Issuing an Instagram post, Elliot Page announced that he was a transsexual – but many fans of the Umbrella Academy and the Juno actor were dissatisfied with the way the news was reported. In particular, fans, members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies were dissatisfied that the media continued to use the actor’s birth name – or, as it is known in the transgender community, his “dead name”.
Many articles about Page’s Instagram’s contribution have had news agencies explain the story with phrases such as “formerly known as [birth name]. From a journalist’s point of view, there is a temptation to use the birth name of a high-profile transgender man, especially if that person was well known by that name – as this gives clarity to the story and (more cynically) maximizes search traffic to the article by using both names.
LGBTQ+ media advocates are aware of this: The use of a person’s dead name should be avoided when reporting on transsexuals, as it is harmful to many transsexuals and promotes a ciscentric worldview.
The reasons for this are clearly explained in GLAAD’s Media Reference Manual for Reporting on the Trans-Community: “When the birth name of a transsexual person is used in a story, it almost always implies that it is the ‘real name’ of the person.
“In fact, however, the chosen name of a transsexual person is his or her real name, whether or not he or she can obtain a court-ordered name change. Many people use names they have chosen for themselves and the media do not mention their birth name when writing about them (e.g. Lady Gaga, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg). Transgender people should be given the same respect”.
In an NBC News opinion piece, transactive activist and ACLU staff lawyer Chase Strangio clearly expressed how harmful it is to give someone a death name in an article: “The one that was given to me at birth and does not match my gender. It does not represent who I am, but rather a painful past that I have worked hard to overcome”.
Then he describes his problems with the phrase “formerly known as [birth name]”: “By calling me “Chase Strangio, formerly known as [dead name]”, he wants to make sure that I will never have the authority to claim the truth about who I am; he gives that authority to a power and discrimination structure that would rather I never existed at all.
Elliot Page has clarified how he should be called in his Instagram post: “My pronouns are he/they and my name is Elliot.
Although journalists see the dead name Elliot Page as a special case because he is a public figure that emerged before coming out, LGBTQ+ groups say that he propagates a language that is harmful to transsexuals, in which their trans identity is seen merely as a façade that hides their “real” self, when in fact their trans identity is the real self.
Although Page’s dead name in an article may not have negative effects on the actor (apart from the mental health effects of seeing a name with which he no longer identifies), it propagates a system that has led to a disproportionate number of transsexuals (especially colored transgender women) becoming victims of hate crimes.