OPINION | This article contains political commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
The above-linked article from NBC News is titled, “A transgender person’s deadname is nobody’s business. Not even a reporter’s.” It’s written by Chase Strangio, whose bio sentence at the end reads, “Chase Strangio is a trans activist and staff attorney at the ACLU in NYC.”
The @ACLU is a complete joke who is suing DeVos because she wants fairness and due process for students accused of sexual harassment/assault. Think about that. They are suing to PREVENT DUE PROCESS. https://t.co/qGG2LTupa7
— Chicks On The Right (@chicksonright) May 14, 2020
So yeah. The ACLU was already a joke to begin with, but this? This utterly discredits them.
But that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to talk about deadnaming trans people. Because that’s a thing. If you are curious about a trans person’s birth name, or birth gender, or life prior to their transition, you are basically pure evil and Chase Strangio wants you to know why.
Chase was apparently born with a different name than he currently uses, because his birth name didn’t “align with his gender.” I think it’s safe to assume Chase was born as a girl, and then at some point decided to make the official transition into Chase-hood. If someone refers to his former name in any way (or “deadname” as the trans community calls it), Chase says that’s “mean-spirited and useless” and is similar to searching out a painful experience of someone else’s childhood in order to use that experience to define who that person is to others.
Ok. Fine. His name is Chase now, it was painful for him to exist as whatever his name was before, and he’d rather not be reminded of his former name. Fine. If Chase wants to deny reality and pretend he was born as the gender/name he currently chooses to live as, what do I care?
But here’s where it just gets crazy. The trans activist to whom Chase used to provide legal counsel – Aimee Stephens – died recently. Aimee was apparently a trans activist with significant influence, and had a legal case pending before the Supreme Court. In other words, Aimee’s death was considered newsworthy enough to be covered by the NYT, the AP, and other prominent publications.
The problem? The NYT and AP’s obituaries for Aimee included her deadname. That’s TOTALLY DISRESPECTFUL, according to Chase. And he’s super serious about this:
Of course, no one will understand Aimee better by knowing the fact of her deadname. It is not relevant to who she was or how anyone will actually remember her — and including it in an obituary is a final act of disrespect so cruel that it undermines whatever respect was meant to come from memorializing a person in an obituary.
Allow me to point out once again that Aimee died at age 59. She came out as trans in 2013. In other words, she transitioned less than 10 years ago. For 52 years, Aimee was known as someone other than Aimee. I don’t know what Aimee’s deadname is and I don’t GAF, but it seems massively idiotic to pretend as though whatever name Aimee went by for FIFTY TWO YEARS of her life wasn’t significant.
Let’s delve deeper into Chase’s argument.
If you Google any well-known trans person, you will see the same related searches. There is, in some circles, a quest to undo the truths that we trans people have worked our lives to claim. And among all the many hate-filled attacks I have experienced as a public trans person, the most painful by far have been the deliberate speaking of my old name — as well as the quest to learn it and remind me of it.
The reality of trans lives is that we struggle against the interpersonal and systemic beliefs that we are only putting on our genders and that beneath them lies some “truth” of who we really are — and that notion fuels violence and discrimination against members of the trans community. It also perpetuates the false notion that women who are trans are not “real” women, that men who are trans are not “real” men and that no one could have a gender that is nonbinary.
So, since we still live in a country that allows me to speak my mind, I’m going to point out the obvious – which is that trans women are not “real” women – they are trans women. Trans men are not “real” men – they are trans men. Hence, the whole “trans” label. It’s fascinating to me that the trans community wants to use the label constantly in their activism, and also want to deny why it’s used at the same time. And listen – people are free to pretend they are nonbinary all they want, and make up brand new pronouns every single day all they want. But basic biology will always be an undeniable, unchangeable thing.
Let’s look at another example of why Chase’s outrage about deadnaming in an obituary is so silly.
Take Caitlyn Jenner, for example. Caitlyn Jenner has had that name for 5 years now. Caitlyn’s transition happened when she was 65. Before her transition, she fathered (yes – FATHERED – it’s how biology works!) 6 children with three different wives, played men’s college football, won the men’s decathlon 1976 Olympics, and was featured on the Wheaties cereal box – muscular, ruggedly handsome, and about as full of natural testosterone as any man could be. The six children still exist – living their adult lives – some with children of their own. This history cannot be erased or denied. And if Caitlyn Jenner passed away, it seems utterly pointless to try to pretend that for the vast majority of her now female existence, she wasn’t, in fact, a man. Denying this is to ask people to willingly suspend disbelief and collectively pretend that truth doesn’t matter. That reality isn’t real. That feelings are more important than fact.
To then write about a woman who is trans and remind the reader of her deadname under the pretense that what she was called at birth is important to understanding who she is today actually evokes the image of a man for readers and contributes to the insidious social understanding that “this person claimed to be a woman but was really a man.”
The ongoing understanding that our identities are not valid is what every trans person sees and hears whenever someone insists on referring to a trans person by using their deadname.
Look. I don’t care that Chase wants to live as a man and be a man and feel like a man and pretend that he’s always been a man. Chase can live however he chooses. But he doesn’t get to demand that the ENTIRE WORLD play along. Going back to the Caitlyn Jenner example, OF COURSE Caitlyn’s former sex/name is important to understanding Caitlyn as a person – just look at what she did when she was a man for crying out loud. We can actually do two things at the same time. We can recognize what Caitlyn accomplished as Bruce Jenner, and also recognize that Caitlyn currently wishes to live as a woman and be called Caitlyn. In other words, REALITY DOESN’T END WHERE YOUR FEELINGS BEGIN.
(Incidentally, when Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner, Chase wrote a piece about it, and said, “Words matter and erasing the identity of trans people by calling them by their birth names and birth-assigned sex is an act of hatred — one that is inextricable from the brutal violence that so many trans people, particularly trans women of color, encounter just for existing in the world.” AN ACT OF HATRED AND VIOLENCE, you guys.)
There are a whole bunch of reasons that people choose to change their names, by the way. Some people choose stage names for their careers. Some choose to change their names when they marry. Some choose to change their names because they hated their families and no longer want to associate with them. And you know what happens in their obituaries? Their birth names are included. Why? Because obituaries chronicle people’s lives from BIRTH to death. That’s kind of their whole purpose.
But Chase is persistent:
To reporters, I get that it can seem — falsely — like including someone’s “old name” is little more than a historical fact to flesh out a story. But a deadname is neither important nor necessary to include in any reporting, and it’s particularly disrespectful in an obituary, which is meant to honor and commemorate someone’s life.
If you want to know (or write) about someone and then go in search of their deadname or an old picture to use or disseminate, think long and hard about why that’s important to use. Your prurient curiosity shouldn’t get to trump our right to dignity and respect, and we are going to assume that your self-serving desire is more about hurting and exposing us trans people than accurately describing the people we are.
Yeah, reporters. Think long and hard about why you’d want to include birth names and historical photos when you’re capturing historical information on the birth and history of someone’s life. Honoring and commemorating someone’s life should only include the part AFTER they changed from one gender to another, you big jerks. Who cares if they had kids or amazing careers before they transitioned?
Side note: Chase served as Chelsea Manning’s attorney too. And back in October of last year, Chase tweeted one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen (although it has since been deleted):
There went any question I had about whether Chase’s transition included growing a set of balls. (It clearly didn’t.) He literally openly admitted to being afraid of even SEEING his birth name on a piece of paper, you guys. And it didn’t end there:
I am seriously amazed that Chase is able to function as an adult based on the “trauma” that he insists he experiences from just having a birth name, but you guys – he’s apparently a very prominent ACLU lawyer. And, are you ready for this? He has a child of his own. I don’t know how or with whom or any of the details. But yeah. Let that sink in.
- I have the same surname as my violent abusive alcoholic father. I’ve never thought about using it to get out of paying my mortgage but thanks for the tip.
- No, this is a consequence of changing your name. Happens to lots of people. If you are afraid of seeing your former name, you should get some help – both practical and emotional. I hope life gets easier for you, bc no one can rely on the rest of the world changing to protect them
- The cost of being a woman – I get mail, and organisations and systems and relatives and friends, using a name I have NEVER had. How? They unilaterally decided I had changed my name when I married. I didn’t, haven’t and never will do. I still pay all my bills. Life sucks. Tough.
- Imagine losing a baby and getting mail from all the companies that latch into you once you’re pregnant. Did my best to cancel them all but still got a “your baby is now 4 months old” email. Life is painful sometimes.
- I still get mail addressed to my dead spouse. That’s a sucker punch in the gut. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be for a bereaved parent.
- I get mail addressed to my late wife. This can be upsetting. I am not afraid of it though. I open it, pay it if it’s a bill, ask them to change the name or stop sending it. Might I suggest you do the same and stop being so f***ing precious.
Back to the original topic. You should know that there was enough public outrage created by Chase and other trans activists about the NYT and AP posting Aimee Stephens’ deadname that they ended up removing it from their obituaries. “An earlier version of this obituary included the name Ms. Stephens was given at birth, which she no longer used. That reference has been removed,” an editor’s note in the NYT read. The AP’s note was similar, saying, “The story has been edited to remove a former name in accordance with AP Style to use the name by which the person lived and avoid former names unless relevant.”
Squeaky traumatized emotionally fragile wheels afraid of checking their mail get the grease, apparently.