Monday, September 15, 2014

On Zapfletts

When my kids grow up I've decided I'm going to talk to them about the decisions I made about getting married. I have what I feel are good pieces of advice for them, mainly around exactly what 'tulle' is, and the coma inducing pointlessness of spending loads of money on chairs for the service. But above all there are two decision that I'm going to want to be able to point to without any hesitation and say that these were good things.

The first is in my choice of wife. I hope that she's their mother, because otherwise it's an awkward conversation to be starting with them. I hope that she's around still, I hope that they see her not just as their mother, but as a person. I want them to know Jalyss not just as a role, like their teachers or their pet, but as the individual she is. I hope they'll know her as someone I love and respect, who makes me happy, pushes me, teaches me, steadies and comforts me, and who can cook up a mean homemade pizza.

The second thing though is that I want them to know that they are part of a family that wanted them, values and loves them for who they are, and that they will be respected and cherished whatever they do. Unless they're a vampire, because then they're on their own.

I'm being quite serious here. If they ever start living in a coffin, adopting a range of, admittedly rad, capes with high collars, and rise only at dusk to go and feed on the still warm blood of virginal 19th century women as part of a dubious allegory for sexual awakening, I am disinheriting the heck out of them.

I have very strong feelings about vampires, you guys.

But, so long as they steer clear of vampirism, I also want them to know that they are part of a family that spans two continents and three immediate family names. Because as well as being a Willetts and a Zapf, they will also be a Zapfletts.

I've always been pretty adamant that I didn't want Jalyss taking my name. Much like asking permission from her father to marry, I see it as an outdated way of codifying women as property. My wife isn't an object, she isn't defined by me or her father.

Giving her surname up to take mine is denying her the agency to exist as a being separate from myself or her father. To me it suggests that her identity is conditional upon whichever man has responsibility for her, and whilst that works fine in a society or culture which denies women their own identity and agency, I didn't really want the first act of our marriage to be the transfer of ownership from Jalyss' father to me.

Jalyss, whilst not wanting to take my name, would have been quite happy to hyphenate her surname or just keep Zapf.

But I want us to share a name, to be a team, so having us just keep our own names didn't seem a good option. I want us to be linked by that thread of commonality, the unequivocal connectedness of having a shared identity.

I'm going to be honest here; writing this. I find myself getting uncomfortably close to expressing myself in such a way as to make it seem like it was solely my decision that Jalyss change her name. Which would be a betrayal of much of the sentiment behind the name change, as it means her actions were still based on my desire to not have her becomes Mrs Willetts. And so whilst it may look like this is just a groovy, granola eating left wing version of the same white, cis, male privilege showing through, I'd like to really make it clear that this was not the case of me simply coercing Jalyss into taking a new name so I could get my way.

I love Jalyss' maiden name, mainly, it has to be admitted, because it sounds like the noise of a futuristic weapon discharging into the vacuum of space.  So we wanted to maintain it, but I was also really keen that we do so through a gesture; a resolving commitment to one another that as we got married we each became part of a new family.

From Zapf and Willetts came Zapfletts,

Because that, for me, is what marriage is; a commitment to a new family. It's what Jalyss and I are, or at least what I hope we are. And part of that is sharing not just our lives, experiences, joy, frustration, money, passions, hobbies, illnesses, annoyances and mundanities with one another, but setting ourselves apart and distinguishing ourselves by name.

When I married Jalyss I did so knowing that it meant leaving behind a lot of what I had grown up with. I left my culture, my country, my job, friends and family. And I did so to form a new life, and a new family. It won't be the same as the life I had before, and my family will be new too. I've gained brothers and sisters in Jalyss' siblings.

And I've gained a wife, too.

But there's a part of me that also sees myself as having lost something, as well. I won't get to see my nephew grow up. I won't be there for birthdays, holidays, or weekends. I won't get to hang out with my Dad and watch the football, or go out for a cup of tea with my Mom after work. I won't get to irritate my Sister, or hang out with my cousins.

So, part of marrying Jalyss is me getting the opportunity to extend what it means to have a family, and who my family are. I love the grand gesture, and the radical deed. And the most obvious commitment we could make to one another, and to our new family replacing our old, is for a name change that represents that. From the distant, separate lines of Zapfs and Willetts', a brand new one. A joining of two families that creates a third.

I love that. What better way of signalling this new union, this new family than a distinct new break. And what better way of defining ourselves than a new name; one which speaks of where we came from whilst also placing us together.

And so, Zapfletts. I'm looking forward to explaining that to my kids.

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