Yes, characterised by death. That’s the truth.
Because who I should have been was never born: conceived in my mother’s mind, and carried for 9 months under the moniker Stephen Richard. I’m quite pleased – it’s not as classy a name as the female one I ended up with (named for the house as it goes, because they didn’t have any ideas/imagination/inspiration – thankfully not Hazeldene or Aysgarth.)
She was so sure I was male. So VERY sure even though the sex of a baby is determined at the very moment of conception so I was always a girl. Always. But my mother told everyone she was having a boy, and every single person confirmed this endlessly because how she was carrying her baby it must have been of the male persuasion. She made so many plans, thought long and hard about how the bedrooms would be arranged, where he would go and what he would learn and she was wrong. I have often thought – without the remotest sense of self-pity that being third was something like a blessing. Neither first boy or first girl, and left to get on with it; the best of propositions.
I have never felt like a boy – whatever complex messages my mother’s conviction sent to that tiny frog-like specimen in her belly: I have never been confused about my gender. She, however, has worried about it often. I remember the battle that I had to get Meccano for my birthday – and after I’d worn her down I was disappointed to find a plastic version when what I wanted was metal, the same as my brother. She often said she thought that buying a single ‘boy’s toy’ had somehow had a very large impact on how I turned out. Gay.
Did I pick up some subliminal messages about power and ambition? Some secondhand benefits of being nearly a boy? Because as she would say, you could have been. Really easily. (But then, couldn’t we all have been?) I could have also been a fibroid: she had her periods for the first 4 months of the pregnancy and that’s what the doctors thought I might be.
I don’t know about that – but I do often wonder where Stephen Richard would have ended up compared to me. What advantages would he have had against those I’ve managed to muster? What he have turned out somehow further down the line, being more successful, endowed somehow with male privilege?
Stephen Richard doesn’t exist. He was just a name in the end: not the one who got away.
I am not who I have never been.