She walked away swearing, calling us names, and we continued chatting. Growing up gay, living with or around disability makes coping with anger at our public presence a necessity. Our conversation was coming to an end, all caught up again, and we were about to part and then something happened.
But first, some background.
When we first met he we were both a bit shocked at his nickname. He used it in reference to himself, everyone else used it when speaking of or to him. Having had nicknames growing up, the kind that I did not choose for myself, makes me very wary of words formed for the purpose of hurt. In our very first conversation with him I offended him by asking for his name. He glared at me and said that we went by this nickname and that’s what we were to call him.
We didn’t like it.
But we did.
People choose how they identify and what they wish to be called.
They don’t need my approval.
One day he told us how he got the nickname. A small and relatively frail child in school, he was, in his words, “a natural target for bullies,” and they focused on his size and his demeanor and came up with a nickname meant to humiliate. It stuck. He was called that name for the whole of junior and senior years in high school. He graduated, left the small town he lived in, and moved to a big city. He introduced himself to people in his social circle by his high school nickname.
“It’s ugly, but it has no more power over me,” was his explanation.
Two years into knowing him, we found out his birth name. The name given to him by the mother he loved, very separate and distinct from the name given to him by bullies who used hate to pick a name. Even after learning his name, we never used it. We were requested not to, we honoured the request.
So, we were about to part. He was telling us about something that happened recently and he said, “And I said to myself, ‘his pre-bully name’ …”
We had never heard him refer to himself by his name. We had only heard him speak of himself by using the name given to him at the hands of someone who hurt him, physically and emotionally. The impact of what he said showed on our faces.
“Turned out it was my own name that needed to be reclaimed,” he said. “Turned out that being beaten up and bullied as a child wasn’t my fault.” He wiped a tear away from his eye and said that the had to go.
As I pushed away I could hear his walker scraping along the sidewalk on his journey home. It has been a long walk, but I think he’s finally going to make it home.