Deadnaming: We Need to Respect Trans People’s Choices

I saw a really great blog post today about ‘deadnaming” and how the media covers transgender issues, particularly coming out stories like that of Caitlyn Jenner.

I have to be honest, before I read that article, I had no idea what “deadnaming” was. Not that I hadn’t experienced it before– I experience this all the time. I just didn’t know there was a word for it, other than “people not using the name you asked them to use.” I guess deadnaming is a bit more concise.

I won’t speak for all trans people everywhere, only myself here, when I say this: I understand that it takes a while to change the name and identity you  pair with that name in your head. I don’t expect anyone to get it 100% right all the time, especially in the beginning.

However, there comes a point where a lack of ability to get it right begins to look like the person not trying, or not caring, or not respecting your right to define yourself.  I’m not sure where the line is, but I know when I feel like someone has crossed it.  I’m sorry that doesn’t sound particularly helpful for those of you wondering if you’ve crossed the line, and I’m sorry. I guess all I can ask is that you do your honest, very best.

That being said, there are few things that are more annoying than people who either don’t care to get it right, or insist that somehow they can choose to continue to talk about you as they wish and you just have to get over it. An example of the latter:

I came out to my father a few weeks ago.  He sent me his usual “I love you and I’m praying for you” email that I get about once every six months, and I responded by asking how he was, what he was up to, and a bunch of other pleasant questions that I knew he wouldn’t answer. I also told him that there was a lot going on with me, and I told him I am trans. I also sent him a recent picture so he would have a visual clue.  I also told him about my name change.

I was prepared to have him respond badly. I was also prepared for him to ignore me altogether. His recent religious fanaticism has left him with a well-developed ability to stick his head in the sand and ignore things that are inconvenient, so I knew it was a possibility that he would never acknowledge what I said.

Instead, he emailed back one sentence: “I hope I can still call you Annie.” For good measure he attached a childhood photo of me in a dress (which must be one of only a handful of such photos that exist, because I did NOT wear dresses as a kid).

I went through a few drafts with my friends before responding, but I told him that his response was incredibly hurtful because it ignored everything that I said in my previous email. Love is not just an emotion, it’s a verb. If you say you love me, then respect me. What you said showed neither love nor respect– rather it told me that you value your own comfort more than whether I can be myself. I ended the email with:

“You are free to call me Bennett, or you’re free to not call me at all.”

You see, I realized that in that instance, it was not about adjustment, or a slip up, or even just ignorance.  What my dad was telling me, in so many words, was that I did not get to control my own story, rather he had the power to veto something I said about myself.

When she came out publicly two weeks ago,Caitlyn Jenner said “Call me Caitlyn.” The title of her piece said it all– she was taking charge of her identity, her statement a command, not a request. We must respect that, and realize that continuing to use her old name does not make her oppressors more powerful, it makes her seem invincible because she is Caitlyn no matter what anyone else says.

So. Call me Bennett.

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6 thoughts on “Deadnaming: We Need to Respect Trans People’s Choices”

  1. Just stumbled upon your blogs and I’ve been reading them all! You’re an awesome and very inspiring guy, it’s nice to just hear it all spelled out rather then a brief social media post. Thanks for inspiring and helping people understand the many aspects of transition. It’s hard to get true insight on transition and it’s amazing to hear it from someone who’s very positive. Looking forward to reading more man, keep it up 👍

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