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A name like chocolate, Melting on my tongue



I was honored to participate in the launch event for a literary journal called Sinister Wisdom recently, and to read a condensed version of an essay included in the most recent issue, number 132. You can watch the full program for the event here, https://youtu.be/c3xvp9XzNSQ but I'm also pasting the piece below in case you'd like to read it. It's about the power of gender examination, and the importance of names.


A Name Like Chocolate, Melting on My Tongue

When I first met my transgender spouse Declan, I was still a girl. Not by age, but by assignment at birth and inculturation. My hair was long, my heels high, and makeup was a requirement before leaving the house.   


Declan was never a girl though he wore bras he hated, gave up dreams of being a ball player, and did his best pretending to be someone he wasn’t.


When we met, we were both married to men and proud of ourselves for performing the role of excellent wife. We became deep friends.


And then we fell in love.

 

For as long as I can remember, my mother proclaimed:


“Your name is SUZANNE. Not Sue, not Susan. SUZANNE.”


The etymology of Suzanne is “graceful lily:” a soft, bending thing, implying fragrant fragility. I did my best to conform to that image.


Years ago, a male client sang Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne to me the first time we spoke. I did what was expected and tittered in response, performing the role of bending lily according to the shape of my name and the generations of cultural expectations which traveled with it.


Rejection of those expectations has been slow; unobservable without timelapse captures.


Suzanne.

 

I love reading old cookbooks which include the names of people who submitted recipes. In some, women list their husbands’ names rather than their own, merely planting “Mrs.” in front.


Mrs. Richard Dickinson.


The identities of these women who lived, cooked, and loved has been erased, as if there was no existence outside marriage.

 

Declan and I have been through several name changes together. First when we divorced our exes and again when we married. We each took the other’s last name as a mutual offering of histories, of identity, of self.

 

When my beloved pondered what his true name was, the sound arrived as epiphany:


Declan.


Its truth settled around him, a mantle of affirmation, a source of power.

 

Declan’s mom struggles with this. Many parents feel like something is stolen when a birth name is rejected, as if the act of naming gives them possession over our beings.


“Her name is SUZANNE,” my mother demanded.

 

For years, I called my beloved Dolce; an Italian word meaning sweet, or dessert. The nickname felt true; his presence a reward for having choked down a lifetime of soul-scouring struggle. Declan made me realize life could be delicious.


Dolce.


My Dolce.


The word was like chocolate, melting on my tongue.

 

Transgender people understand the significance of names better than most. They endure an ongoing reality of being called something which is out of sync with their essential beings. But Declan was always Declan, no matter what his parents called him.


The name Dolce is still true and yet no longer fits. He’ll always be chocolate, but tempered, poured out, and molded into a shape of his ongoing making. He’s himself now, even if his name doesn’t conform to anyone’s sense of ownership or of previous understanding.


Even mine.

 

When I was a teenager, I rebelled against my mother and asked people to call me Zanne. I liked the strength of the nickname. Zanne sounds like a superhero, whereas the soft susurration of the “soo” in front of “zanne” transforms it into lily-like submission.


Decades later I abandoned Zanne when I left my ex-husband, because the power I’d experienced dissolved in the acidity of our marriage, eroded by the loudness of my insufficiency each time he spoke it. But I’m done defining myself by what others cling to or expect: a creature formed in their own image-making.


I’m ready to reclaim it:

Zanne.


 As Declan explores the kind of man he wants to be, I’m invited to examine my own gender and name.

Today my hair is short, my heels low, and makeup optional. I’m still figuring out what any of that means. But I know one thing:


I want to be like Declan.


I want to be like chocolate, melting on his tongue.


 

Click the image below to learn more about Sinister Wisdom and to get a copy or subscribe.



 

Suzanne DeWitt Hall (she/they) is the author of the Where True Love Is devotional series, the Living in Hope series of books supporting the loved ones of transgender people, The Language of Bodies (Woodhall Press, 2022), and the Rumplepimple adventures. You can find a full list of her work here: https://amzn.to/3vVPFOE

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