This isn’t me, this what people tell me.
People tell me, or “told me” I should say, “you look like you play football”. I had a teacher tell me in the sixth grade, “You’re a man’s man.” I had a theater teacher say the same thing to me four years later. I had chest hair and was shaving by the seventh grade.
I remember the first time I shaved. It was the day after the second of two consecutive bicycles accidents. I had been in a bicycle accident coming home from school the day before at which point I’d broken my hand. But my bike was how I got to school, and the next morning, I was in a second accident because my broken hand couldn’t depress the brakes. I spent the day in the children’s ER watching Barney and Free Willy on repeat while they moved me from stretcher to strecher, X-ray room to X-ray room. I’d broken my hand, my collar bone, bruised my ribs, my kidney, and the skin of my neck was imbedded with bits of bark and wood.
I’d hit a tree both times. I should have mentioned that. Did I not mention that? Maybe I forgot to because it’s what I became known for. “There’s Patrick! He hit two trees on his bike!” “Oh, you’re Patrick Healy? Didn’t you hit two trees on your bike? How’d you do that?”
The year before I’d been the kid whose house burned down. “Patrick Healy? Aren’t you the kid who burned down your house?” That wasn’t what happened and the bicycle-thing at least felt like it was my fault, so it felt like an upgrade to be the “bicycle accident” guy and not the “fire house” guy.
So, I get home from the children’s ER and the obnoxious purple dinosaur and the inspid movie about the stupidest kid I could possibly imagine and his whale, my left arm is in a cast, my right arm is in a sling, and my Dad decides its time to shave me. And Dad had very specific expectations for how I was supposed to be.
“You look like you play football,” people said to me.
There was a very specific view of what masculinity was and how it should appear that was present for as long as I can remember. But there was never an age or opportunity to ask or decide what felt “right” or “natural”. I don’t feel disconnected to my own feelings of masculinity, but I often worry the values other people quickly connect to how they perceive me.
I say all this because I got a new fish a few days ago. Or, specifically, a new betta male. But this was the most spectaular sort. In fact, I litterally gasped when I saw “her”.
I already have a betta male, Prince Caspian. He’s a majestic royal blue with a flair of red in his sails of fins. I bought him to keep the guppy population down. He never ate a single guppy fry. I never saw him rear up at another fish, or even try to eat a snail. And believing him to be a gentle spirit, I slowly introduced him to a tank of male guppies.
Anybody who knows anything is probably shaking their head and spitting at their screen right now. “Bettas are really aggressive, right?” Long, fancy tails antagonize them. Wouldn’t he kill the guppies?
Prince Caspian never attacked any of the fish and given time moved among them freely and comfortably. But things changed and I had to move him to a larger tank, the one in front of which I write. It’s a place I call “The Pacific”.
For clarity, it’s a fish tank I call “The Pacific”, I didn’t literally throw Prince Caspian in the sea.
And then, a few days ago, I found Rhaenyra. You may recongize that as the name of the silver-haired princess from House of the Dragon. The second I saw this fish, I was struck. Beautiful, silvery pink fins with hints of blue throughout. I’d never seen a betta male like it.
Due to circumstances, mostly being my brain’s own ability to convince myself I had no other choice, I bought the fish and added it to the Pacific.
Anybody who knows anything is probably muttering to themselves and writing my name on a list of enemies. “Betta males will kill each other!” someone is shouting right now, “…right?”
The shopkeeper didn’t thing so, but I don’t really know him. So I followed my dopamine and added Rhaenyra to the tank. I’ll save you the Hitchcockian suspense and assure you that as of this moment, Rhaenyra is alive and well and hiding in the chaotic curls of underwater grass blades. Prince Caspian has noticed that she’s within a few inches of her and he’s not flaring up or acting aggressive. And amazing as I think that is, that’s not what’s really what I’m focused on.
Why am I calling a pink betta male by “she/her” pronouns?
I think the name “Rhaenyra” is amazing and I don’t regret it one instant. But why does my mind feel like there needs to be a he/she balance? It’s not reflected anywhere else. I have three goldfish and I’ve never tried to figure out what sex they are or had any problem with calling all three by “he/him” pronouns. Is it because “Rhaenyra” is pink? Svelt?
Is it because she seems genuinely interested in Prince Caspian even though Prince Caspian is so standoffish? Doesn’t that suggest I equate a patient, loving demanor with feminity? So how does that limit my own emotional experiences?
If I can change the pronouns I use for the fish, can I change my own expectations and personal limitations for myself?