Hello! If you’re reading this, then I’ve probably directed you to this webpage after you asked me why/how I chose my name. That, or you guessed the URL at random. Either way, welcome!
I didn’t always know that I was nonbinary – but I certainly always knew that something was different about me, and that I didn’t really identify with my deadname at all. I often tried out nicknames, especially in early diary entries or bits of writing that I did, but never really settled on anything that I truly loved. That all changed when I turned 13 and got introduced to a television show called The Tribe.
I’d always been an odd child, stoic and thoughtful and poetic even when I had no business being poetic. For example, I remember being caught in a huge downpour with my mum and exclaiming how beautiful it was, only to be told that I was being weird and to shut up. In fact, the term “odd child” came mostly from her.
But switching to Channel 5 on a Saturday morning and finding a show all about young people who – after all the adults in the world had died – were finally free to express themselves with makeup and care for the planet the way that our parents never did? I was hooked, and my deep-and-meaningful (and incredibly autistic) brain found a special interest to latch on to.
Through the five seasons of that show I discovered a lot about myself through the characters and stories that unfolded on my screen – from a love and respect for the planet and an interest in growing food, through to a moral code on how to treat others fairly and with respect.
I dreamed of running away to New Zealand and living in a bungalow, growing food and helping people. But I was a young teenager, and I had neither the language nor the means to make change in my life – so I locked the cage on Kestral and let her fester while I continued to grow into a painful and awkward young man.
I didn’t always know that I was nonbinary. Except… I kind of did. But I also kind of didn’t. I knew who I wanted to be – I had a very clear image in my head of what Kestral Gaian looked like, the kind of person she could be, but I had no idea how to get there, and the word ‘transgender’ wasn’t part of my vocabulary for a long time.
I tried to keep loving nature – I always loved birds, and wrote so many poems and stories about the way that birds and humans interact on this planet that we all share. I vowed to myself that if I ever got to choose my own name, I’d choose the name of the bird that I loved and admired the most.
Lightbulbs eventually came on inside my head. My understanding of the world and gender increased. I learned, and grew, and finally worked out what I needed to do to be the person that I had always dreamed of being. But this isn’t that story. This is the story of my name. And when I finally decided I was ready to choose a new name I could only really think of one first name and surname combination that worked for me.
Kestral – my favourite bird, majestic, flying overhead and watching all below with a keen eye. Never cruel, never cowardly, but always curious. Moving with thought and deliberation.
Gaian – meaning “of the earth” or “of the earth mother” and the name of one of the tribes from The Tribe, where members picked names based on their favourite animals. They took the name ‘Gaian’ as a promise to treat the planet – and each other – with respect and dignity. I took the name with that same intent.
The track above is a poem that I turned into a choral piece with my good friend Tiasu, being performed here by the Melbourne Women’s Choir in 2015. It tells the story of the duality of my name: Kestral, the bird, and Gaian, the earth on which humans live, living and co-existing in harmony.
Give it a listen. There’s a page of my life in every note – a story in those words that has been so many years in the making. I am Kestral Gaian. I am me.
“That all sounds great“, you’re thinking, “but how come you’ve spelled your first name Kestral and not Kestrel? My autocorrect keeps getting it wrong!“
Well spotted! You’re right – I don’t spell my first name the same way as the name of the type of bird. This was totally deliberate… to honour a total accident. I first tried out the name Kestral when I was 13, back in my early Tribe watching days, and my spelling was awful. On the first few pieces of writing I did under that name I spelled it “Kestral Gaian” and so, when it came to finally letting the real me out of that cage I’d locked myself in, I decided to honour my teenage self and the identity I had so longed to step into.
Autocorrect can change. But me? Now I’m out of my cage, I’m never going back.