Monday, September 26, 2016

What’s In A Name?

At the age of 36, still reeling in the midst of an identity crisis as an evangelical Christian coming out as a lesbian, separated with an impending divorce after 12 years of marriage, my mother informed me my middle name, Colleen, had changed. It is now in reference to a different Colleen—a dear friend of Mom's who recently past away, rather than the one whom she lost contact with many years ago. 

Fast-forward a few years later.  I'm 40 and hoping I've better solidified myself in a “know thyself” sort of way. But Mom reminds me not only does my middle name now have a different relationship for her, it is pronounced kah-Leen, as her friend's name was, and the way it "should have been" (vs. Co'-leen, the way it’s always been pronounced). 

What Mom doesn’t know is that within these last few years I've grown tired of coping with other people’s ideas about how I "should" identify, or what my identity is or isn't. Additionally hanging over me was knowing my ex-husband wanted his name back that I've had for at least thirteen years. With so much shifting so quickly, identifying as Emiko Colleen (pr. Co-leen) Hall was one of the few things that grounded me. 

And now another year’s gone by. For practical purposes, I’ve begun to chew on reneging to my maiden name, Iwata, but with the same unenthusiastic sentiment I’ve always had. 

Iwata--“pebbly rice paddy." Maybe it's the Western equivalent to “rocky field.” But what strong association Rockfield might have Pebblepad just doesn’t.

Emiko Iwata... 

Growing up, when people tried to enunciate my name correctly, either out loud or in their heads, I would readily endorse their difficulty--“It’s too Japanese for me. I’m only half.” 

I recently learned the term for thinking about myself in this way--the pre-encounter stage of identity development. Typically reserved for racial minorities in a predominantly White world, the identity stage explains those who disconnect from their ethnicity to primarily associate with the majority’s sphere. While I could easily associate the notion with my gay identity in a predominantly straight world, the desire to strongly associate with the ethnic majority I put on my father.

Somewhere along being born in an Arizona Japanese internment camp in 1943, then later raised in the heart of Los Angeles, Dad grew up distancing himself from his Japanese heritage. In fact, he embraced White America to the point of marrying a White woman. Looking like Mr. Miyagi from "The Karate Kid", he entertained us in playful grunts and mimicked words, just like the movie. But Dad never spoke Japanese. Aside from a few food items—"hashi" (chopsticks), "gohan" (rice), and "shoyu" (soy sauce), he admitted having forgotten most of the rest. So, while his “hafu” children grew up nearly ignorant of 50% of their race identity, at least he remembered how to make a few types of sushi and teach us how to eat with chopsticks. That said, we always did have a pot of rice with dinner, even Thanksgiving. Dad told us how people would stare at him on the bus, some gaining the gumption to approach and ask if he was Pat Morita, (aka Mr. Miyagi). He'd chuckle telling us how surprised most people were to hear him speak in perfect English, then compliment him on how good it was.* 

Much to my hafu siblings’ disappointment, I was the only one with a Japanese first name. This meant between my sister and me, if either of us married, I'd retain my half-Japanese identity in name whereas she would lose it in a traditional undertaking. Should either of us find ourselves divorced? She would happily recollect her half-Japanese identity by going back to her maiden name while I would receive a full Japanese identity once again, shamefully disappointing other’s notion that I, like my father, should speak it.

As it is with ideas associated with words or names, there is much more than the surface, two-dimensional identity on paper, Google, or even Facebook. In “Facing the Music”, Jennifer Knapp, two-time Dove Award, and Grammy-nominated Christian music artist describes her despair in writing her name out, or even seeing it. After her overwhelming experience in the Christian music industry, then later watching it careen after coming out as a lesbian, she questioned how to separate the painful past entangled within her featured, real name. 

Contrarily, being a Hall conveys some of the best years of my life and isn’t something I’m easily ready to drop. In extracting my married name, it somehow feels dismissive of the most significant twelve years of my life. Removing it feels like I'm showing a black hole of nothingness to the world while the dark gravity pulls on me. 

In disquieting times throughout my life in relation to my identity, I wondered at the day I could be completely recognized and embraced within a name. I would ask my Maker, "How do you see me?" I wanted to believe I was imploring in the familiar, red-letter language of Jesus when he asked, “Who do you say I am?”  This instilled a deep sense that at least the Omniscient can fully comprehend the culmination of all my perspective angles. While waiting for a reply, I beseeched the Internet gods and Googled Emiko Iwata.
In the midst of pages of random Japanese women and girls, I saw my Iwata family—my adorable nieces and nephews (some of which still inside the round bellies of my beautiful sister-n-laws), my handsome brothers and my gorgeous sister—each image pressing into my heart. While those years as a Hall is drifting, there they all are embracing me as one of them.

But there was something else, something a little misplaced in the Google images under Emiko Iwata… a picture of Jennifer Knapp. I had forgotten it took me a year after coming out to look for help among others I could identify with—those willing to live in the tension and not disown either aspect of their gay or Christian identity. At the time, I knew of Jennifer Knapp’s coming out and found she became a spokesperson for an online gay Christian community called “Believe Out Loud.” I clicked on the link beside her pic and saw my comment on one of her posts.

"Your courage is inspiring. We need more warriors to blaze the trail between the culture wars so others can eventually walk an easier path. I hope to stand as one of them with you. Peace."
Emiko Iwata Hall.

That was the only time I can recall signing with Iwata since I was married in 1999.

Today, I'm reminded that sometimes solidification thwarts life's fluidity and maybe best reserved for corpses. Perhaps there's something more for the graced with beauty, brightly smiling little girl who's come from rocky places while finding her way through the halls of life and known as Emiko Colleen (pr. Co'-leenIwata again.

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To Kill a Mockingbird Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets The Da Vinci Code 1984 Pride and Prejudice

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