Who are you?
Let’s begin this series of writings on myself here since it is common in our society that a person’s name tells us much about them. After I was born, I was given the name Steven Ryan Giddens. Steven is a name shared by my biological father and myself. Ryan is a name of interest to my family, a family friend. Giddens is my biological father’s last name, my “family name.” My earliest recollections are of me being called Ryan or some playful derivative therein, i.e., Rhino. It wasn’t until I found myself in the public school system that I learned that I had another name. It was weird because my teachers told me I was Steven, but I insisted that I was Ryan. My teachers normalized this, explaining that many people have two names, a first and a middle, but most people went by their first name. My mother and, by now, step-father said I was Ryan because my father was Steve and I was not him. I was told for brevity and security that this was a bad thing, ‘he was a bad man.’ My younger brother began to use his middle name too, either by mimesis or by my parents, to normalize my middle name usage. Until I was in high school, I did not question this and was Ryan. At some point in high school, I became rebellious and curious. I played with the stylization of my name and even tried S. Ryan Giddens. But it’s hard to say and doesn’t flow nicely, but I guess I could have been T. Ryan…? Or D or J Ryan…? I was also becoming more and more frustrated with how often I was confused with being a girl. Ryan and Ryann/Ryanne were popular names then.
Unless I called someone, yes, we called back then and didn’t just text, or I met with them in person I was almost always assumed to be female. When I joined the Army in 2001, I was told that my name WAS Steven, and I would answer it whenever I was called. Since most of the time, we all went by last names, using the first name was a privilege and held an undertone of camaraderie and friendship. After 12-years, Steve just kind of stuck. As I transitioned into academia, I came to wrestle with two parts: Ryan and Steven, my childhood and family dependency, and my transition into adulthood self-reliance. After several years of personal analysis, I thought I resolved this debacle because I found confidence in being Steve and settled many childhood issues. I am Steve. I was Ryan, and for a time, I was Giddens, even Sarge or Staff Sergeant. Then I was the Reverend or Pastor? Reverend Giddens, Pastor Steve, but not Ryan unless it was family or an ancient friend. The truth is that I am all, and somehow none. I am me. All of these names and titles and appellations are correct and served a purpose, and have a function of identifying myself to others. Still, none really identify me or who I am, let alone who and what I want to be. I am a confidant. An ally. A fiercely loyal friend. I am an academic. A philosopher. A theologian. An Analyst in formation. But more than these, I am a father and a husband. I am a caregiver, a lover, a fighter, and sometimes a fool.
I have found that I don’t really care what you call me or how you identify with me because time and relationships shift constantly. My daughter chose a name for me when she could speak, and it’s now changed and will likely change again. She did the same with each of her grandparents, and we had no choice in this matter either. Like them, I accepted these names as a sign of our mutual relationship. It was a signifier for the signified. If I chose to respond and be known as such, then I am. If I reject it and inform you otherwise, then I do. Perhaps this is the true meaning of a name, I am who I am called to be.