I’m proud of my name, my style, my identity

A student writes about being stereotyped because of her name and style choices.

Mykel Greene, the author, spends time with her brother, father and grandfather -- all named Michael -- on Sunday. | COURTESY / MYKEL GREENE

Growing up, I was bullied a lot for having a “boy’s name.” 

I am a woman, but my name, Mykel, is a derivative spelling of the name “Michael,” which is commonly considered a man’s name.

I am named after my father and grandfather, both named Michael. My parents named me Mykel to carry on the tradition. My brother, who was born after me, received my father’s full name and spelling.

But my peers — particularly elementary school and middle school boys — were ignorant of the rich history behind my name.

“Are you sure your name is Mykel,” they would ask me, thinking it must be Michele or Michaela. 

Even now, people question me how to pronounce or spell my name. Usually, they are relieved to learn that my traditional “man’s name,” is at least spelled differently. Once they accept my real name, they often ask, “Oh, so you’re trans?”

Assuming a person’s gender based on their name reinforces stereotypes of normative culture and the gender binary. These tell us that men can only have names designated for men and women can only have names designated for women. However, there are exceptions to this stereotype. I am a cisgender woman proudly named after her father.

It wasn’t just my name that led people to question my gender and sexuality. 

Since middle school, I have been fond of baggy sweatpants, jeans, oversized shirts and sweaters, sneakers, ties and suspenders. Punishment for me came in the form of ruffles, frills and pantyhose. It felt like my skin would burn off any time the color pink touched me.

In grade school, peers called me a “dyke,” “butch” and “lesbian” for my fashion choices. If women like women, then they “have to” display themselves as men. That’s the only way their sense of style could make sense to a middle schooler in the early 2000s who has only been exposed to heterosexuality. Someone has to be “the man” in the relationship.

When I chopped all my hair off in college, this stereotype resurfaced. In actuality, I chopped it off because my hair was falling out. Who knew bleaching and coloring your hair excessively in a short period of time would be extremely damaging to your hair?

But sexuality is not determined by style — so the joke’s on them — and I am comfortably settled in my heterosexuality. 

In addition to being stereotyped for my untraditional name and dress, I faced challenges growing up for simply being a woman.

In elementary school, the boys wouldn’t let me play soccer with them because I was small for my age and they thought I would get hurt. Sports just weren’t for girls, they said, especially ones like me. 

Then, once I started menstruating, my family acted like I was incapable of heavy lifting. My parents wouldn’t let carry groceries inside from the car and prohibited me from moving furniture or air conditioners in the summertime. It seemed I was only allowed to curl up in a ball and succumb to my cramps.

However, as reported in Women’s Health Magazine, exercising while menstruating is a good thing. Pain tolerance is higher and recovery is a faster process. This is due to estrogen and progesterone levels being lower. Plus, I enjoyed the exhilarating feeling of running my fastest, being breathless and having the blood rushing in my ears. 

Women are not fragile beings. Neither are girls. 

I see my journey through womanhood and my battle against stereotypes as processes similar to baking cookies.

When making cookies, we roll out the dough, pull out our assortment of cookie cutters and start cutting the dough into shapes before putting it on the baking sheet. We may put sprinkles and cinnamon sugar on them, or leave them as is. Then we put them in the oven to bake. As the cookie bakes and expands, it maintains the shape it was cut into, and sometimes it becomes a shape of its own.

We define what our shapes are going to be as we mature at 400 degrees. Try as it might, society does not define how our cookies turn out. We all have minds of our own.

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