Give Me the Word

Shannon Barber
12 min readNov 20, 2021

reprint from patreon.

[image caption: photo of the author, they have a face sized pan dulce in their hand and are peeking around the top of it]

Imagine if you will. Yours truly sitting outside of the now closed (RIP) Uptown Espresso in my work neighborhood, many years ago of course, I believe I was maybe 30 or so. I was re-reading something about gender, probably one of Kate Bornstein’s books. I ran into an older person I knew who used to sell papers on the street with a great local program. Now, at that singular moment they were he. That day we ran into each other, and one conversation changed her life.

When she asked what I was reading, the thing that got her attention was that the book was by a transgender person. She didn’t know that word. She knew the tslur (no look it up yourself) but nothing else. I explained briefly and she said, and I will never forget, “you mean, she decided to be a woman and that is called being transgender?”

The look on her face was miraculous. She wound up wandering off and the next time I saw her, she hustled me into a bar and sat with me in a booth. Her nails were painted, she had on mascara and told me, “I am a woman. I am trans gender.”

As it turned out, nobody ever told her that was an option. She grew up with the tslur, the idea that being trans was the same as transvestitism, the same as drag. At the time she was starting to think about these things, she had no access to the sort of language that might have put her on the path to finding who she really is. And today my friends we’re going to talk about words, names and magic.

Buckle in. We’re diving real deep.

The idea of giving something a name and thus giving it power or giving yourself power over it is one buried deep in a lot of our entertainment but, most of us don’t get to sit and think about how that operates in our lived lives and how it benefits us. We often assign legitimacy to things we can name; we say they exist; we say they are real to an extent. We crave the naming and the sudden realness of giving or finding out the name.

We know that if we want say help in the ER, things don’t tend to go well if we just run in there yelling, OW OW OW and nothing else. We know that words, language, communication is at the root of so much of the human condition and that it can be fucking hard. So much of our lives is spent figuring out how to do this stupid thing in order for…

Shannon Barber