There was a wonderful series of events organised in Newcastle recently: a Trans_Formation residency, during which I. JORDAN came to town to host and facilitate various things aimed at trans and non-binary artists in the north east.
Having only a vaguely held dream of DJing around the city, I didn’t attend many of the events in question, if only because they didn’t feel that relevant to me. But I did go to an event hosted by the Lubber Fiend, for which JORDAN was in conversation with TAAHLIAH.
The conversation was fascinating, not least for the ways that both artists candidly discussed the pressures and stresses of transitioning in public, passed the initial starting point of a career. How to navigate a wider public’s tendency to misgender you? How do deal with photographic representations that may catch you at a certain point in your becoming that you know you will later rather forget?
I found a lot of this particularly relevant to my own circumstances of late. (For example, JORDAN suggested that the best way to get out of a face that is in the process of changing is to simply hide it; something more readily accepted amongst music producers but which isn’t generally possible in the land of publishing — due to convention, it seems, more than anything else.) But it also made me reflect on the ways of my experience diverges or otherwise finds itself widening holes that others might otherwise hope to cover over.
Over the last week or so, I have entertained the idea of using another name: Mattie. It’s actually not a new name for me. It is how all my friends used to refer to me when I was at school. The question of why an “-ie” rather than a “-y” was occasionally asked, since it is more closely associated with more feminine names — Mattie being a more common shortening of Matilda, for instance, rather than of Matthew. I didn’t really think about it, although things could be a lot different now if I had done; as a sixteen year old, it was no doubt clear to all that I liked the more feminine association, but I never gave myself the permission needed to affirm that fact any further beyond an affectionate nickname.
When I later dropped “Mattie”, on arriving at university, I think the intention was also to do away with a name that sounded somewhat immature. The addition of an extra vowel sound to the otherwise more formal “Matt” seemed like something it was necessary to discard in favour of something shorter, sweeter and more professional. And it is regrettably along this same line of thinking that I find myself feeling uneasy about re-adopting this new name now. I’m not sure I would like the name “Mattie” to appear on the covers of books or articles. But I know I would like my friends to refer to me by this name from now on regardless.
Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe “Mattie” is a fine name to adorn any sort of publication. But then there is also, of course, the matter of consistency. It is useful to have a “professional” name that is less a sign of identity than a consistent marker for categorisation — a name that is explicitly given an “author function”, in Foucault’s sense, which necessary transcends the identity of the person writing. Maybe “Matt” has already acquired an author-function that I can leave by the wayside, as I go about a life not lived in print.
But there is a further irony here, which relates more explicitly to the problems explored by JORDAN and TAAHLIAH: although my work to date falls under one authorial signifier or another (“Matt Colquhoun”; “xenogothic”), this same work is expressly concerned with the problems of a subjective indeterminacy.
Xenogothic was adopted as a blogonym in order to affirm a slippery subcultural identity — that of being a goth — which was only ever proximally relevant to my broader interests. (I like disco too much, I often felt, to be a goth proper.)
Initially, I wrote about this kind of slippage as it related to another. My first book, Egress, explored the ways that the author-function of Mark Fisher (the “Fisher function”) came to be dissolved into a formless communal orientation that others were capable of (and, indeed, felt they needed to) take up for themselves.
My next book, Narcissus in Bloom, deals with a similar movement in an entirely new context, asking how the medium of photography functions as both an inventory of subjective determinacy and indeterminacy, through its various social, aesthetic and administrative uses and abuses, as well as their inherent limitations.
Is it significant that all of these explorations are gathered under a single name? Does it matter that this name may not, for much longer, cohere with the person I otherwise am to those who know and love me? Does an inchoate body of work that cannot help but narrate its own inconsistencies and instabilities really require formal designation outside the mechanisms of marketing and the publishing industry?
Who knows. Time will tell. But these are the questions that I feel preoccupied with as of late. Maybe I’ll just end up writing another book about them.