A Prose Poem about Dead Names

Today in my memories on Facebook, I came across a prose poem I wrote a couple years ago, in response to some family members who refuse to call me by my name and continue to refer to me by my birth name, or dead name. I thought I’d share it here to kick off pride month.

“Hold my dead name in your mouth, click your tongue against your teeth, as though your breath can give it life.

My name was mine long before I knew, even as I wore ponytails and danced in tutus, asking my dad to spin me around on the living room floor. It was mine before I first held the buzz of a Z on my lips. The first time I met another boy with the name, I fell in love with the sound. Something about it felt like home, like the apple candles my mother burned or the stuffed dog I slept with every night. I felt at peace in its’ presence.

The first time I called myself ‘Zach’, I smiled wider than I thought possible. At school I whispered it in the mirror every time I washed my hands. ‘Zach. Zach. Zach’ Over and over again, as if saying it enough times would finally make me feel like I was real, like my body was my home.

You think that if you say my dead name, if you write a letter to the girl everyone once thought I was, that you will bring her back to life. Kill the man that I’ve become, and the woman will be free to live.

But I was never a girl. I was never that name. Even as I wore dresses and took dance classes and played dolls and admired Disney princesses, I was still a boy. Even as everybody was calling me a girl, I was still a boy.

Hold my dead name in your mouth, give whatever breath you have left to it. But you cannot bring back to life that which never lived.”


Moving forward in recovery and wellness together,

Zach Reinstatler

If you’d like to help support Zach in this project and in his education, check out our support page here.

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