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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

You Heard Me Right: Gay Is My Middle Name

When I was born, the story goes, the doctor gave my behind a firm little tap and instead of bellowing or wailing as most babies are wont to do, it is said that I opened my widdle baby mouth and laughed. And laughed and laughed.

My mother, in a fit of pure happiness at finally, finally getting her girl (I have two older brothers) decided then and there to give me a middle name befitting my personality and her elation.

She could have given me the middle name of "Joy." I'd have even settled for "Happy." How about "Bliss?" 

Nope. Mom gave me the middle name of "Gay", without even the courtesy of dressing it up with an "e" on the end. By the time I got to high school, Gay had an entirely different connotation, and oh, how I tried to keep it a secret.

That's right. My middle name was firmly in the closet. As were a lot of my now openly gay high school friends, unfortunately. I went to school in a small town in a time where things like sexual diversity weren't talked about, much less embraced.

Then I went to college and joined the Theatre department. Gay people! Gay people everywhere! And you know what? NOBODY CARED. It was a complete and utter non-event. Nobody whispered. Nobody pointed. Nobody talked about who might be and who just seems that way and probably will be later. You just were who you were and as long as you held up your end of the stage, knew your lines and showed up on time, it was all good.

And I'd be sitting on the laps of just about every gay guy in the place at the cast party afterward, anyway. You know why? Because I liked to. 

But a few years later, when I was out of college and finally married to my college sweetheart, I took that opportunity to finally, happily, boot that middle name to the curb. I took my maiden name as my middle name, and walked on with my bad self.

And then I lost my Mom. That was hard enough, but I lost her on Christmas of 2002, and as I stood there over her grave I remembered with a lump in my throat the way she used to tuck my hair behind my ear as she called me her "gay girl". 

And feeling the shame of remembering how I'd knock her hand away, so embarrassed that she used my middle name in public. 

I had a daughter of my own at the time, twenty months she was and would never remember her grandmother. She'd only know what I told her from that point on.

A few years ago, my daughter asked me why it was I don't have a middle name. "But I do," I told her, my brows knitting together. She pointed to some paperwork I was filling out. "No, you put your maiden name there. Is it because you didn't get a middle name?"

And so I told her the story of the laughing baby, and the mother whose joy lent itself to the name that I carry.

"Grandma named you Gay?" 

"She did. It meant something a little different back then, and when I was your age it was just starting to mean what it means now. I changed it when I got married, but really, it's not a big deal to me anymore. I kind of wish I'd left it alone."

"You do have a lot of gay friends," she reminded me. "It's not like it's a bad word."

And in that moment, I decided that it was time for my middle name to come barreling out of the closet and stand proudly for what it was at the time - an expression of love and joy - and what it also is now: a word that embraces love between two consenting adults whose relationship is and should be a complete non-issue.

Like my middle name.

So, Hi there.

I'm Ellie, and people around here will tell you that Gay is practically (really!) my middle name. 

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