Naming it for what it is


You call a thing into existence by giving it a name.

You have a name.

You answer to your name until the day you think that maybe your name doesn’t suit you, or maybe it’s not your name so much as the words, labels and expectations that have, until now, been associated with your name.

You might be four, 12, 15, 19, 22, 25, 38, 42 years old. Something happens. Or Someone. You feel something. You sense you’re different. You sense that there are other words, words that affect your understanding of yourself, how you have defined your identity and what you believe is the trajectory of your life and what’s expected of you. Not that you care about expectations, but you are taken aback by this understanding of yourself. You start to use new words in your thinking about who you are, what you are.

You have conversations with other parts of you, to figure it out, figure out how to be with this identity that increasingly needs to be visible, to be out, to be. Part of that internal conversation includes words, names, labels that you’ve only ever seen in passing, only ever heard whispered. Maybe there are multiple words, labels, names: gay, lesbian, homosexual, transsexual, butch, boi, femme, queer. You try them on, say them out loud. You show off a label, identity. You’ve arrived!

Or you’re afraid and instead hide it. You have nightmares. You’re not that. You push it away. You don’t want those words. You don’t think you want to use those names for you and you don’t want to be associated with any label because you don’t believe a whole person can be contained in a label that’s a short cut, or a silly stereotype. Or you don’t think you can be this new thing that seems to be emerging in you. You don’t want to be or feel what you think you might be or feel what you think you feel.

But let’s say that you want those words, names and labels in your life. You’re going to use them as starting points for finding your new people, finding your bigger tribe, finding others like you and maybe finding love and finding places you could belong and people who get you. People who accept you. You’re going to use these words, names and labels as a (non-committal) starting point because you’ve come to see how a name can confer power and be powerful; how a name can set boundaries when boundaries are needed, how a name draws a line when a line needs to be drawn. You get that identity is not a fixed, permanent self, but for now, this is important, this declaration of your name, your label, your identity in this time and place. But in some places, you’re not allowed to use the name.

In Ontario, as part of the provincial government’s new anti-bullying legislation, students in publicly funded schools are going to have the right to call their anti-homophobia clubs The Gay-Straight Alliance if they want to. But that is proving controversial.

In Ontario, Catholic schools are publicly funded. In Ontario, the Catholic School Board has come out against the proposed legislation and allowing use of the word gay, lesbian, trans, bi, queer in the name of anything. In Ontario, the Catholic School Board — and other religious groups — has come out against use of the words, labels and names that people use when discussing homophobia, and the words, labels and names that people who experience homophobia use. In Ontario, the Catholic school boards have come out against naming a club or group in a school designed specifically to deal with homophobia. They say the legislation infringes on their religious freedom. They say they don’t want to focus on bullying on one group. And they think that the legislation is not good for Catholics or for others. The legislation is needed because currently, principals have the right to veto what a student group chooses to name its anti-bullying group. (I promise I won’t touch on the issue of religious schools receiving public funding. I won’t.)

If you can’t say it, does it mean it goes away?

Does a thing without a name exist? There are people who do not want young people to know anything: not about difference, and most certainly not about sex, not about contraception, not about diversity of opinion, of beliefs, of ways of being. What’s that new saying? Don’t tell, don’t teach. 

If some students are brave enough claim the name, label or identity of lesbian, gay, queer, trans, or questioning and want to build, support, participate and name a club Gay-Straight Alliance as part of an accepting and tolerant school that helps to create a safe space for them and their straight peers to navigate the process of understanding difference and commonalities, let them.

If straight students want to build, support and participate and name a club Gay-Straight Alliance as part of an accepting and tolerant school and put effort into creating an anti-homophobic club and work toward ending bullying, let them. The name is important to the students, and since it is an issue within the broader student body, let them name it. (And maybe next year, they can work to end a terrible bullying trend called Kick-A-Ginger Day that’s infected North American schools.)

Gay-Straight Alliance clubs might not end bullying. But it names what students are working toward. Maybe they can teach the adults a thing or two, including naming a thing for what it is, facing up to reality. Talking about what’s hard to talk about. Like ending bullying. Confronting institutionalized homophobia.


I am a lesbian and I approve efforts to imagine a world without bullies.

I am a lesbian and I approve the efforts to effect changes in people’s behaviour that will end bullying in all its manifestations.

About FS

Toronto, Canada. Writing about slices of life, the moments and minor details of which come into awareness or out of imagination and the spaces inbetween. On hiatus from writing ... at least for now.
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11 Responses to Naming it for what it is

  1. tomboy says:

    I think we should start a Lesbian Anonymous group (LA), where loads of people could get together so that everybody can say out loud, “I am a Lesbian.” I even have trouble writing it, it feels so forbidden. Sometimes it’s nice to get out where no one is and just yell it to the trees, yell it to something listening and not judging. Check this website out, I have no idea what to think-
    PS In my country common-day bullying of Lesbians is rape and murder; you guys are almost lucky.

    • FS says:

      Dear Tomboy — Hmm. Good idea. Are you going to start it..? Or should I?

      Tomboy, you are SO damned brave to think to whisper, to write what you know to be true, even as it feels forbidden. It is scary to be different in a culture that says everyone — especially women — have to be a certain way, when difference is not tolerated. I won’t go into the history of it all, but I think at times that more than anything there is an organized, persistent and profound hatred and fear of women across all cultures and religions and beliefs, and anything associated with women or femaleness, which encompasses men who love men (who are for some reason seen as ‘feminine’). The LGBT community is a defacto, in-your-face challenge to the status quo of every institutional belief (and myth) in the world.

      Propaganda does not rely on facts and truth. It pulls up on fears and desires. The Institute for Canadian Values is a marginal, but noisy group, part of that small but vocal minority, backed by or rather led by religious groups in Ontario and across Canada who are working to deny the LGBT community equal rights and the right to exist, and turn back the clock. In Canada, they’ve not been successful in law. We have full rights. BUT: what happens in people’s homes and on the streets here and around the world is at times just heartbreaking and quite frankly, fucking insane. (Excuse my language.) It would be very easy to blame religious institutions and dogma, but at the end of the day, how those beliefs are enacted is through the individual, and some of the individuals of/in this world are just hateful. What is it people say now? Hate and ignorance is a choice.

      I’ve sent a note to the Premier’s office in support The Ministry of Education’s legislation.

      According to Nan Wise, a sex therapist and neuroscientist , “Nature loves diversity and society abhors it.”

      Maybe the next time you are out in mature, stand very close to a tree and whisper your truth … and if that feels ok and you feel safe in doing so, yell it out to the tree, to the sky to the clouds…

      Hey do you know this site? There’s a book, too. There’s an incredible history of ‘tomboy’, you know.

  2. kodamae says:

    Very powerful and truly beautifully thought and written. Catholic principles are often, very often misunderstood and misused by those who claim to follow the Christ… I thought that Christ showed the way for love and brotherhood, but many times his words are distorted to justify narrow-mindedness and fear. I was raised in a Catholic school in France and Italy. My family believes that homosexuality is a sin, a sign of moral decay, and so some expressions have to be kept hidden or just murmured, to avoid gossip and scandal. Yet, words are stronger and truth even more 😀 I hope that those unfair and almost insane proposals of a new legislation against gay people in Ontario won’t succeed. Coraggio!

    • FS says:

      Dear kodamae; Thank you. Oh my gosh: raised in Catholic schools? Hmmm — some of the most rebellious, high risk and intelligent women I know are Catholic school girls :-). As for the ones I know who work within the Catholic school board system — they are oddly, strangely silent.

      Ah yes, The French and Italian foundations of how it will play in the family, in the community, in public. I know that only too well. Still, it’s unfortunate about your family and its beliefs. That can be so difficult. I hope you have the support you need from people who matter to you and that there are places where you can be who you are. CHeck this blog: a bit academic, but lots about some of the history of Italians and lesbians…

      Interestingly, in spite of both France’s and Italy’s long, long campaign against homosexuality, and in particular, women’s homosexuality, it doesn’t go away, does it? WE don’t go away.

      The fight in Ontario is getting weird. I have my hopes slightly higher than neutral and fingers crossed, but all I want to do is grrrrrrr at the hypocrisy. Maybe we can take a tip in crazy from Iran — you know the country that says homosexuality doesn’t exist there? Part of the reason it “doesn’t exist” is because the state sanctions sex change operations — in effect, forcing gay people to transition, even if they don’t want to.

      We can hope for better days… 🙂

      • kodamae says:

        Grazie, Francesca. Not only in Iran, even if I saw a reportage about the delicate situation of homosexual men forced to undrego a surgery and change sex… A Chinese friend of mine thinks that homosexuality doesn’t exist in his country or in his relations. Beata ingenuità! Keep sounding your gay yawp over the rooftops of the world 😀

      • FS says:

        I will :-).

        No gay people in China? Oh really. He’s wrong. There are people who believe that homosexuality is only a white, Western phenomenon that affects males, because women would never ever do anything like that. If only the energies of denial and delusion could be harnessed as a force for good in this world: just think of where we’d be, although ‘good’ is relative. Be well, K.

  3. I love this post, it really explains the process of coming out and how liberating or traumatising it can be, it can and usually is a little of both:-) As for the Catholic school board, well, these are the same people who promote abstinence as birth control education, hmm, I guess that’s why Catholic families are so big 😛 but, seriously, I wonder about these people who actually stand up and say such things, if you believe in God how can you believe he or she is all about hate and ignorance.

    These people, if they met Jesus today, would probably think him a dangerous subversive, in need of a haircut and maybe just maybe a little bit lite in his….sandals 🙂

    • FS says:

      Thank you BB. Ghandi said something to the effect of, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

      It’s distressing to see, to witness, to have this happening here in Ontario. It’s distressing to see how the real issues of the day get pushed aside as the long-standing religious issues regain prominence…at least in the media. I am coming to think that everything humans invent (including all belief systems — religion, science, parenting, medicine, engineering, politics, economics, psychology) is a tool, and humans use tools for good and for not so good things. Said another way, anything can be a weapon in the hands of people who believe they need weapons. And nothing whips up people faster than fear because fear bypasses rational thinking…and as we know, the masses are asses. (I say that with love in my heart, and pragmatism in my mind.)

      I still believe that the better part of human nature will prevail, however, I can’t rule out some dark tunnels.

  4. The thing with words is, what is bad and what is good? To probably most Catholics, and certainly the Catholic hierarchy, “Sexual immorality” meaning being tolerant of gay people is bad and “religious principle” meaning being intolerant of gay people is good. They seek to enforce that on their pupils. Possibly the parents want that enforced too. And yet- Still! – the children want to call their anti-bullying network a gay-straight alliance: because they are on the side of truth against oppression.

    • FS says:

      Dear Clare… very good question and good point. Sometimes that whole speaking truth to power with words that name the thing is really, really important.

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