Sunday, 27 July 2008


I've found, as I'm sure every other trans person on the planet has found, that a lot of people think that using my old name is OK. Whether their reasoning is "I knew this person before" or "I just keep forgetting" or "This person is surely just going to use hir name as a nickname anyway", the result is still the same.

Now, all this reasoning is sensible. That's why I'm not angry with the people who still use nothing but my old name, or *almost* nothing, or use my real name in a *jokey* fashion.

So, this is an educational post, which explains what many trans people (i.e. all trans people with a readin' bent, who thus know a bit about trans history; or all people whose lives have been blighted by transphobic violence) understand to be the connotations of such actions.

Edit: I had a long and boring analogy here... it was long, boring and pointless. It was about connotations of language use that only the recipient is likely to understand.

Use of a trans person's old name without apology will always connote the words and actions of people who actively refuse to use the new one. Those people will include, depending on the trans person:
  • Friends and family members who couldn't accept hir, and thus cut hir out of their lives - and if you are family or good friends, then the trans person will have heard enough horror stories from hir trans friends for hir to dread a similar situation.
  • Public figures who promote transphobia.
And finally, the most revealing use of trans people's birth names:
  • Their obituaries and reports of their murders.
There is an article written every single day about the latest trans person murdered for being trans, in which a *big wink* and a nod is given to the murderers - yes! you were right! They were *really* a man/woman... so... honestly! Their deception!

Harold Johnson, who had changed his name to "Joanne" (or whoever)

Harold Johnson, who preferred to be called "Joanne"

I don't want to link to any of the hundreds floating about the web - I read them once to take in the information, but don't want to give bigoted people any more traffic.

Do you see how these journalists become complicit in rape and murder (because it's nearly always both)? The best-known real-life case:

1) Brandon Teena is raped, to prove he is "really a woman" and can thus be raped like one
2) Brandon Teena is murdered, because he was "deceitful", because he was "really a woman"
3) Brandon Teena is referred to as Teena Brandon in all media coverage, because he is "really a woman"

Well, as long as we know, that removes all the little details of, what was it? Rape and murder or something...

However, the majority of transphobic violence is still against trans women. This is the usual story; a trans woman is rejected by her family (who obviously wouldn't use her real name) from a young age for being trans; or can't get a job (her potential employer wouldn't use her real name, would they?) because she's trans; so she is working in the sex trade or at least sleeping with abusive men that she wouldn't otherwise go near, because she needs support. One of her clients or boyfriends murders her, and the half-inch of media coverage does not use her real name.

I said I'd make this post coherent when I was awake... well, I haven't.

But the point is... "David, sorry, I mean Elaine" is the sentence that trans people will weep with joy to hear, if you (understandably) forget our names.

Incidentally, I'm full of insatiable curiosity, so I've asked every post-social-transition trans person I know "What was your birth name?"

Some people will find that perfectly fine, because I've previously established that it's just general nosiness rather than an attempt to discredit their identity...

Some will always hate it, because they've got some understandable sensitivity over the issue.

I never said I had all the answers.


Bev said...

This is such a kind and generous explanation. I respect the way you give your readers and questioners the benefit of the doubt, in spite of the hatefulness so often directed at trans people. I am enjoying your blog very much. Thank you for all that you have shared here.

Sarah B said...

First of all, my dearest Olli, I LOVE YOUR BLOG. I am stealing it, having babies with it, and maybe one day I could have a blog this good, rather than the emo drivel I tend to produce.

Second, I feel muchly edumacated by your blog, which is good, cos I like to learn shizzle.

Third, this comment is being detested by my auto-spellcheck [which I typed as auto-spellcock first time round...] So, yes. :)

Keep up the writing! You have a most honourable location in my Blog bookmarks folder.