Community The Power and Importance of Name and Identity

by the editorial team at Citi | October 17, 2020

A name is a central part of one’s identity — it is integral to our sense of individuality and belonging.

Being seen is the beginning of everything. That’s why at Citi we’re giving our transgender and non-binary customers the choice to have account profiles and credit cards that match who they are — learn more here.

A person’s name is on everything from legal documents and financial accounts to emails and social media profiles. According to a report from the Institute for the Study of Child Development, using your own name is self-representational behavior, similar to recognizing yourself in a mirror. 

That’s why the recognition of a person’s true identity by others is a pivotal step toward real inclusion for transgender and non-binary people.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), a social justice advocacy organization working to create policy change for transgender people, 70% of people within the transgender community go by a name other than their given, legal name. The acceptance and correct use of a person’s chosen name and pronouns is key to recognizing their true identity. 

Name recognition is not only a matter of identity, but also of safety and access. Many  transgender and non-binary people have chosen names — names they have decided to identify with that differ from the name they were given at birth. 

NCTE has found that nearly one-third of individuals whose name on their identification did not match their gender presentation reported negative experiences including harassment, denial of services or an attack. 

Life and Money by Citi had the opportunity to discuss the importance of identity, personal acceptance and allyship with Sarah Schlindwein. Schlindwein, 28, is a transgender woman who lives in Tucson, AZ, and is an onboarding specialist for new hires and remote workers at Citi.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Sarah: My name is Sarah. I'm a trans woman. I've been in transition for about three years now.

I started working with Citi in June of 2019. I am working in a work-at-home support role to get new hires set up with their equipment and help them on the path to success when they start their jobs. Next, I’m looking to be a unit manager or a trainer at Citibank.

Outside of work I like to hike. I love woodworking — I make pendants, lamps, pens. I just love being around nature.

How did you come to understand and discover your true identity?

Sarah: I always had this feeling that I should be different. I had a name, yeah, and I had my physical body. That was good, but I was starting to realize that there was just something that was missing. And so, at the age of 12 I found out about the whole trans community, what it is, and really started to explore that. And even so, it took me years to find an identity.

I've found more of myself in the last three years than I have in the last 25. I'm still trying to find that identity, it’s evolving and I'm still trying new things. I'm still wearing different things, trying different hairstyles. I'm still trying to find myself.

Portrait of Sarah Schlindwein in downtown Tucson, Arizona.

What does identity mean to you now?

Sarah: Identity, itself, is everything you do, everything you want to be and everything that makes you happy. And that's why it's still ever-changing. Will I ever find the end to identity? Honestly, I don't think so. Because identity itself is just who you are and who you want to be.

How does name play a role with identity and in your life?

Sarah: It’s important to me because that name is how I communicate. I'm Sarah. My name given at birth was a mold that I couldn't fit. Sarah is that freeform person that I'm still working on. So names are important.

But that name, it gives that identity as of that moment. Not maybe in the final identity, if that makes sense. It's just the identity at that moment. So if I go to the cashier and say, my name is Sarah, my identity at that moment is how I present myself and my name.

Can you talk us through your experience with your chosen name?

Sarah: I chose my name way back when I was 14 or 15. I was working at one of my first jobs, and there was this cool chick that I just really liked. And I really wanted to be that. I wanted to have that whole attitude, be as pretty as she was. Her name was Sarah — that's how I ended up choosing my name.

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Identity, itself, is everything you do, everything you want to be and everything that makes you happy.
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After I had chosen the name and decided to tell people I was trans, I found this really great identity center that was free to join. It’s where I began meeting people who were part of the LGBTQ+ community, including many trans people. That’s where I started to present my true self and started outwardly using the name Sarah.

In the beginning, I used my birth name. They ask you for a pronoun, and my first answer was, I don't care. But, as time went on there, as my transition went on, I kind of put on, “OK, I am Sarah. This is me.” And then my pronouns were she, her, hers. So that's how I started to mold into that.

A lot of people don’t have that environment where they can test out something as important as a name. I luckily had that. And so that allowed me to try it in a safe environment and really get it going.

How does using your chosen name — like on your credit card for example — or even digitally impact you and make you feel? Is it becoming more commonplace?

Sarah: Having the name on the card is very important to me. It’s important to a lot of trans people. This is just one more step I'll be able to do to make myself feel comfortable in this process. It's a good medium to start saying, “Hey, I am this person. Here's my card.”

It also helps me feel safe to make sure that I'm not going to put myself in danger or I don't have to worry about getting bad service. There were times where I did have to present my ID. I was treated differently afterwards. It went from a very friendly environment to a get-out-of-my-store environment.

Portrait of Sarah Schlindwein in Tucson, Arizona.

What do you think is the most important way allies can support the transgender community?

Sarah: Stand up, protect and educate. The first one, to me, is the most important.

Allies work to protect the trans community and to create a safe environment for them to be who they are, without them being fearful to be who they are.

An ally is more than someone who says that they support the LGBTQ+ community but then does nothing to actually help the community. It's nice to come to rallies and say, “Hey, I'm a supporter.” But protect them, stand up for them. 

What guidance or mentorship was most helpful when you faced challenges?

Sarah: I get a lot of my confidence from other trans people who put themselves out there. The fact that they’ve said, “I am this” — they became my mentors in their own way. I respect all of them and it’s our responsibility to support and empower one another.

I also realize that their journey was different than mine, and that's actually a big thing in the trans community that a lot of people don't know right away. Sure, we're on a similar journey but your journey is different than mine. So while I got to be around them, and I got to have that safe spot, I also have to look to myself for my own development.

And what advice would you give to someone who is facing some of the challenges you have gone through with identity?

Sarah: My biggest advice is to start small.

I would tell them that the relationship with yourself is extremely important, and people have different ways of approaching that. The biggest thing I’ve had to face when it comes to myself is confidence. I've had to get rid of my own biases.

I did that by trying to understand my relationship with myself. I would look in the mirror, literally, and reflect by talking to myself and ask, “Hey, I understand you feel this way. Why?” It took me a long time to get this kind of mentality of confidence. And there are some days I still break down. So you can be a very strong individual and you can stay confident, but it takes time to get there.

It’s also important to build a safe spot and build a network of friends. You can build up that confidence in that safe spot. Then, you can start to realize that the only opinion that matters is your own. Once you figure out that, you can start stepping out of those safe spots with that same confidence.

It's not going to be overnight. You have to build that confidence overtime until you’re ready to say, “OK, I've got this today. I don't care what anybody else does today. I've got this.”

Being seen is the beginning of everything. That’s why at Citi we’re giving our transgender and non-binary customers the choice to have account profiles and credit cards that match who they are — learn more here.

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The biggest thing I’ve had to face when it comes to myself is confidence. I've had to get rid of my own biases.
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