What I have learned about shame is that it can't really thrive when named. Shame lives in shadows, feeds on secrets, and fears nothing more than discovery. Knowing we are as sick as our secrets has given me the temerity to name my shame time and again, and then to watch it shrivel as a result. I hope it works that way again.
I'm very "out" about almost everything.
I'm gay (and proud to be).
I'm HIV positive (and thrilled to have survived these many years).
I struggle with weight and with body shame but am hopeful that I will overcome at least the body shame.
There was abuse in my childhood, and there has been the miraculous healing that comes from forgiveness.
I must be very diligent in my effort to manage depression and anxiety, and with medical help, I live well and happy most of the time (varieties of these mental maladies have plagued at least 4 generations of my family and I am very grateful for effective treatment).
I even have recently come to terms with (and become verbal about) my non-binary gender experience. As a child I often wondered if I was meant to be a girl. For most of my life, the people closest to me have tended to be women. As a young adult I refused to call myself a "man" but instead referred to myself as a "boy" (even though that was not age appropriate)...that was to identify as culturally male but to suggest I was not entirely comfortable with that maleness, or at very least I was not comfortable with toxic masculinity. Even later in adulthood I discovered that I enjoyed playing female roles on stage, and somehow, tapping into that feminine energy helped me experience my own maleness in more authentic and gratifying ways. The transgender community helped me understand that gender is not binary and many of us are on a spectrum that doesn't fit neatly into F or M categories.
I share these stories without remorse or regret. They are experiences. They are part of my life path. How I have responded to them has contributed to the person I am. By being "out" about these things, none of them cause me shame. Healing from shame is amazing. I recommend it.
That's why I need to "come out" once again. I need to name, confront, and release shame once more in my life. Many will not understand my struggle, but it has been a 50 year struggle that has caused me a lot of pain.
My confession is simply this: While I am known by most people in my life as "Durrell" it is my middle name. My first name is Stacy. Both names were given to me at birth. Both are legal and are found on my birth certificate, driver's license, and passport. But I like one (Durrell) and really hate the other (Stacy).
Why hate a name? Why hate a name that isn't particularly difficult to pronounce or unpleasant to hear? Why hate a name that I choose not even to use? Call me Durrell. Who cares what the name is that you aren't using?
I hate "Stacy" because it has been used my whole life to shame me. Even today, well into middle age, when people learn what my first name is they snicker, they will sometimes tease, and some friends sensing that it makes me uncomfortable will choose to "leak" it to others and then enjoy the ribbing that will follow.
Misogyny is so prevalent that it is still considered a flaw for a "man" to have women's characteristics or a woman's name (the male Leslies, Lavernes, and Stacies all get that). And I hate that I am not above the gender shaming game. I am a gender fluid gay person...who cares if people laugh and grin at what is considered a girl's name, a name I don't even use? But the name was used in hateful ways against me when I was young, and the old pain is renewed when the old shaming is resurrected. I should prance about and feature my perceived femininity, and perhaps there are times that I do, but there is too much negative energy and meanness associated with "Stacy" for me. I cannot yet embrace a name that has been used to diminish me my entire life. Even if my head knows the diminishers are wrong, my heart still cringes, "O God, not again!" I defiantly hold my head up and pretend the ridicule isn't absolute torment for me, but the effort is Herculean on my part.
I spent decades angry with my mother for giving me that name. My brothers were given "boy" names. I, a gender fluid queer kid, never even had the chance to hide. My name gave me away at once. On the first day of the 4th grade, every desk had a name tag on it. All boys had football name tags. All girls at megaphone name tags. There was one misgendered name tag, of course. It was mine. "Stacy" adorned a pink megaphone.
That embarrassing day in the 4th grade wasn't the only day of shame for me. Kids delighted telling me my entire childhood that mine was a "girl's name" (as if I had the resources to change it). When I was wrapping up my high school days I was offered subscriptions to women's magazines and even "Ms. Stacy Watkins" received recruitment literature from the U.S. Army.
Now, you'd think the silly name shame would have faded away. But it hasn't. Women, queer people, even a few transgender people (which seems to be touched with a hint of irony) have delighted in embarrassing me about a name that I do not use. For 30 years I have been known exclusively as Durrell, my preferred name. But that has meant that "Stacy" has become a shameful secret, a secret that is still used against me (by those who know the secret) to cause discomfort and regret.
Trans* folk have the healing and empowering experience of choosing their own name. Entertainers often choose a stage name. In sacred literature, life changing events are often followed by a name change. I, too, have chosen the name I want to be known as (which happens to be one of my given names). I get to say, with pride and joy, "My name is Durrell!" But that shouldn't be accompanied by shame over a name I never chose and that for over half my life so far I nave refused to use.
I could legally change my name, and maybe one day I will (but what to do with all those diplomas that say "Stacy Durrell Watkins" on them?). But I can't wait another day to say, "My name is Durrell. Please call me Durrell. My other name is Stacy. Please do not call me that. Not because it isn't a perfectly nice name, but because it isn't the one I prefer; and in any case, name shaming is no more appropriate than body shaming, or health shaming, or class shaming, etc. I am Durrell, but if you happpen to know that I have another name (and most people have a first and a middle name) which I don't enjoy, please don't feel entitled to use the name I hate in unkind ways. If you don't know me at all, then why bother? And if you claim to like me, why try to hurt me? My name is Stacy Durrell Watkins; please call me Durrell."
"Stacy" is now no more a secret than my sexual orientation or HIV status. Hopefully, it will never cause me pain or sadness or humiliation again. And still, I remain, Durrell.