What’s In A Name: Or, Do All Lesbians Experience Some Form of Dysphoria?

When I was about 12 or 13, I decided I did not like my given name (Anna). To make matters worse, being from the U.S. South, I was called by both my first and middle names (Anna Lynn). (This phenomenon was prevalent at that time where I grew up; many of my female peers had double names like Ellie Jo or Mary Beth or Maggie Jean).

At the time, I wasn’t exactly able to articulate why I didn’t like my name. The best I could come up with was that it felt too “girly” somehow…it just didn’t feel right.

And that wasn’t the only thing going wrong for me at the time either. I was distressed with the changes in my body; specifically, I didn’t feel comfortable with my new curves, primarily because I felt I wasn’t running or swimming as fast as before. I felt awkward, off-kilter, out-of-sorts, and just plain wrong in ways that I couldn’t fully explain in words. And I still have trouble explaining it in words.

So I upped my exercise to minimize curves, while I secretly fantasized about finding a new name for myself. My parents had considered naming me Jodie after my father, and I steadfastly wished they had. Other contenders were my middle name (Lynn), Bennett (a distant family name and my current writing pseudonym), and Alex (because it seemed suitably androgynous).

I didn’t mention any of this angst to my parents. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. A lot of thought had gone into my name, and I had been named after a beloved relative, so I didn’t want to offend by admitting I was unhappy with my name.

So I kept my feelings to myself, something I was extraordinarily good at. Any feelings I had were sublimated through daily runs, bicycle riding, hiking, swimming, and tree climbing. My basketball coach always jokingly called me “Bo” anyway (teasing me as if I had a “bow leg”, referring to the knee “brace” I had to wear to run suicide drills), and even that felt more right than my real name. (Side note: It’s apparently no longer politically correct to call those exercises “suicide drills” because everybody is apparently such a tender, delicate, oh-so-precious little snowflake now. Oh, well, that is what they were called at the time so that’s what I’m going with. Sigh.).

My point is: As a young Lesbian, I felt uncomfortable in a way that I didn’t have words for (and I still struggle to explain, even now) about having a (so-called) “feminine” name, even though I am what I’ve seen referred to as a “feminine-presenting lesbian” (although, ironically, certainly not as “feminine” as many people seem to expect me to be — see my previous post, Not Femme Enough…?).

The nebulous feeling that I am struggling to articulate relates directly to what I was trying to describe in my previous post, Lesbians Are Different.

Ever since I was a child, I always had straight female friends as well as male friends, and I always knew I was different than both in fundamental ways.

While I never experienced what I would consider to be true or severe dysphoria, I did, and still do, feel significant discomfort and a certain cognitive dissonance when I have tried to “dress up” and act “feminine”.

After talking to many other Lesbians over the years, who universally reported similar feelings to varying degrees, I now believe that all Lesbians experience some form of dysphoria, ranging from mild to severe, which stems from being inherently different in a heterocentric world.

We will likely write on this topic later.

4 thoughts on “What’s In A Name: Or, Do All Lesbians Experience Some Form of Dysphoria?

  1. As a European, “Anna” or even “Anna Lynn” doesn’t strike me as an especially girly name, certainly not when placed alongside “Mary Beth” or “Cindy Lou”. I was almost called “Brian” (my second name, but we don’t use them in England). I would have hated that. The girl’s name “Briony” or similar was unknown to us at the time. But “Peter” was close enough to “Petra” to seem neutral, which is kinda what I wanted, and even in late adolescence I was delighted to meet two Peta’s, one of whom pronounced her name identically to mine, the other as “Petta”.

    I try neither to overplay nor underplay the similarities between lesbian and gay male experience, but I found a lot in your post which “chimed”. Some women, both gay and straight, have asked me what it was like to “grow up as a boy”, and the question has always left me rather nonplussed, because I really don’t think I did. Certainly, having attended mostly male-only schools, I grew up *among* boys, but most of the time felt like a “foreign correspondent” or ethnologist in their world. Of course, I didn’t know the word “ethnologist” then, but I was certainly conscious of being an outside observer of their strange behaviour and rituals.

    Maybe one real difference is that while the dykette struggles to define and establish her difference, the incipient faggot has it thrust upon him from outside. All my playground nicknames, and the taunts launched at me, were feminizing in one way or another. Being fat, I was Fanta, from the song “Fanta the elephant packed her trunk, and said goodbye to the circus…” My own mother was not above addressing me as “Phyllis” on occasion.

    Even at my advanced age, I share some of your dress discomfort. On the rare occasions when I can be boyfriend- or sister-handled into putting on a tuxedo or lounge suit, my psychological defence is still to think of it as “putting on man-drag”. I’ve long got used to being told I “dance like a lesbian”. Now I’m too old to dance at all, they tell me I dress like one, but fuck them! I’m old enough to have the right to feel comfortable.

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    • Interesting points; thanks for sharing! I always like to hear about others’ experiences. It is particularly difficult to try to explain this stuff to straight people.

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      • I daresay they have stuff which is difficult to explain to us too. My stepson is heterosexual, and in my lazy-thought mode, I think of him as being “gay for a girl”. Of course, she’s not a girl, but a very self-possessed young woman, of whom some would say “she could have done better”; naturally, I would never say that, rather that she has done well for herself by capturing the heart of my little boy, and the approval of his two Dads.

        We do a great disservice to this generation of we do not acknowledge the evolving nature of heterosexuality. Our “straight” daughters and sons are not at all the same kind of people as our straight mothers or fathers. Roman the shining defender of straight people? Treasure the moment, it won’t come again.

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