Monday, March 29, 2010

The love that let us share our name

At the root of things, I’m a taxonomist. My only talent lies in identifying things, naming them. We call prostitution the oldest profession, and maybe it was the first paying gig, but it wasn’t first job in the Garden. Adam’s first task was to name, so perhaps my obsession with what things are and what to call them shouldn’t seem too strange and certainly isn’t something new. I am not one of those literalists who are stodgy about language and flip out over incorrect word usage or will scream bloody murder over a split participle (wait, it's infinitives that you split; participles are for dangling), but I can get rather stern about calling a spade a spade. After all, a rose is a rose is a rose.

I’m mulling around thoughts of names and their magic after listening to “Murder in the City” by the Avett Brothers. It is a beautiful song if a little melancholy. At a certain moment in the song, telling his wife to find a note he’s left of things he wants to make sure his loved ones know if he dies, he concludes with instructions for her: “Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.” Such a beautiful line in a beautiful song. I’ve listened to it a million times and each time that line stands out and strikes me as so wonderful. I find myself wondering how I could communicate feelings like that.

The emotions I can relate to; sharing a name I can’t. There is nothing in the feelings in that song that I can’t intimately relate to, but that relationship to a name and the notion of sealing a relationship with a name is foreign to me. The easy explanation is that I’m gay and there isn’t any traditional way of taking another’s name when the union is between two men. Gay marriage leaves me cold as a solution and although I know many people already participating in the new and only sometimes legal institution, I just can’t cozy up to it. I maintain a grumpy rejection of the way things are supposed to be that won’t let me countenance doing things that more securely center me in my proper place in society. I like life on the fringes and have no desire to see my black sheep backwater turned into a suburb.

Still, if economic and social normalization arguments leave me cold (very cold), taxonomic arguments have slightly more traction. My desire for generic approval has been completely short-circuited through years of trying and failing to achieve it in earlier years, but I’ve always understood that value of knowing what to call something. The thing about understanding names through biology is that you begin to appreciate that there not only are often more than one name for each thing, but that each name carries information and significance and meaning. Behind all the various common and regional names, the scientific names are hiding, and within them is not simply a name to call a thing, but a whole story of how this thing is related to the next thing and where it fits in our system of understanding the world. Our system of naming isn’t perfect, as nothing useful should ever be, but it is functional. A name isn’t simply willy-nilly; it is a place in the world.

So singing about sharing a name hits a soft spot in my heart. I’m softened by the semantics. If he had sung about her taking his name, I’d never have listened to the song twice. I’ll roll with the sentiment and leave aside objections that marriage is an economic agreement and that giving up one name to take on someone else’s is symbolic of ownership and loss of self. Quite the romantic, aren’t I? Really I’m not that harsh. Listening to this song I really do think that sharing a name is a beautiful gesture. Language is our magic and names are our most powerful spell. Why wouldn’t working that spell on a relationship be powerful?

Still, I don’t know how to share my name and wouldn’t know how to share someone else’s. Someone tried to take my name once and I responded like a scalded cat, so I won’t be repeating that experiment again. If we aren’t doing the same old thing, why should we look to the same old magic to make it holy? I’m sure there is naming still to be done and a name to be shared but it certainly won’t come from a sir name. Perhaps sharing our lives will be enough. We can figure out what to call it along the way.

Maybe I’m also just trying to sneak out of this conundrum. Maybe sharing a name is exactly what I’ve been doing for a long time. When you can’t say one person’s name without conjuring a second person’s image also, perhaps the spell has already been cast.

These have been fun gymnastics, trying to reconcile all of these discordant feelings, but almost instantly I knew, regardless of any philosophical remedy, that I would resort to the most literal of solutions: anagram. Truly shared, not just one taken by the other, our names chopped into letters and reassembled become:

Genuine lion fag let able dinosaur friend jar hymen.

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