In high school drama, my nickname was “Hero.” I didn’t really earn it in any meaningful way. Our teacher called attendance that first morning of ninth grade with the instructions: “And if you want to be called by another name… if you want to be, I don’t know, Hero or something…”
So, when he called for Danielle, I stuck my hand in the air and admitted, “I want to be Hero.”
And so I was.
To be fair, I had, like, four nicknames in high school. I have always bristled against “Danielle,” not that there’s anything inherently wrong with it. But I knew in the 4th grade that I was a “Dani,” even if I couldn’t really tell you why yet. But I was also all my early fanfiction and role play-ish names. I have always been eager to lose myself in other identities. I have never been content to settle for one name.
Dija in my Tamora Pierce fanfic-world. Dai to my bestie Jane/Jai. Ron to my informal cafeteria HP role play group. (Of course.) Hero in theatre class.
There’s this picture of me in 8th grade that I think captures my forever-awkwardness best. We had hiked Stone Mountain on a field trip and I am squinting into the camera and into the sunshine. It is pre-braces, so the gap between my two front teeth is in prominent display. I have a jean jacket wrapped around my waist, I’m wearing a basketball camp t-shirt, my hair was short and a disaster for the first time.
I know you already know this part of the story, but 8th grade was the first time I tried to come out.
I wish I had a picture of that awkward little baby queer sitting on top of a mountain in the sunshine. I was definitely in love with my best friend at the time, though I didn’t know I could call it that. (Aiki, if you’re reading this, I wish we had just been each other’s dates to the 8th grade formal.)
I don’t want to speak for everyone, because I’m still really new to this, but… I don’t know. As a queer kid sort of going through a second adolescence, I get the obsession with nicknames and with playing pretend. With losing myself entirely in fantasy worlds where I felt like I could be anyone and anything. Specifically in fantasy worlds where I could dress like a boy and carry a sword and be worthy of love anyway. Where I could call myself whatever I wanted and still be a hero.
It should be Dragon Con this weekend and I should be able to put whatever name I want on my badge. I should be buttoning up my Aziraphale waistcoat and preparing myself to swelter blissfully in the Peachtree St. sunshine. I should be wearing the costume that first inspired me to be who I think I’ve wanted to be for a really long time.
That “second adolescence” thing, by the way? Oh, man. I am hiding my AFAB body in oversized flannel shirts just like I did back in middle school. My shaved head is growing back awkwardly, so I’m wearing baseball caps most of the time. My stomach is upset with nerves and guilt almost all of the time.
BUT BUT BUT.
I know I talk about this all the time, BUT: There is going to be a day when I really, truly accept this non-binary body for exactly what it is, even if it is softer and bigger than I want it to be. I will buy exactly the clothes I want and I will not wait only to do so when I am granted the freedom of expression inherent in cosplay or playing pretend.
Maybe in the fall. Wouldn’t that be nice? Maybe the leaves will change and the air will cool down a bit and I’ll wear cardigans and vests and ties and I will sign all my e-mails “they/them” and I will drink my pumpkin coffee in something like peace.
I’m still sorry. I don’t think I ever won’t be. But I am going to try to stop apologizing for who I am, awkward and queer and not small and all of it.
Because “Dani” isn’t short for “Danielle.” “Dani” is all of it.