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‘A Matter of Physical and Mental Safety’: The Dangers of Deadnaming

Source: The State Department

Trans issues have been in the headlines a lot lately, with the number of laws that have been filed in Republican-led states that have tried to criminalize the state of being transgender. They don’t often do it in such an obvious way, but transgender issues have come to the forefront in a big way lately, especially ahead of the 2024 election.

About Deadnaming

There’s a word that has been coming up frequently on the campaign trail as the election draws near. It’s one that has a great deal of negative connotations to the trans community, and one that many people ignore the significant implications of.

Source: Wikimedia/Miyin2

“Deadnaming” is the practice of referring to a trans person by their birth name, or their “dead” name. For transgender people, the act of renaming themselves is often a reclamation of the identity that they’ve felt out of place in, and it allows them to create a new place for themselves both in their own bodies and in the world.

The Process of Name Changing

Generally, changing their name is mostly a social transition, a way for trans people to let their friends and family know their new identity and the choice that they’ve made with their lives. This is because, unfortunately, it’s often very difficult for trans people to legally change their names.

Source: Wikimedia/Knarl Stuart Photography from Sunnyvale

The process of changing one’s name often requires multiple legal steps, regardless of which state the person is coming from. Between notice of intent and a court hearing, the process of changing a name or gender identity can take months or years, making a name change a significant barrier to entry for trans individuals seeking to live authentically in the world.

Making It Difficult to be Trans

In the increasingly polarized political climate of the United States, Republican-led legislatures have been going out of their way to make it even more difficult to be trans and live authentically in the world. Some of the laws and rules that have been passed, or attempted to be passed, seem relatively harmless.

Source: Wikimedia/RF-UK

One such rule regarding trans individuals is one announced in Florida, where the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) announced that they would no longer allow individuals to change their gender on their license plates. This rule would open individuals up to potential civil and legal penalties if they attempted to change their license to reflect their chosen gender identity.

An Insidious Rule

While on the surface, this appears to be merely a way for the Florida DMV to cut down on extraneous paperwork, the true effect is more insidious than that.

Source: Wikimedia/Ted Eytan

Individuals who don’t match either the gender identity or sex classification on their formal legal paperwork are often opened up to legalized violence, be it cultural, social, or actual physical violence. Disallowing individuals from changing their name and gender of the formal documents is not only a social impediment to transitioning appropriate, but can actually be dangerous for trans individuals.

Affecting the Political Arena, Too

The legal ramifications of these laws go beyond merely what is culturally appropriate, though. In the political sphere, trans individuals can be unfairly penalized for attempting to live authentically while making a political difference in the country.

Source: Wikimedia/Tim Evanson from Washington, D.C., United States of America

In Ohio, for instance 3 out of 4 transgender candidates have been disqualified from running for office. This is due to election laws that penalize individuals who don’t put their former or legal names on petitions naming their candidacy for office.

A Dangerous Act

The various ways that deadnaming is common in society is deeply concerning trans people and allies. The act of using a trans person’s former name is not always intentional, but it always causes harm.

Source: Wikimedia/Shenkonic

This is because of the implications that can come from the act of deadnaming. “It isn’t just a matter of comfort, it’s a matter of physical safety,” said Olivia Hunt, the policy director at the National Center for Transgender Equality, in an interview. “How you address someone says a lot about how you view them as a person.”

A Rite of Passage

While it’s true that not all transgender people change their names, a good number of them do. For many transgender individuals, changing their name is a rite of passage in their transition into the person that they want to be, and having their name legally recognized is a part of that.

Source: Wikimedia/Omar David Sandoval Sida

More than the social context, though, having a transgender’s chosen name legally recognized has been proven to have significant psychological implications. The Trevor Project’s “National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 2021” found that transgender and nonbinary youth who lived with people who respected their pronouns had fewer suicide attempts, compared to those who didn’t.

Harm From Others

Likewise, individuals who lived in a state where they were able to formally change their legal documents to reflect their chosen name were less likely to attempt suicide than those who didn’t.

Source: Wikimedia/Anne Marie Champagne

More than the harm that can befall transgender people at their own hand, though, is the harm that can come to them from other individuals. At least 32 transgender people were killed in hate-crime related incidents in 2023, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Half of the victims were misgendered or deadnamed by members of the press when their attacks were reported on.

A Lack of Federal Laws Around Deadnaming

Despite the clear harm that can come from being deadnamed or misgendered, in the United States, there are no formal, federal laws that address the practice. Some local and state jurisdictions have been moving in the direction of protecting trans people in this way in recent years, but progress has been halted by deeply conservative legislatures and fear-based campaigns around transgender people.

Source: Wikimedia/Garry Knight

Still, not everything is bleak. In 2021, California became the first state to ban colleges from deadnaming students on university records, and most social media apps have updated their terms of use guidelines to ban deadnaming.

Social Media Actions

Discord, specifically, added deadnaming and misgendering to its hate speech guidelines in 2023, and Tiktok banned both in 2022. These are steps that many progressives have lauded, seeing them as the progress needed in order to protect a particularly vulnerable population from hate crimes.

Source: Pexels/Tracy Le Blanc

Unfortunately, not all social medias have been made equal. After being bought by Elon Musk, X, formerly known as Twitter, quietly rolled back its guidelines and policies against deadnaming and misgendering in April of 2023. This was a choice that was widely criticized and, among other decisions made by the company, helped to drive a significant number of advertisers away from the platform.

Legislation in the Name of “Parental Rights”

Unfortunately, a significant amount of anti-trans legislation has normalized the practice. Many laws have been proposed in the name of “parental rights” specifically that would require trans students to be deadnamed at the high school level, when many trans people are trying to make social transitions and find their place in the world.

Source: Yana Paskova/The New York TImes/Redux

While the vast majority of these bills have not passed, their impact is still dangerous. Many LGBTQ+ youth have reported that the political discussions around their existence have impacted their mental health, and have caused a great deal of ostracization. Which many critics point out, may, in fact, be the point.

Significant Legal and Social Impacts

These laws have caused significant impact beyond the effect on trans youth’s mental health. Teachers have been leaving states with anti-trans laws in droves, for fear of the legal implications of them doing their job. In Florida alone, three educators are currently suing to block one of the anti-trans state laws that did pass.

Source: Wikimedia/Alisdare Hickson

Unfortunately for trans people, these laws are stacking the odds against them in an already unfair society. Trans workers report higher levels of unemployment than the general population, and are significantly more likely to live under the poverty line. Being disallowed from changing their names or prevented from doing so due to cost or other barriers only exacerbates these issues.

A Change in the Tide

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the tide against trans people is going to be changing anytime soon. While President Biden has made clear his support of the transgender community, state legislatures are something different.

Source: Wikimedia/Pax Ahimsa Gethen

A good first step towards protecting transgender individuals would be implementing federal laws against deadnaming and other hate crimes towards trans people, but the current social and political atmosphere makes that a challenge. There is hope, ahead of the 2024 election, but it requires every ally and trans person to make their way to the ballot box, and vote like rights are on the line. Because they are.

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James Cross

Written by James Cross

James Cross, an enigmatic writer from the historic city of Boston. James' writing delves into mysteries, true crime, and the unexplained, crafting compelling narratives that keep readers and viewers on the edge of their seats. His viral articles, blog posts, and documentary-style videos explore real-life enigmas and unsolved cases, inviting audiences to join the quest for answers. James' ability to turn real mysteries into shareable content has made him a sensation in the world of storytelling.

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