Personal Stories

Call Me Rhett: A Personal Account of Finding a Name

The lack of queer and trans characters in mainstream media robs the queer community of seeing themselves on public platforms. As a trans writer and illustrator, I feel like I have a responsibility to create more stories about people like me, stories that are easily accessible. I want to create and write characters that young queer children can look up to, something I did not have the opportunity to experience while growing up.

I have enjoyed telling and creating stories visually from a very young age. The characters I conjured up were always inspired by the people around me—my friends, my family, teachers, and just about anyone I met. I made sure, however, to give them different names,  keeping in line with the idea I had of storytelling (all characters must be fictional).

I remember sometime around the age of 7, my parents had started watching a lot of English films such as Gone with the Wind, The Sound of Music, and other classics. I didn’t understand or speak English at the time, but I would still insist on watching the films along with them. 

Later on, I would incorporate the names from these films into my own stories. Characters like Rhett, John, and Paul would become my companions and together we would go on many adventures. Sometimes I would name my own character as well, to fit in with the rest. Looking back on these stories, I wonder why I was so fascinated and particular about the use of these names, especially those assigned to male characters and therefore my male friends. 

Recently, while going through a pile of art that I had made as a child, my friend asked me, “Why is the main character in all your drawings or stories a boy?” That had never occurred to me! The idea that in some ways or the other, I was always drawing or conjuring up a version of myself. Coming out as a trans man now, it all finally falls into place.

Growing up, while I was always aware of the discomfort and disassociation I felt with my body, I never had the words to validate it. The films and stories I was exposed to all involved cis-het characters and heterosexual relationships. I found myself identifying with all the cis-men I saw on screen, and my desire to be one grew ceaselessly, yet all I could do was imagine. 

Words like dysphoria, transgender and gender-affirming care did not exist when one is brought up in a cis-gendered, heteronormative household. I grew up believing there was absolutely no way to become who I really was. 

So sometimes I do feel like I had to create that character or role model for myself. It is also very fascinating that today, I look a lot like the characters I used to draw as a child. It is almost like I was making myself come to life!

2 years back, as a part of my final year thesis at college, I got the opportunity to create a full-length comic book. I created yet another story, the main character uncannily similar to me in both personality and behaviour. This was around the time I had come out to most of my friends but was still going by my dead name, a name that had always felt alien. 

My character was a trans man. Naming him was not difficult. I did an arbitrary Google search and picked one up randomly, giving myself the freedom to change it later if I felt like it. The name, however, really stayed with me, and over time I started to see myself as the character I had created —someone a lot like me, with a life more similar to mine than I had planned. I was unable to finish the comic book and ended up only submitting pre-production research and character sketches. 

The project persevered nonetheless; it grew into the identity I was always running after, and a name I could finally find solace in. 

The lack of queer and trans characters in mainstream media robs the queer community of seeing themselves on public platforms. As a trans writer and illustrator, I feel like I have a responsibility to create more stories about people like me, stories that are easily accessible. I want to create and write characters that young queer children can look up to, something I did not have the opportunity to experience while growing up.

I do sometimes wonder; what if I had the words and resources to understand my identity at a younger age, would I have had the freedom to start my transition much earlier? And to understand myself much earlier?

We are always looking for ourselves, in the books we read, in the films we watch or even in the music that we listen to. There is always a need to relate—that something which is produced by another can validate our feelings because it confirms that we are not alone in the way we feel. The basic nature of relatability is to banish the idea of ‘otherness’, a feeling those from my community are, more often than not, immensely familiar with.  

I never liked my dead name. My parents regularly applauded themselves for the amount of time and effort that went into finding the right name for me. Something that would draw people’s attention (it didn’t work, people forgot it the moment they heard it) and a name that would rhyme with my sister’s name. 

My mother is Bengali, so it was only mandatory for my sister and me to have a daak naam – a name only used by the family. My daak naam is very gender-neutral and I believe it fits me better than my dead name. So as much as my parents tried to persuade me to not tell anyone about it, very soon I was only called by my pet name, and the traces of my dead name only remained in my legal documents and transcripts.

I have never felt any kind of familiarity with that name. It was given to me but it was never mine. When I began my transition, my parents tried to persuade me to have some part of my dead name in my newly chosen name, but it felt too alien. And in some way that is a relief.

I do like my pet name and initially, I did wonder if I could just go by that. But when I was creating the character for my thesis, it felt familiar and also fresh and new at the same time.

It truly is a wonderful and liberating experience to name oneself.

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Imaan (he/him) is an illustrator and writer based in Delhi, currently pursuing a Masters in Literary Art. As a trans man, he aspires to craft characters and narratives that young queer and trans children can look upto—something he lacked growing up. Through his stories, Imaan aims to combat trans erasure and celebrate the existence of trans men.
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