Chris McQueer

That one time I gave my­self the only name worse than McQueer...

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IT has been brought to my at­ten­tion re­cently by sev­eral in­cred­i­bly ob­ser­vant peo­ple that my sur­name is very unusual and, also, very funny. Now, it may come as a shock to you that I al­ready know this. I am fully aware of its com­edy value, the nov­elty of it and of the fact that it is com­pletely ridicu­lous.

It’s not a pen name. Some­one took time out of their day to send me a mes­sage on Twit­ter ex­plain­ing to me that us­ing McQueer as a “moniker” was of­fen­sive as I am a het­ero­sex­ual man and it looked like, as they put it, I was try­ing to curry favour with the LGBT com­mu­nity.

I had to po­litely ex­plain to them that I was not at it and that it is my real name.

It hasn’t al­ways been my name though. It says McQueer on my birth cer­tifi­cate and it’s what I was known as at school un­til about pri­mary five when my maw got mar­ried. As it was around this age I had started to get a bit of grief in school about my name and re­alised what it meant, I jumped at the chance to change it to my maw’s new mar­ried name. I strut­ted back into school af­ter the sum­mer hol­i­days with a brand new name and iden­tity. I was now Chris Gray. It was a chance to rein­vent my­self. To me, Chris Gray sounded like the name of a se­cret agent. Two short, sharp, one syl­la­ble words com­ing to­gether to form a name that sim­ply rolls off the tongue, that lands in peo­ple’s ears like a dart into the bulls­eye. I was now Chris Gray and that was that. No more slag­gings ever again. A bul­let well and truly dodged.

What I was not re­mem­ber­ing when I walked into school that day was that I have slight speech im­ped­i­ment. It’s subtle enough that if I talk fast peo­ple don’t re­ally no­tice it but it’s still there and I’ve never been more aware of it than when I said my new name to my class­mates that day.

“I’ve changed my name,” I an­nounced to my group of pals. “I’m no Chris McQueer any­more.”

“What’s your new name?”

“Chris Gray.” How­ever, Gray didn’t come out the way it was meant to.

I fal­tered over the letter R, a bit like Jonathan Ross does. I said it quickly and what came out sounded like “Chris Gay”.

‘Aha­haha Chris Gay!’ They shouted in uni­son. It would stick with me through the rest of my time at school. Just as I’d thought my days of be­ing on the re­ceiv­ing end of mer­ci­less taunts about McQueer were over, a new dawn of in­sults be­gan. I man­aged to give my­self a worse name than McQueer.

Af­ter a few years, fol­low­ing my maw’s di­vorce, I made the de­ci­sion to go back to be­ing Chris McQueer. I was older now, bat­tle-hard­ened, and ready to be a McQueer again. Chris Gray was a crap name any­way. Dull, bor­ing, it was like what the colour beige would name it­self if it was a per­son. I started to grow back into it, own­ing it, us­ing it as pat­ter. Any­time I had to phone any­where, about broad­band or coun­cil tax or what­ever, and the per­son on the phone would ask my name I’d go, ‘Sorry It’s a bit of a bel­ter; it’s McQueer! Spelled like em-see­queer.’ Then we’d ei­ther have a wee chuckle about it or they’d go quiet. It’s a good laugh.

Re­cently I started do­ing a bit of dig­ging on the name, try­ing to find its ori­gins. There’s two the­o­ries I have, one which is a lot more in­ter­est­ing than the other. The first is that it’s sim­ply a mis­spelling of the name McQueen. Some­one wrote it down on some reg­is­ter or birth cer­tifi­cate and didn’t quite get the N at the end right so it looked like an R and it just stuck.

The other came from a dis­tant rel­a­tive who em­i­grated to Aus­tralia from Glas­gow in the 1960s. His da was my granda’s un­cle or great un­cle, we’re no quite sure. But he pos­tu­lated that the name was some­thing a fam­ily from within an­ther clan were tarred with. Per­haps ex­iled from the com­mu­nity for some­thing they did and branded as weirdos, queer in the orig­i­nal sense of the word.

The name suits me down to the ground now and I’m proud of how weird it is. It stands out in print, on shelves in book­shops and gives me a wee edge. Maybe if I was still Chris Gray my life would be to­tally dif­fer­ent. Hope­fully my girl­friend will come round to the idea of be­com­ing a McQueer one day, or at least giv­ing our kids the name, it’s a shame that it might die with me, but then, maybe it’s for the best.

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