Posted: October 1, 2022
Over the last year or so the toppling of statues and renaming streets and institutions to try to correct the wrongs of the past has really taken on a new momentum. Much of it has been focused on the worst offenders – slave owners, and others who overtly set out to harm others. Of course, we have a long way to go in that regard. There have been so many who, by today’s standards, did awful things – benefited from financing Hitler, exploited workers, done atrocities to animals and the environment, who still have statues, cities and streets named after them. I don’t think we will ever get to the stage of calling out all the bad deeds of the past and the associated renaming. That is a good thing.
Names are used to respect those who have come before, or as aspirational names to try to live up to.
My own name is a strange amalgam of my heritage, my parents character and a bit of mischief. For anyone new to this website you can read some detail of that history in the piece ON LEARNING I WAS A BAD SON posted in December of 2015.
But while the elimination of names to correct past sins is common it is also interesting to see the reclaiming of names that have been misused. That in fact is what got me to thinking about names this week. I was at a gay pride event and was impressed by a fellow wearing a T shirt which said it all. I would put his height at two meters at least, (six foot seven inches). The physique was less muscular that a body builder but as substantial as a rugby player. Where most of us have some flesh he had muscles, sometimes with multiple layers on display. His other features were also striking, an attractive face with some strong lines. But he moved not like a brute but like someone with discipline. It was clear to me that this would be the fellow chosen by most people to be stuck on a desert island with, ready to fight off the tigers or build the hut from palm fronds and shark skeletons. Probably the guy we would all vote for or chose to have as our doctor if such things were chosen by visuals alone. This guy just seemed substantial and trustworthy.
And the T shirt told the rest of the story. It fit just a little snug, like he had bought it before getting the last installment of muscles. Pale pink with just one word in purple on the front where to see it you would also be looking him in the eye. Well in the case of most of us, looking him in the neck, but you get the point.
SISSY. Yeah. SISSY. I can imagine him as a tall, sensitive kid getting taunted and razzed, maybe pushed around a bit, always challenged to respond. In the world of bullies taunts it is not as heavily loaded as some racist terms, or some sexist terms but as a fairly innocuous one it still has some nasty barbs to it.
But like some of those racist terms, and sexist terms, here was a huge powerful attractive and confident man taking it back and throwing it in the face of anyone who ever used the term. A challenge to allcomers to bring it on.
I am straight. I have been bullied for reasons that I don’t even know were clear to the bullies. And I learned to bully back with words, not physical abuse. The power feels good initially to play the role of David to a Goliath but once you realize just how much damage you can do, most of us learn from it and keep it handy for just those specific underdog applications.
We have only started to get to a point where othering is called out and that evolution is at various points on the spectrum depending on our location in the world, socio-economic status, race and other factors. But on that one day, in a little gay pride parade in Malta that powerful message said it all.
I think names matter. I think they matter a lot.
P.S. The pride parade in Malta is not like the big ones in major centres but one of the things that is nice about all celebrations of Pride is that whether it’s a little town in Germany, Brazil or Japan, it is a message and one that needs to continue to be told. Unlike Pride in many parts of the world that occurs in June, the parade in Valletta, Malta occurs in September. This one was Saturday September 10th.