Why You Don’t Deadname Someone

To my awesome old friend/colleague/relative/acquaintance who just just used my wife’s former name in a private message/conversation/post on FB: Please don’t do that. What you did is called “deadnaming” – basically, using a name that is dead, no longer valid, done, over.

I know you’re on board and cool with her transition and know her to be a woman. I know you are caught up and not transphobic and are happy that she is happy and that we’re happy. I know that you are thrilled for her success and knocked out by her beauty. I know you have read my books but do try to keep in mind they are very, very old now, and that things that were true, language that was okay, are not true or okay anymore.

And I know you care deeply for us both.

Which is why I have to say: please don’t use her old name. It effectively re-genders her into a past self that was an unhappy one for her. It throws me back to a time when my relationship, my marriage, and my expectations were steeped in straight privilege. We have both done a great deal of work to adjust to make our lives into what they are now, so your moment of nostalgia undoes that, emotionally, in a quick second.

That is, you were thinking about you and not, actually, about us.

If you really feel the need to be nostalgic about her old self, perhaps do it with someone else who is not as close to her, or to us; do it with other people who don’t know any trans people at all. That is, if you must do it, which: just don’t.

Any reference to her past self can be done just like that: “I loved working with her before” and “I’m so glad I got to know her then, as much as I love knowing her now”, or, if absolutely necessary, follow my own lead and use “Rachel 1.0” to refer to that person. And please don’t assume it’s “more okay” to do with me than with her: studies have shown that partners of trans people also have to contend with the discrimination our loved ones experience. If it isn’t clear yet, let me say: I take this trans shit seriously every single minute of my life.

So if you must, when you must, except don’t anyway because you really don’t need to. She is and always was Rachel; it just took some effort to make that visible. In my work, I do have to refer to her past self because I write and teach about the process that is a marriage’s transition. But most of the time I find it just isn’t necessary: my wife has always been a woman, and although you thought you knew someone you thought of as a man, that was not the real her. It never was. I have come to understand that more deeply than you can probably ever understand, so I have to ask you to trust me on this: it hurts to hear or read that name.

With much love and respect,
Helen

Helen Boyd

is the author of My Husband Betty and She's Not the Man I Married.

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