Well hello… you may identify me with the word “Nate”; I used to go by “Nat” which was shorthand for “Nathaniel”, because it rhymed with “Matt”, which was shorthand for my brother’s name Matthew. I recently learned that another shorthand for “Nathaniel” is “Niel”. Like “nathaNIEL”. I don’t like it, seems weird, but you do you Niel. I don’t enjoy the moniker “Nathan” because I don’t remember a Nathan I liked, but recently I remembered that there was a neighbor across the road from me that I enjoyed the presence of, and his name was “Nathan”. I feel that rather than not knowing a good Nathan, I simply don’t want to be called “Nathan” because that dude was always Nathan. One exists within a circle of people I knew so it’s their name, not mine. The Nathan Avatar, so to speak.
When I was 18 I was visiting my friend in Kelowna. We went with some of his extended family to a pub and bowling alley, and I ogled the lanes from where we sat in the pub waiting for food. Let me be clear: “Ogled the lanes” isn’t a euphemism for checking people out, I just wanted to fucking bowl but noooo I had to eat. So I made small talk. There was a woman in her mid-to-late forties with her husband and they sat across from me. He was a jolly sort of fellow, a bit rotund. Portly. He spoke up to make jokes. She was clearly the boss of the operations; she set the schedule and he agreed to it. He checked with her to order food, she took food off his plate, she looked grimly at his bad jokes (I laughed). She and I talked, and he chimed with jokes occasionally, though he was eating his food.
She asked what I did and what I wanted to do; I wanted to travel or go to school. Personally, I felt either would grow me in a direction I needed to go, and the choice really didn’t matter so long as it was one or the other. She also asked about my name; “Nat, is that short for Natalie or Natasha?”
I replied “Nathaniel” and her face grew red. I laughed it off to make her feel better. I could see how she would thinking I was a chick; I had been visiting my friend out of town for a few weeks, staying at his place. My resting voice at the time wasn’t booming or overpowering, and wasn’t the lowest register (unless I was singing when no one was home). I’m fat, so rather than having a figure where my shoulders are wider than my hips my clothing looks more like a box. I had short hair, but it was as women were picking up the style more often.
It doesn’t bother me that much. So it does bother me a little. It bothers me that there was a me that people saw and said “Well that person isn’t a man. It makes more sense that they’re a woman.” The me they saw wasn’t me. But in a way, it was me. It was a younger me, a different me. An image of Me that I struggled with when I looked in the mirror: not understanding why I didn’t look the way I felt I should have. I felt I couldn’t be loved. I didn’t fit an image that North American society expected me to fit, so I couldn’t be known in the way I should be. I know that it isn’t and wasn’t true, but often my feelings aren’t entirely rational, like having a panic attack because OH SHIT THE BUS IS HERE WHAT AM I GOING TO DO FUUUUUUUUCK.
Truth was, I never really needed to fit into anything. I can be whatever shape I want to, and the more I feel comfortable with it the better. And the less I feel comfortable with it, the better. If I wanna be a dodecahedron in a world of people shapes, then I can totally not do that because my body doesn’t warp into that shape. But I’m allowed to like that image and work towards it.
I wrote an email to my family recently: holidays notes and ilk. And usually I end “love, Nat” at the end because that’s how my family looked at me. But it’s not me; it felt wrong, worse than a lie. So I changed it.