I am not born yet. It is 1983 and my mother is pregnant with her first child, my brother. They’ve grown partial to the name Dylan, having fallen in love listening to Desire on vinyl in a North Hampton dorm room. My grandmother tells my parents that Dylan is a girly name and not appropriate for her first-born grandson. They name him Michael.
I am born. My parents name me Dylan Kathleen, dear one from the sea. Dylan is the 2099th most popular name for girls in 1988. My birth announcement reads lyrics from my namesake, “On a night like this so glad you’re here to stay.”
I’m five years old. My parents have sent me to Montessori school because I am gifted or special or something. The first day we sit in a circle in the 1st – 3rd grade classroom. I sit to the right of the teacher. My brother had walked me into school holding my hand, but now I am scared and alone and take comfort next to the biggest person in the room.
“Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves,” Ms. O’Sullivan says. We go clockwise around the circle; I am last.
Debbie. Benjamin. Sarah. Brenna. Dana. Joshua.
Directly across from me is a young boy with freckles and a bowl cut.
“My name is Dylan,” He announces. I am in shock. He has my name? But that is my name.
I am the last person to go.
“My name is DeDe.” I proudly say. I secretly go by DeDe for an entire month until my teacher accidentally rats me out to my parents. They tell me that nicknames are fine but are vetoing DeDe. They approve of DJ and I find my new identity as a five-year-old Candance Cameron wannabe.
I am eight years old. I am watching reruns of Punky Brewster. Punky wins a contest sponsored by a local store and they send her a racecar as a prize because they think she is a boy. Later in the episode, she isn’t allowed to race her new car on the track with all the neighborhood boys because she is a girl. I feel like Punky is the only person in the world who understands me. I try to get people to call me “Devine” for the next three years and thankfully it doesn’t catch on.
I am 14 years old and my mom has decided to let me have a group of girls over for a good, old-fashioned slumber party. I am still relatively new to Maine and have finally found a good group of friends. I’ve rented How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and bought Cool Ranch Doritos. My friend calls and I see her name on the caller ID of our house phone.
“Hi DJ. Sorry, my mom says I can’t come tonight.” I am crushed. This is my big party! I asked her if there is a specific reason.
“You’re not going to believe this,” she says. “My mom asked your name and I said Dylan and then she told me that I wasn’t allowed to have sleepovers with boys. I tried to tell her, but she doesn’t believe me. Can your parents call her?”
I’m 19 years old, and I meet my college boyfriend’s friends in his hometown of Knoxville, TN. We all drink a little too much in the parking lot of a semi-professional wrestling arena before catching the show.
His friend comes up to me and says, “You know we thought [ex-boyfriend] was dating a boy when you two went Facebook official. It was really funny… for us.”
I am 21 years old. The head of my department, Richard, e-mails me. It is my second semester of senior year and I am having a registration problem caused completely by him. He and I have met on numerous occasions, but he sends me an e-mail at 5:45 a.m. referring to me as “Mr. Joffe.” He is unprofessional and inappropriate in his correspondence with a student.
I am a bratty 21-year-old.
“Mr. Joffe is my father, Dick.”
I am 24 years old. I am at a bar in Portland, Maine waiting for my friend. A boy comes over and sits in the open seat next to me. He is escaping the drunken gaggle of girls he is with. I look past him at the group. I know these types of girls — I’ve been this group of girls before. I give him a knowing smile and he laughs. We introduce ourselves and chat sporadically while I wait for my friend.
“Where are you from?”
“What do you do?”
A girl from his group notices and walks over to us. She lays a possessive arm around him and whispers something in his ear, letting her lips brush slightly against him. She smiles and he introduces us. This is his friend, Angela. You can see her entire body stiffen as he says the word “friend.”
She looks at me for a little too long. “Dylan,” she says. “Isn’t that a name for boys?”