Denah and the Strawberry, Talking
Are you telling me you want a name? I mean, a real name? Is it not ok for me to be calling you the Strawberry? Too cute? I suppose you know I’d have named you Franny, after my mother. If I’d kept you, I mean; if you’d been born.
Franny’s a good name, and I like it, but – please don’t be offended, Denah, I know how you feel about her – I don’t think it’s right for me. I always thought her dying young was part of why you’re so thoughtful, careful, about motherhood. I’ve even wondered if, any of the times you got tattooed, you ever thought about those hearts that say, MOTHER. But you know what? I think you’re on to something here. You know how sometimes it takes somebody else saying what you think to make you know that’s what you think? I am interested in having a name.
Hmm. I used to think those heart tattoos are like Mother’s Day cards – mostly phony and superficial. But they are classic flash, and I might find the nostalgia appealing; I mean if I were to do it now. I’m sure some of the people who get them are sincere. I could get a heart that says “Franny,” or a ribbon with her name on it. There’s this woman here in town whose work I really like; she’d do a good job.
Think about it, turn it over in your mind. But right now, let’s concentrate on a name for me. I think maybe I need kind of a trans name, Denah, because my gender wasn’t done yet when you aborted me. I was, what, 5-6 weeks at most? Practically still an embryo. You can say I’m female because at that stage, every fetus is – but I think I should have a name that’s not gender-specific.
I never thought of that! You know, I already had Joey, and I’d have wanted a girl if I was going to have another child. I wasn’t thinking of you, I mean you as I know you now – now, since this whole relationship, the strawberry thing, got started. It never occurred to me. Maybe I’m not so thoughtful and careful as you say.
No way. You’re a really good mother – to Joey. Our relationship hasn’t been much like that. I mean, I’ve never needed you to mother me; we’re more like friends than mother-and-child, don’t you think? Our relationship is a hybrid anyway, not one or the other. Not ordinary, for sure. In fact, it’s a trans thing, another trans thing! Which brings us back to my name; I think you’re right. But this is complicated.
I’ll say! Well, nothing is ever simple, really. That’s why making decisions is so tough. That’s why those bozos who go around saying “you’re either with us or against us,” are so dangerous – to say nothing of stupid. Wait, no – they’re not all stupid – not actually stupid per se. Maybe they think making choices seem easy will encourage people to act. But I doubt it. They just want to simplify reality. I can understand the impulse; don’t get me wrong. Being mature and competent is difficult – and it takes time. But I’d rather work at being mature and competent than skip over the reality part, you know?
That’s some speech, Denah – especially for a woman who’s talking to her aborted fetus, thirty years on. The part about reality? You’re cute when you’re philosophical, verging on rhetorical. You should write about us, or make a movie! A short one maybe, a cartoon – the abortion would be great in animation! Put that in your notes for when you finish your other one, ok? Now though, what about my name? Let’s get back to practical concerns: practicality R us, ok?
Now, don’t you get offended, but – sometimes I think you’re not real, you know? I think I made you up. That we’re not really having a two-way conversation here, that you’re a projection, a fantasy I made up to help me think about things – like when I talk out loud to people I love who are dead. We’ve discussed that, haven’t we? About how some of the people in my life are dead, some are alive, and I relate to all of ‘em? And even though you’re not actually a person, never got far enough along to be one, I include you in that. Other times, though, I’m totally positive you’re real. And you know, now that we’re talking about it, I’d rather have you be real; I think real means you’re independent.
Independent is good. Let’s say I’m real. Yeah, I’d rather be real. Hey, do you think the fact we agree on so much, about so many things, is an argument for the influence of genetics? In the nature/nurture argument? No, wait – we’ve been doing this for so many years, you could make the case it’s learned, environmental. Oh, whatever.
Yeah, and the fact that I have this relationship with you is part of my whole take on the politics of reproductive justice. These conversations with you have influenced me a lot. Like with that piece in the New York Times Magazine some years back? You were so helpful then! Have you thought any more about those fundamentalist types I told you about? The ones who put all the heaven and god stuff onto their aborted fetuses? I mean, hey, ok, they want to talk to an aborted fetus? Fine, do it – I do it. Just don’t do it like that. Let’s have some respect here! I don’t even talk to children like that, like words are fuzzy booties. I didn’t talk like that when Joey was a baby, that fake voice, high-pitched and constantly excited – how so many people talk to babies? And dogs! Lots of ‘em even talk to dogs that way!
Calm down, Denah. I’m with you on this – all the way.
You know, I used to think about Ethel Kennedy – she had all those kids and seemed to have a really good time with them. Now I think about Angelina Jolie – the same thing, except she doesn’t make them all herself. I suppose ‘seemed’ is the operative word here – I mean, how the hell do I know what those women think and feel? My point is the money. If I’d had unlimited money, like those women, would I have wanted unlimited children? That was long before I knew about the outrageous carbon footprint of the USA’s consumer-citizens, so, back then, would I have wanted a couple of kids? A few? Several? Because I’ve said to myself in that mood, with lotsa money I’d have enough time to write and raise kids; I wouldn’t have to work for pay. Oh, wait – I bet Ethel and Angelina have servants – that doesn’t appeal to me, the servant thing. What I’ve wondered is, if I’d had money, lots of money, pots of money, would I have had you – you think?
No way we can know. Since you ask, I’ll say this: Given your work and the things you love, I don’t see making more people as an especially good choice. And there was David to consider. It was sweet how he sat on the bed and held your hand when Claudia took me out – a righteous lover, a responsible guy. But he wasn’t into being a father, never did want kids, right? Didn’t he get a vasectomy after me? So you’d have had all that to deal with if you’d gone that way. Right? Anyway, we’re getting way off the subject – my name. Let’s concentrate here. What about Leslie, like Leslie Feinberg? She was a trans hero and her name even goes both ways. Or, what if I go in another direction – irony. Then maybe Marion, like John Wayne was before Hollywood? Irony ought to figure in this somehow, don’t you think?
You should be the one to choose but, ok, I don’t actually like either of those names, apart from their associations, with or without irony. Finding a name is always hard. It took Eli and me a long time to name Joey. We didn’t decide until he was maybe two weeks old. We called him Baby and Honey and Little Bub until we finally got it. And the hospital people were so nasty about it! Like it’s their goddamn business anyway. It’s all about the paperwork, the birth certificate – but they acted like it’d be bad for the baby not to have a name immediately – they tried to shame us like we were bad parents. They really pissed me off.
Setting aside the habitual bad behavior of the medical industry, I have to point out that my situation is notably different. From his, I mean. And the other one – the miscarriage? Talk about “notably different”! We’ll never know who that was.
Not if you don’t – that’s for sure. I’d have no way, no way at all, of finding out. If there are resources, they’d be in your sphere, not mine. Anyway, yeah, no three pregnancies or kids are ever the same. The fact they’re all from the same mother, or same family, notwithstanding.
“Notwithstanding” – what does that actually mean, anyway?
Too much to explain. Think of it as an elder cousin of “whatever.”
I like the idea of everybody choosing their own name at some specified age, and having a naming ritual. I know some people do that.
Looks like that’s where we are right now – and I love the idea of creating a ritual! All this time, I’ve been thinking of you as the Strawberry, but maybe we’ve arrived at a “specified age.” And really, if you choose a name I don’t like, or don’t immediately click with, so what? Soon that name will be you; it’ll be your name, and that’ll be that. I don’t want to lean on you. Be Leslie or Marion if you want to.
What if I were Berry or even Straw – sounds like a clown in Shakespeare, doesn’t it? One of those funny guys in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
Hey, either is fine, but not if you’re just trying to please me. Do you like those names?
Oh, I’m just sort of riffing on what’s already here. So: there’s Berry, spelled with an e – that’s got the nostalgia thing going, from the last thirty years, reminding us of what I looked like in the syringe.
True, but now that we’re analyzing, it sounds like a boy’s name – when you hear it, it’s like Barry with an a. If you were a person, with a social security number and a photo ID, everybody would think you were a man if they heard it – it’d be gendered; it doesn’t have a trans hit. Straw is genderless – it’s got that going for it.
Yeah, but maybe it brings to mind the camel’s back, and I don’t want that connotation.
You think? I got chocolate malt, right away, my first word-association.
(Laughing) Well, you would, Denah, and it would be that – for you. The thing is, there aren’t any rules we ought to follow – I bet even Miss Manners doesn’t have a guideline for this. My situation is, as far as we know, pretty unconventional.
But she might have something to say, something to suggest. She’s flexible, smart – she keeps learning. Look, she had to come up with ideas about cell phone etiquette – if that’s not an oxymoron. She might not be daunted by this.
She’d need the image – the visual. She’d need the kind of information you had. I’ve always thought the reason you can have this relationship with me is that you know what I actually looked like before, during and after the abortion. You knew about embryonic and fetal anatomy, and you had the strawberry jam image. Hey, don’t you think it’s cool I had a tail? Even though I couldn’t do much with it – I mean, given the lack of external context and such minimal physical presence. Did you think I’d be a girl back then because you wanted a girl?
I suppose. I thought since I already had a boy it’d be a good balance. I was so crazy about Joey, and we were so happy. Yeah, at that time, because being a conscious woman was new to me, I thought it’d be great to raise a free woman, like raising a good man. I was young and excited and ignorant – I still believed in revolution. I mean, on a national scale, like Cuba and VietNam. I know those two weren’t completely successful, but still.
Cuba and VietNam! What about a country name? Russia! That’s a great name, and it fits – given our ancestors and all.
What an idea! I like it. Russia! Or, should we make a list? Some for sound – you know, the beauty of it; some for the family relationship; some for meaning, like symbolism – Cuba would be like that. Are there others?
India, China, Canada! Mexico, Cameroon, Persia, Egypt, Italy! This is a great idea! I love it! Except now it’s hard to choose – there are so many.
Take your time, honey. And think about whether the politics of the actual country will matter to you.
I don’t know; I mean, governments change over time. Like, if I’m Russia, I don’t have to think about Putin, I can think about Gorbachev or the early twentieth-century idealists, or your grandparents – or just the land: Mother Russia. Like if I’m Persia, I don’t need to deal with Iran’s politics. I like the sound of Persia. What if we test them? Let’s use one for a while and see if it works, see if I like being called that.
Fine with me; any way you want to do this is fine with me. Which one should we start with?
Judith Arcana writes poems, stories, essays and books; most recent is a poetry chapbook, Here From Somewhere Else; others include Grace Paley’s Life Stories, A Literary Biography; the poetry collection What if your mother; fiction chapbook Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture, and fiction zine Keesha and Joanie and JANE. Judith lives in the Pacific Northwest; her website is http://www.juditharcana.com/