I will begin by introducing myself. My name is Riley Meira Chang.

In Jewish tradition, we take our names from past relatives, whose spirits we wish to honor as we go about our lives. There is something beautiful about this tradition—compiling hopes, dreams, and aspirations for your child into a name that pays tribute to the ancestors that best embodied them seems deeply meaningful.

My given names, in English and in Hebrew, followed these traditions. Specifically, I was named for these people:

  • Avrum
  • Meyer
  • Peter (whose Chinese name began with a sound that was more like B)

In addition to being in honor of these people, my given name was also derived from the Yiddish word for fire, in the hopes that I might be a spirited, fiery character.

When I named myself anew, I chose to keep the heritage and aspirations that my family had for me intact. This was a choice that I made consciously, as a show of goodwill—I was hoping to communicate that, despite how different I may seem to you from now on, my roots have not changed.

Many trans people don't have this luxury. Their families are so disgusted by them that they are cast out. While far from perfect, I feel very lucky to have a family situation that is worth honoring at all. In slightly different circumstances, my roots would have left me. I am thankful that they have not.

I have written a lot about my names before, mostly for my own processing and thought. I will summarize that writing here.

My middle name, Meira, is for Meyer. It describes a girl who shines brightly—a more personally meaningful (albeit slightly embellished) rendition of the fiery Yiddish I once held.

My first name, Riley, is for Ruth, finally adding a matriarch to the mix. It is also the name that I chose when I first "played" a girl as a kid.

I do need to say a bit more about Aya B'arah, my Hebrew name. Once you've read through this thing, I hope you might understand why I found it difficult to trim any further.

Aya is for Avrum. It means "hawk" or "falcon."

B'arah is for Peter. It means "consuming flame," and sometimes "foolish."

But my full Hebrew name, Aya B'arah, is for my grandfather. He died this past year, in April 2022, while I was in the process of this transition.

My grandpa Larry named me Firebird. As the first person in our family to be named since his death—and as the person that has most often been compared to him—I felt that I should carry some of him with me. But it felt wrong to take an initial from him. I wanted to leave that privilege for the first of our family to have a child. So I didn't take his initial.

I thought about that nickname, Firebird. Imagery of heat and fire had always aligned with my person. When I was younger, it described a person with extreme insecurity; someone who might ignite at any moment. But a bird?

Maybe when my favorite color was pink. Maybe when my sister's friends did my nails. Maybe when I was playing with American Girl Dolls (no, sorry, with Bitty Babies—I couldn't have a girl doll).

But my favorite color should not be pink. No, my nails should not be painted. I should not be playing with dolls. Those things weren't for me, I was told.

When I went to restaurants with my family, wait staff would regularly identify me as a girl. This was very funny.

But my body had other priorities. As it began to change, I would no longer get identified as a girl. This was not funny.

I was no longer harmless. With no language or people to explain what was happening to me, I became extremely distressed. I stopped going to school. As much as possible, I stayed away from situations where I would need to be seen. All of this without being able to name what I was fighting.

Does this sound like a bird to you?

I did, eventually, learn to name what I was fighting. Gender dysphoria would continue to make me vaguely suicidal for several years, until a particularly bad attempt at college made me decide to actually face the underlying thing.

When I decided—staring down the possibility of complete ostracization from my family; internalizing the horrific reported rates of violence against people like me; knowing that accessing healthcare would henceforth be extremely dependent on the mood of a government that is generally antagonistic to queer people—to live anyhow, I was myself for the first time in years.

I understood the imagery of the bird.

And suddenly the meaning of fire changed, too. It no longer represented someone who might ignite. Instead, it described warmth. It described the candles that I light on Shabbat, or maybe a campfire that you share with friends—a comforting, understanding, colorful, source of light and warmth. I worked to gain the language, skills, and emotional intelligence I needed to take care of myself. I developed an earnestness and vulnerability that is commonplace in many queer communities but was completely alien to me until recently. I began to feel happy.

…this isn't typically how the world describes trans people, right? The last definition you'd find for "trans identity" is "a radical acceptance of self/comfort in one's skin." But this has been my experience as I have come to terms with the identity that makes me feel good.

And I know that, in many people's eyes, I am strange. Why go to these efforts? She thinks that she can just subscribe to womanhood? Is she dumb?

B'arah has a second meaning besides "consuming flame." It can also mean "foolish." I chose this name because I've decided that I can be B'arah—foolish—in some people's eyes, and still be B'arah—a passionate flame—in my own eyes. I don't need to satisfy their reductive laundry list of reproductive components that they say make a woman (a list which is particularly ridiculous when you realize just how many cisgender women would be categorized as men by its criteria—biology is crazy!). All I need is to be happy.

My Hebrew name, Aya B'arah—Firebird—tries to capture these feelings. I hope that my grandpa is proud.

I experience life, at this point, as a woman. I know it every time that a man repeats what I have said in conversation, and it is celebrated as his idea. I know it when my skill in programming and game development is questioned by guys that have experience in neither. I know it when I am harassed in online games.

I know it because I am sensitive. I know it because I think before I speak. I know it because I am aware of the space that I take up. I know it because of the ways that I have cried on my friends shoulders. I know it because of the ways they have cried on mine.

I know it because my relationship with Rachel is that of sisterhood. I know it because of the joy I experience cheering for Serena, Naomi, Megan, and meL. I know it because of the pride I feel when I see women in leadership, especially in game development.

I just… know it.

Isn't that enough?

I hope that you will continue to love me during this transition, and in the years to come. I hope that you might understand and celebrate the twenty-year process to arrive here. And I hope that even if you don't, that you might still respect me enough to trust that this process was as hard for me as I say.

I'm excited to see you again as me! :)