Friday, November 16, 2007

What's In A Name?

I was born "Mike Gay."
Where did this name came from? Where the hell?? It wasn't my real name, I learned when I was 30.

My great grandfather Gayzinski on my father's side brought his family from Lithuanian Russia at the turn of the century to escape serving in the army and shortened his name, Gayzinski, to Gay so as not to be identified by the Russian police.

My father's mother's family were the Barons, Pennsylvania coal miners from Czech Bohemia. One of the Baron girls had been murdered but she was a cousin somewhere and I never found out who she was.

On my mother's side, my mother's mother (E. May Dixson) came from Canada. She ran away from home at 14 due to some unspeakable family tragedy that she would never divulge. Andrew Dixson was from England and his wife Annie came from Ireland. If that was the correct spelling then I can trace back another generation but it fades into mist at that point.

And then, there are the Birdseyes.

My mother's father's side of the family is meticulously documented back to the 1100s. The oddly famous Birdseye family. Clarence Birdseye (the patentor of the frozen food process) was my mother's uncle and he became world-famous.

For years at holidays meals, his daughter Eleanor and her husband Lemar joined my mother and I for turkey or what-have-you.

Turns out, the inventor's father, my great-grandfather Clarence Birdseye Sr., was a convicted felon, a lawyer who was convicted for conspiracy and fraud, and spent 2 years (1920-1922) at Western State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. He was there in '21 during the worst prison riot and prison fire in U.S. history up till that time. I have his mug shot!

His father was Lucien Birdseye, who in the 19th century, ran a law firm on Wall Street in Manhattan, and served as a judge and was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, although wasn't accepted.

His father (my great great great grandfather) was Victory Birdseye. He served two terms in Congress and met the presidents Madison and Monroe.

On and on, back further and further. Most of the men Yale graduates. Many deacons, lawyers, and published writers. One of the women, Ellen Birdseye Wheaton, was an abolitionist and her home was a stop on the underground railroad. Her diary from the 1850s is an amazing account of daily life in Syracuse New York. She died at 42.

Both of her grandfathers were captains in the Revolutionary War. Beach Tomlinson and James Beebee. Beebee knew George Washington at Valley Forge, and carried a bullet in his shoulder from the war for the rest of his life.

Amazing. Even further back, my (11 greats) grandfather was William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth Colony, and another was Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. Yet another was Jesse DeForest, a Frenchman who died trying to found a religious colony in the Amazon.

Who might have been gay? We have more than a thousand people traced, so it stands to reason 100 were probably gay. There is a woman named Hepsibah, "Hepsi" for short, who never married. Who knows? Everybody had 10-12 kids so there are thousands of descendants today.

Which brings me back to What's in a Name?

Of all the ancestors, I am the one that lives in a time where I can be openly gay and demand recognition as a human being equal to straights.

That's cool. But did they really have to name me "Gay" on top of it all?

Mike Player


Chilebnr said...

facinating! thanks Mike. Your friend always,


now i understand - after all these years - why you are such a sensitive man and why i feel nervous when i speak to you and why i feel a need to act out after i speak to you. thanks for your honesty!
love always,johnnyP