take me a long while to get used to it, and to get other people used to it, but it feels damn good.
Adrian L. H. Graham
And for fun, an April 2013 video from Billy and Pat!