I never know my name anymore.
A few months ago, I was at sex educator friend’s party getting high out of a homemade bong and listening to Dark Side of the Moon. It was the most high school moment of my life — particularly so because, aside from meeting boys off the internet in mall parking garages, I never did anything terribly forbidden in high school. Amidst dramatic readings of Sextrology and attempts at acting out #buttstuff in charades, a woman I’d never met arrived at the party and asked my name.
As I often do these days, I hesitated.
The same thing happened at the airport coming home from Woodhull, when the restaurant hostess asked for a name to reserve a table. It happened when I visited Lorax at work and their co-worker asked who I was, and then again after Mystery Box Show when my blogger friend introduced me to someone as “Piph” at the exact moment I was stumbling over my legal name.
Each time, my train of thought follows the same pattern. Why inconvenience them with my silly sex blogger name? They won’t know how to spell it, pronounce it, conceptualize it. They won’t accept it knowing it began as a pseudonym, or worse, they’ll think I’m full of myself for daring to go by it.
Back at the party, she sensed my trepidation. Offering a warm smile that instantly put me at ease, she told me to give her the name that felt most true in that moment.
So I said it: “Epiphora. You can call me Piph.”
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The name began as a measure of anonymity. I chose it in 2007, needing a screen name for my account on a sex toy retail website. If my name could begin with any letter of the alphabet, I figured, I’d choose E. If it could be derived from anything, it would be poetry. So I browsed literary terms starting with E until I found one I liked.1 A year later, when I went to start a blog, the name followed me to this domain, and Twitter, and before long, it was what people knew me as.
For years, Epiphora was an online-only presence, but things changed when I started meeting and befriending other sex bloggers. Suddenly I found myself in a world in which calling someone “Girly Juice” was not only accurate, but necessary. In which you’d never ask someone’s legal name unless you were mailing them a package, and then you’d promptly forget it. I started dating a fellow sex blogger, calling them exclusively by their pseudonym, Aerie, which has become their preferred name. To them, I have always been and always will be Epiphora.
That’s when the name became truly mine. When I began forming relationships under it. When I began answering to it across hallways and saying it into microphones. It’s one thing to receive emails addressed to Epiphora; it’s another to hear the name spoken as a direct address. I still remember the rush of validation I felt when my sex blogger friends first referred to me as “Piph” and when the SheVibe crew christened me “Piphy Pants.”
I remember that validation because I still feel it every time someone uses that name for me.
Now, half my friends either don’t know my legal name, or know it and actively disregard it in favor of calling me Epiphora. My legal name is still my name too, but just as “Piph” would sound odd coming from my childhood friend’s lips, my legal name sounds wrong from sex industry folks. Context is everything. In the company of sex-positive people, my instinct is to be Epiphora. At Starbucks or at the vet, I’m still my legal name.
Unless I’m at Starbucks with a sex blogger, in which case they’re gonna have to try to spell Epiphora on my cup.
– – –
I use the phrase “legal name” consciously. I hate the word “real,” especially in front of anything big: “name,” “life,” “me.” Epiphora is not the name I was given in 1986, in my mother’s arms at the hospital. But should that moment define what people call me for the rest of my existence?
It’s not even an anonymity issue at this point — I don’t care about that. It’s that Epiphora is actually one of my names, and it’s willful ignorance (if not willful rudeness) to act otherwise. A couple weeks ago, returning from a conference where people exclusively referred to me as “Piph,” I was jarred when the owner of an adult company left me a flustered voicemail. “OK, now I’m totally confused,” it began, “because I don’t know if I should call you [legal name], or Piph, or Epiphora. I’m bewildered here.”
I was amazed. This man, in an industry dominated by performer names and nom de plumes, was perplexed by me using my legal name on my personal voicemail. Nights before, I had shaken his hand and confidently introduced myself as Epiphora. Where was the confusion coming from? Why waste your energy being flabbergasted when you could simply respect the name I gave you myself?
I’ve worked hard to establish this name. I’ve been published, cited, and interviewed under it for years. Nearly a decade, actually. I’m protective of Epiphora, because she is my creation — online, a scrupulously-edited version of myself, but in person, just myself (well, with added eyeliner). What people don’t realize is that Epiphora is who I am whether or not I’m shoving dildos up my vagina. She is also human, also fallible. She is still me.
Last Christmas, my mom got me a necklace with a typewriter key pendant. It was the letter E.
– – –
I’m always struggling to prove my legitimacy under this name. Facebook doesn’t believe me. Google+ doesn’t believe me. Advertisers don’t believe me; once they find out my legal name they start using it despite me signing every damn email Epiphora. In one particularly upsetting example, I gave an interview to Women’s Health and then was told they couldn’t use any of my quotes, as the editors don’t allow “anonymous sources.”
This is obviously bullshit, because the world already accepts aliases. Actors use stage names all the time and we don’t give a fuck. We are fine with mononyms like Beyoncé, Lorde, and Rihanna. We accept Snoop Doggy Dogg becoming Snoop Dogg becoming Snoop Lion. But with sex bloggers,2 thanks to slut-shaming and sex negativity and patriarchy, there’s a stigma. Our words carry no weight. We’re seen as people obfuscating the truth, “hiding” behind “personas,” whose opinions can’t possibly be trusted because we don’t have the guts to write under our “real” names. We must be ashamed of what we do, because sharing our sex lives is inherently shameful.
It’s easy to think that, I imagine. It’s easy for people to draw that line, to stand on the side of birth certificates and drivers’ licenses and accouterments of so-called legitimacy, to contend that people on the other side aren’t being authentic. It’s a protective gesture, and I get it. You can’t feel superior to other people without making a moral judgment.
But until we live in a world in which our parents, co-workers, and dentists can appreciate our work in the adult industry, many will continue to use pseudonyms. Sometimes those pseudonyms will become our names. These names deserve as much respect as any, and fuck you if you disregard them like they’re nothing.
– – –
Epiphora is my name when I say it is, when it feels right, when the sound makes sense coming from my mouth and yours. My original name has a different sound on the tongue. It sounds true, but it also sounds easy. I did not toil, write, and hustle for that name. I did nothing to receive it. It was given, not chosen. A gift, not an accomplishment.
Epiphora is the sound of validation. It’s my name in print. It’s Tristan Taormino introducing me to the audience. It’s Lorax’s voice whining “Piphhhhh” across the room at me. It’s the sound of recognition. Of reverence. Of having achieved something, created something out of nothing, made a living for myself doing something I love.
It’s the sound of earning it.