What’s in a deadname?
Lady Gaga, Jay-Z, Pink, Eminem. These names crop up constantly but you rarely see the celebs’ real names being mentioned alongside them. Stefani Germanotta, Shawn Carter, Alecia Moore and Marshall Mathers may be their birth names but that’s not what they want to be called.
And that’s fine by us – we love them just as they are. So why are transgender people often not afforded the same respect? When they transition, they change their name to one they are more comfortable with and can relate to. And their birth name becomes what is known as their deadname.
Caitlyn Jenner has thrust the transgender issue firmly into the global spotlight. Yet while she has been widely praised for her bravery and for doing wonders to enhance the transgender cause, she is still deadnamed every now and then.
For example, “The woman previously known as Bruce…” Or writing “Caitlyn” in quotes as if it’s not really her name…
So how do we refer to her in her past life – the one where she fathered six children, won an Olympic gold medal and was married to the world’s most famous momager, Kris Jenner? By using the name she has chosen now she has transitioned and the relevant pronoun, that’s how.
So: “Caitlyn Jenner won the men’s decathlon in the 1976 Olympics.” And: “She attended Newtown High School. She graduated in 1968 and earned a football scholarship to attend Graceland College.”
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (Glaad) has a guide to help the media when writing about transgender people.
“When a transgender person’s birth name is used in a story, the implication is almost always that this is the person’s ‘real name’. In fact, a transgender person’s chosen name is their real name – whether they are able to obtain a court-ordered name change or not.”
When writing about a transgender person, don’t say “she wants to be called Susan”, or “she calls herself Susan” or “she goes by Susan”, Glaad says. It’s insulting, patronising and disrespectful.
It can also be dangerous to expose someone’s deadname.
Journalist Caleb Hannan wrote an article for Grantland.com last year about how a scientifically superior putter developed by Dr Essay Anne Vanderbilt – known as Dr V – was taking the golf world by storm.
Dr V told Hannan she was available to talk about the science behind her design but did not want him to write about her as a scientist. The journalist ignored her request and discovered she was transgender. Despite being asked not to out her, Hannan did so – and Dr Vanderbilt committed suicide soon after the article was published.
So please, give transgender people the same courtesy and respect you would someone in the entertainment industry. By focusing on a transgender person’s past, you could be doing untold damage.
Transitioning is hard enough – people don’t need prejudice to make things worse.
A transgender friend once told me, “I don’t want to change my name to become someone else. I want to change my name to match how I perceive myself to be.”