I’ve finally found the guy who gave me his genes in the summer of 1975.
After arguing with my mom about the correct spelling of my middle name, she fished out a copy of my birth certificate. She was right and I was wrong.
That’s when I saw bio-dad among the smudges — unmistakable, above a dotted line and the words “Name of the Father”. How 70s is that? I typed the 11 letters into Canada411.ca and got a phone number and tidy street map leading right to the papa I never knew.
Feeling naughty, I also Googled the name of the town clerk who forever linked him and me together with her typewriter, and it turns out that she’s a world-famous violinist. Ha! She was probably too high on the symphony — or on violin-soaked rock ballads like Nights in White Satin — to have spelled our names correctly. Doubts start to creep in that I’ve actually found him.
As you can see, I’m already looking for ways to ditch the bio-dad.
I’m not bitter — I just don’t have much use for him. He might’ve come in handy when I was a little kid and before I had a stepfather, a time when mono-parental families faced much more stigma than they do today. I shouldn’t get too worked up; Mom and I did just fine without him. Besides, I’ve already put distance between myself and that birth certificate, having used the wrong middle name for nearly 20 years running, ever since mom stopped checking my homework.
My whole identity is a typo.
In fact, I have quite a history as a name pirate, and it would be lost were it not for Google. I used Brad Cox as a nom de plume for my work as a porn actor and nude model, convinced that ‘Cox’ was a money-maker and that ‘Daniel’ was a boner-kill. Then others caught my word virus, and started calling me Brad Simzer after a football jersey I used to wear on the set. The strangest name mutation, however, was when people conflated me with fellow porn star Carl Cox, whom I vaguely resemble — as if we had swappable body parts and identities. As for Dirty Dan? I have no idea where that came from.
A friend recently reminded me that we choose our own identities, and that names are part of that choice. For many in the queer community, given names are sour reminders of intolerant and hostile blood-family. A self-christening might be the perfect way to reclaim one’s identity, or sever ties with abusers and stay off their radar. There are other, more fun reasons to choose your own name, including hero tributes and iambic pentameter. Reinvention! The Smurfs and Care Bears, named for their feelings and foibles, had it right.
Ottawa drag queens, it would seem, don’t waste time when it comes to names. Performer Sapphire Champagne explained how she acquired hers with split-second grace.
“A group of us were on a bus heading to the Young Liberal Convention in Toronto. I walked to the back, and there was this uber-sexy guy who said “Wow, look at you! What’s your name, sweetheart?” I replied “What do you want it to be?” and he instantly said “Sapphire.” I loved it, and the whole group called me Sapphire all weekend. I later found out that he’s the son of a former official at the Royal Canadian Mint.”
Named by a bratty government scion! Google says that the doctor who delivered me is now a Member of Parliament. So how is it that neither Sapphire nor I are sashaying across the fifty-dollar bill?
“I am a lady who loves gems, so I decided to keep the name. Sapphire is a powerful colour, and it brings out that sense of richness and elitism that goes with drag. It makes me feel like a thing of desire, something everyone wants. I added Champagne at the end because it’s my favourite drink.”
Dixie Landers, two-time Ottawa Queen of Pride, also got her name in a jiffy.
“The first time I ever performed, it was on a bet. Three minutes before I got called onstage, the announcer asked “What’s your name?” I had just seen For the Boys, starring Bette Midler as Dixie Leonard. That was it! But after the show, someone told me I looked like one of the Landers sisters, which was perfect, because I realized that I hated “Leonard”… There’s also Whistling Dixie, but that’s probably just wind blowing between my legs.”
Tell the world: These are the names we have chosen, and they come with stories only we can tell. Given names can fuck right off.
In the end, though, the litany of syllables and sounds that people will scream at you, hoping you’ll turn around, are ephemeral. We grow out of them as we do beds, clothing, and music. Can you guarantee that you’ll turn around if someone calls your current name a year from now, or will you have moved on?
I think I’m going to call my bio-dad now, because I have a ton of questions for him. Did he know he had a son? What hereditary bugs are going to jam my software by the time I’m 50? And most importantly, has Stevie Nicks always been such a hot tamale?
When he asks who’s calling, I’ll give the name I feel suits me best.
I’ll say “Naughty Smurf.”