"To wrap something in stories rather than logic is to let words work at its strangeness rather than at its credibility." — Robin Evans
Gasoline Alley, by Frank King. January 30th, 1924
The name "Jean" was in the top 20 baby names for girls from 1922 to 1936, peaking at #12 in the late 20s. When my gran was born in 1918, her parents gave her a family name, "Imogene", inherited from a female relative who had gone by "Gene". At some point, possibly even right after she was born, they called her the cool nickname of the moment: Jean. Her name was never legally changed from Imogene, but in an era before strict regulation of identity, it never became a big deal: her legal documents, passport, tax identification, etc. all had her name as Jean Rose Cozzens.
Sixty years after her birth, her eldest son named his first-born child and only daughter Jean. Hey, that's me!
A little more than thirty years after that, sometime in February of 2009, I had the startling revelation that I didn't actually have to be a girl, and that it might work out a lot better for me to live as a boy in the world. That understanding and its repercussions have pushed me to explore and create a path for myself that's been continuously revelatory, challenging, complicated, and difficult... and that has allowed me to become a more complex & more complete human being.
Girl-ness always sat uncomfortably on my shoulders: I was always feeling that (on one hand) I wasn't measuring up to a set standard, and that (on the other hand) I was trying to be something I wasn't, something I didn't understand how to really be. I was proud of being a "weird girl", and I still am proud of myself for having had the strength to struggle with that girl-ness for so long.
Now, as a queer trans guy who doesn't really fit society's idea of an acceptable "masculine" man, I think I'll probably always retain my "weirdness" & the awareness/outsiderness that that weirdness carries with it. Through gender transition, I'm hoping to create a more comfortable territory in the world (for me and for others), and to create myself as someone who I recognize when I see myself in pictures or catch sight of myself in the mirror. It's an ongoing journey, which has had / is having tumultuous echoes through my life & my work, that I will probably be navigating for a long time... but despite (because of?) the complexity, it's pretty amazing to have a more integral and unified understanding of who I am in the world, and to be able to be present in my body and have agency over how I am perceived.
shirts from the thrift store...
I started going by "he", "him", etc, in the fall of 2009... but I didn't want to change my name, because I really liked (and still like) it. As a kid, I remember thinking many times, "My name is the best, because it could be for a boy or a girl!" I identified with it strongly, partly because it didn't feel like a "girl's" name to me, partly because it was just my name, partly because of identifying with Joan of Arc, partly because it was my gran's name and I am honored to be named after her.
As a grownup, though, I found myself wanting a more definitively masculine version of my name. I don't speak French, so I felt that I couldn't legitimately claim the French pronunciation of "Jean" as a male name, and I've never liked the "Gene" spelling... At a certain point, after more than a year of existing publicly as "Jean the boy", or "Jean, he...", I realized that I wanted a name that would identify me right away to people as male.
So, as of the beginning of 2011, I've been in the process of giving up my classic awesome 1920s-era girl's name: my new name is Ian Gilpin Cozzens (the middle & last names are family names, same as they've always been). Changing the name you are called by is definitely a crazy thing to wrap your mind around... it shakes the ground, to say the least. However, Ian comes from the Jean/Joan/John root, carries on the Scottish heritage that came from my gran's side of the family, and sounds similar enough to Jean so I don't get more confused than I already am! Also, Ian feels extremely romantic and adventurous to me, and it's a fine name for a boy but also a good name for a man — it feels like a name that I can grow up into.
Most of my gender-identity-figuring-out-&-transition process so far has been a messy combination of "letting time go by and hoping I figure things out along the way" and "jumping off a high rock and hoping I land safely in the clear cold water of the lake below". Taking the precarious step of giving myself a new name, being startled to hear it every day, being delighted again every time I hear it, having it slowly become closer and closer to ordinary.... it's a typical example of the strange mix of simple everyday-ness and sheer terror / precipitous decision-making that has characterized many aspects of my life for the past two years.
On the pragmatic side, for now, my legal name is still Jean Cozzens, for financial & other purposes that demand identification by the state or institutions. Older parts of this website will probably still refer to me as Jean, there's all the internet history of links and press naming me as Jean, and I'm sure there will forever be some confusion about what my name is, which ultimately is okay. Ian, Jean: both mean me.
I'm the same person I always have been — bike rider, drawer, printmaker, reader, a big nerd for art & buildings & silkscreening, part of my family and part of my Providence community of friends — and I'm a person who's constantly changing. So are you, at the very moment you are reading this; and so is everybody. I'm psyched to acknowledge my confusing existence at the intersection of consistency and contradiction. I hope you're excited to be here also. It's a pretty interesting and powerful place to be — if we run into each other here, let's get a coffee and sit down & talk about it all...
Sitting outside in midwinter, falafel & dolma pocket, pink bandana, hair with a mind of its own.
n.b. this update was written February 2011. should be relevant for a while, but keep in mind that everything changes / is subject to change. and I am not always the fastest at website updatin'.... !