A while back I watched an episode of The X Files. It might have been the pilot because Scully called Mulder ‘Fox’. This was the character’s first name but when Scully used it, Mulder deadpanned “I made my parents call me Mulder.” From then on Scully did the same, and Mulder’s first name was never spoken of again. Far as I know. I’m hit or miss with The X Files.
But what stood out to me was how quickly Scully complied with Mulder’s request. First let’s go over what she didn’t say:
- ‘I don’t mean any harm by calling you Fox, so why are you upset?’
- ‘Isn’t Fox your given name? Are you ashamed of your given name?’
- ‘Oh don’t be so sensitive. I’m sick of watching what I say around you.’
Crazy huh? Despite the fact that Fox was Mulder’s birth name, his objection to being called such was not decried in any way. He made his feelings clear to Scully and out of respect for those feelings, she called him Mulder.
No doubt you know where I’m going with this, but I’ll start with an experience of my own. Until I was 10 I used the word ‘Oriental’ to describe someone from East Asia. This was not considered an offensive word, since ‘Orient’ is a synonym for east. I can’t remember who told me, but some adult I trusted said not to use that word anymore, that people from Asia want to be called Asian. Despite my never meaning ‘Oriental’ in a disparaging way, I was instructed to discontinue its use. I distinctly remember thinking ‘Why would they not like Oriental? It’s a much prettier word than Asian.’ My next thought was ‘But they don’t like it, so I’ll say Asian.’ It wasn’t until a few years later I understood the negative spin that had been put on the other word, that it had been corrupted in much the way ‘negro’ and ‘colored’ had. According to my ten-year-old reasoning, ‘colored’ was a prettier word than ‘black’. But even at 10 I knew not to put up with being ‘colored’.
So is the issue really a matter of ‘don’t call me that’? In old movies, a tough guy would say ‘Call me Butch’ and get in a rage if anyone referred to him by his birth name, which was usually Francis or Meriwether. If you wanted trouble, you called Butch by his real name. And don’t we do it with our friends, call them by the names they ask us to?
I’m not aiming this at the people who refuse to respect others. It’s for those of us who refuse to be called by the all-y’all-look-alike labels that have nothing to do with who we truly are. If fictional characters go by their chosen name without a to-do, why can’t we?