Published by Sarah Mann at Shakespir
Copyright 2016 Sarah Mann
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Ethan is fourteen and needs a new name.
Truthfully, Ethan isn’t actually a bad name, she doesn’t dislike it; the problem is that it’s such a boy name and she is not a boy. She’d looked up the meaning during one of her many nights browsing names and meanings in a wild attempt to find something that called to her. Ethan felt masculine, solid and enduring, and she wished for something a bit more feminine. It didn’t feel wrong like she’d imagined it would, like how she saw it in movies, books and on TV; but it wasn’t right in a way she can’t describe.
She knows choosing a name won’t stop the confusion or the nights spent lying awake, but it feels like a good step to take. A step away from the drowning feeling that comes some days, when her body was too big in some places and too small in others, when her clothes screamed boy, boy, boy and she wished she could steal her mother’s makeup and a dress.
Those feelings were like the ocean in a storm. They were big and scary, with overwhelming pressure ready to pull her away and drag her under, ready to crash her into the rocks.
But storms don’t last forever and the feelings always fade. They wouldn’t be overwhelming waves, battering her with every breath, they would be gentle water lapping at her ankles, still there, but softer and easier to wade through.
“What would you have called me if I was a girl?” she asks.
Her mum smiles at her, mouth still full of food as she replies, “No idea. I could tell you were a boy; mother’s instinct.”
Ethan can feel something lodged in her throat and she coughs, but nothing comes out. The certainty in her mother’s voice shouldn’t hurt as much as it did. Her mother didn’t know, she couldn’t know.
There’s a tightness in her chest that Ethan tries to ignore and she says, “Okay, but if you had to decide, if I was a girl, what would it have been?”
Her mother looks thoughtful for a moment, watching at her with something in her eyes that Ethan desperately wishes meant more than just a thought process. For a split second she wants her mother to ask why do you want to know? And Ethan imagines herself answering, confidently and with no sense of doubt, because I am a girl.
Instead, her mother says, “I’ve always liked the name Felicity.”
“It’s a nice name,” Ethan replies, and eats another bite of her dinner.
When she gets back to her room she googles the meaning of it, more out of curiosity than any sort of need. Happiness and good luck, she reads. It truly was a nice name.
As she lay in bed that night, Ethan rolls the name over her tongue. Felicity. Felicity. It was a nice name. A nice name for a nice girl. She tries to imagine people calling her that, greeting her and introducing her as my friend Felicity and my daughter Felicity.
“I am Felicity,” she whispers into the darkness and she knows it’s not right.
She wishes there was some sort of guide to help her, or a list of things she could do to help herself, or for someone to say, “Oh kiddo, your name is actually this!” and for everything to fall into place. Or maybe she just wants someone to give her a hug and say, “Hey, it’s okay to be unsure, you’ll get there.”
Ethan spends her lunchtimes at school on the grass. Usually she’ll join whatever chat is happening, but today she flops down in the sun and thinks about her uniform. Her friends are eating and talking besides her and she vaguely knows she’s being rude, but just can’t bring herself to care. She shuts her eyes and pretends she can’t feel her leg hair blowing in the wind. Instead, she thinks more about her uniform.
“Hey man,” Matt says as he sits beside her, “doing alright there?”
She hums an affirmative noise but makes no effort to reply or move. He already seems to have accepted that she’s not in the mood for talking, too tired from class and too comfortable in the sun.
“Yeah, I feel ya.” He doesn’t talk anymore, but she can hear him tearing at the grass and knows he’s piling the blades on her.
She thinks about her name again: solid and enduring. Ethan is like the earth, she thinks.
“There’s nothing more solid and enduring than the earth,” she thinks aloud.
“I guess,” Matt pauses for a moment before saying, “but have you considered rocks.”
Ethan peeks one eye open to look at him and watches as he flicks more grass on her. “Rocks can break though.”
“And you can dig earth up. People do it pretty often,” he pauses and smiles, “it’s called gardening.”
She throws a handful of the grass from her stomach at him and he sputters as some get in his mouth. She stares at the sky and thinks about the grass on her stomach, chest, and legs and everywhere the blades rest on her body. Matt drops more onto her chest. The earth made them.
If I’m the earth, she thinks, then I can grow into something else.
“I want to be a plant,” she says.
Matt shifts to sprinkle the grass into her hair. “You’re acting weird today.”
“Sorry,” she replies, not feeling very sorry at all.
By the time she gets home from school, to her dad’s house this time, she’s thought more about the earth–plant thing than she has about any maths she was meant to absorb in her last class. Her logic doesn’t make much sense now, and she thinks she may have been laying in the heat for too long, but it still lingers in her mind.
“That tone always means you want something, what is it?” He looks at her suspiciously.
“What would I have been called if I was a girl?” She wonders if his answer will be the same as her mothers, if he too, had no plan for a daughter.
“That’s not too bad,” he laughs to himself and then starts rubbing his stubbly beard in thought. “Well, your mum always said you’d be a boy and never left much room for discussion.”
“Oh.” She feels disappointed.
“But, I was prepared if she was wrong, like she was about a lot of things.” He sees her frown and continues, “Amy or Imogen or maybe… Elizabeth?” He shakes his head, “I don’t remember. One of those I think.”
Ethan feels warm and oddly tearful. “They’re good names.”
“Of course they are,” her dad grins. “I chose ‘em.”
She doesn’t know how she feels about her dad’s choice of names. They’re pretty and feminine, but she doesn’t know if she’s an Amy or an Imogen or an Elizabeth.
Ethan spends a lot of time online. Often she’ll find herself watching ‘coming out’ videos with tears running down her cheeks and thumb between her teeth to keep from sobbing. She reads articles about coming out and wonders whether she’ll ever be able to write one.
She reads any advice she can find on choosing a new name, taking in every word. Each person’s experience seems different. Some people have let their parents decide while others choose for themselves. She reads about people who adapt a nickname and others who choose a name at random. She reads that some people go through a lot of names before they’re happy and settle, and with this, she feels a great sense of relief.
“It’s like going to a change room to see how it fits,” she whispers. She likes the idea and thinks: Screw it, I’m Imogen now.
Imogen wonders if having a new name is like a new pair of shoes, you have to give it time before it gets comfortable and chances are, you’ll probably get a blister or two.
She says in the mirror, “I am Imogen” and her reflection stares back at her. It doesn’t feel wrong, but it doesn’t feel right either.
At school the next day she feels exposed, like choosing this name has some outward sign and everyone who sees her will automatically know. It’s absurd, she tells herself, no one knows. But still, she hunches her shoulders and keeps her head down.
At lunch she sits up and watches a group of girls talk as they eat. She looks at their hair and makeup and shirts and skirts and shoes. One girl has bright blue hair and another has curled her hair into ringlets that fall down her back. They’re all so pretty. She looks at the shape of their bodies and thinks, that could be me.
“You’ll have to blink eventually.”
Matt laughs at her and she realises she’d been staring. A few of the girls have clearly noticed too. Imogen looks down at her hands and wonders if she’s allowed to still like girls if she’s a girl too.
Do I want to be with them or do I want to be them? She shakes her head and pushes the thought out of her mind. One thing at a time, she tells herself.
Imogen walks home that afternoon whispering, “I am Imogen. I am Imogen” under her breath. She doesn’t know what she’s trying to achieve by doing so, but when she gets home and says it to her face in the mirror, it doesn’t sound so daunting.
About the Author
Sarah Mann was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia. After spending her childhood reading and daydreaming, she began writing as a teenager and found joy in creating characters and stories for herself. She has a BA from Edith Cowan University in English and Writing.