Call Me by My Name: In defence of chosen names
What’s in a name?
Tooba. Tuba. Tubu. Tooby. T-bone. Two bars. Shark bait-Tubahaha.
Picture this, you’re a 21-year-old woman, a brown one, (hey, actually one of the only two non yt kids in the classroom) in a course filled with softbois and ypipo. You didn’t pick the degree that your first gen migrant community would see as prestigious—you were indulgent (yes, yes you were).
You got your ATAR, and you made the choice to disappoint your parents and not do law, or engineering, after being privileged enough to go through 10 years of private schooling.
You chose an arts degree. You chose to learn to write creatively in a language that choked itself down your mouth and made you spit out every lump of Urdu your mother gave you.
And here you sit in a classroom, at a ‘progressive, #socialjustice’ uni, eager to learn—did you do the extra readings? And the take home activity? You bet you did. Because despite the amount of shit you have to deal with, the love you have for wanting to read, feel, and share a story outweighs the burden (mildly annoying but albeit persistent) of having to continuously justify yourself and your choices.
Okay so here we are: in your first class of one of your final subjects for Creative Writing. Your big project, your tutor says let’s go around and introduce ourselves, say what genre we like, and what we want to do in the future.
We start off, a student says their name, they say they like fantasy and say that they want to get into editing. Awesome. There is something deeply inspiring hearing from students around you and what their aspirations might be, even if we are all going to die by 2030, even though so many of us know how hard it is to get a job, let alone one in our field, even though we might have done an innovative degree ready for the new and emerging job market, knowing that there might be another GFC and the market will be on fire and we’ll be writing our stories on the back of food stamps. In the words of the academic who welcomed me into my Communications degree in first year: “you are doing degrees for jobs that don’t even exist yet.” Yes, we really be out here at the very fringes of the job market.
We go again to the next person, they say who they are, they like sci-fi, they want to be a lawyer, they’re doing a double (lol, someone thought ahead).
We go again to the next person, they say who they are, what they like and what they want to be.
“Hi, My name is Tooba… most people call me Toobs…”
“No, I don’t know if I can say that, Toooo—oo-b-s, yeah I literally don’t know if I can say that. I don’t get why people do that, you know, some of my friends say ‘my name’s Daniel but you can call me dweebie’ haaahaa, sorry no offense.”
“Hahaha, I mean I wasn’t offended until you said that. Anyways. Well, I really like poetry… and yeah.”
“What do you want to do?’
“I’d like to… I’d like to combine oral history and art and community. haha.”
My cheeks flushed, red.
It was the next person’s turn
Hi everyone my name is: redacted for anonymity, but the name on the role is redacted—let’s be honest you don’t need to know what their dead name is either, you just need to know that this happened.
“We’ll see how we go with that.”
Funny, I thought it was my fault for being vulnerable and sharing my chosen name, it was silly and indulgent and maybe I deserved to be berated the way my tutor so proudly did. But no, it didn’t matter a gender non-conforming person had to be okay with knowing that their chosen name being used would be at the whim of a tutor’s ability to see “how [he] goes” with it.
Toobs, the authentic me™, an identity that I’ve had to work very hard to try to grasp. I’ve had to reconcile cultures, my own sense of place, where I am, where I came from, and where I’m going. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by people who not only assured me that I wasn’t being crazy, but that in fact my teacher was being a twat. Nothing is difficult about saying Toobs, and nothing is difficult about not making a comment on someone’s name.
Not once has anyone made me feel unsafe or judged in sharing my work during the four years I’ve been studying. In a degree where I’ve been encouraged to learn techniques and be better at using my craft to discuss my own experiences. In a degree where tutors have given me so much time in and outside of the class to workshop my writing, to give me extensions so I can complete my work and hand it in when I’ve been struggling. The bar had been set very high in this degree.
So it was absolutely humbling to be reminded that the creative industry is filled with entitled arseholes who won’t want to learn to say my name or any way I introduce myself. People who think my name is silly but will probably employ me because some diversity quota is needed to be met. That’s the way the market is.
But I don’t take no shit. And no one should. If someone is a bully, you have to stand up to them and tell them what’s what. It wasn’t about me anymore. So the following week, I went to the classroom and asked a friend to accompany me—standing up isn’t something you should have to do alone. I asked my tutor why it was so hard to say my name. He couldn’t give me an answer, he said if I felt that way I should have said something at the end of the class. However, last time I checked it wasn’t my job to ensure the integrity of the classroom was maintained, and it wasn’t my job to teach a white man to respect me if he didn’t even want to learn to say my name.
I told him that names are personal, I didn’t feel like sharing my work in that space that he had pissed in.
As I was leaving the classroom, he asked me if I was going to stick around.
I told him: “No, because you are not very nice.”
It felt good. You don’t get to bully students and get away with it. I don’t care what variation of my name you ended up calling me, but I’ll be damned if I’m not respected in my own learning environment
What’s in a name? A Toobs by any other name would still deserve respect.