Elliot Page, an actor known for roles in Juno, X-Men films, and their current Oscar-nominated role in The Umbrella Academy, has started a flurry of online discussions after coming out as transgender.
These discussions focused on the practice of “deadnaming” a transgender person. Deadnaming means referring to a person who is transgender by the name they used before they transitioned. Not everyone likes that terms, so you might also hear it called (and you can say instead) their “birth name,” “given name,” or “former name.”
When we know that someone has transitioned, it can be a mental challenge at first to adhere to a trans person’s new, affirmed name. Sadly, some people may refuse to acknowledge the change altogether. But affirming someone by using their new name is important for their mental health by validating their identity, and not using their new name can out them to others as trans, can anxiety and stress, and even put them in danger of experiencing discrimination or harassment.
When Elliot announced their transition (and indicated their pronouns are he/them), dozens of headlines and news stories pronounced “FormerName Page Comes Out as Transgender” or “Umbrella Academy Star Elliot Page, Formerly Known as GivenName, Is Transitioning.”
These headlines were distressing for a lot of trans people to read. For decades, the transgender community has been fighting for names to be respected. There are even resource guides for media to help journalists write about a trans person in a respectful way.
Elliot is famous and their former name is widely known. They also have a body of work and credits under that name. They worked with GLAAD before coming out publicly to decide what they were okay with seeing in the news and how they would prefer their name change be conducted. Together, they agreed to offer guidance that their former name could be used once, in making the announcement of their transition, just for the sake of clarity with fans. But once the announcement was made, they — like the vast majority of trans people — want their new name to be used as a sign of respect and affirmation.
This is incredibly important for people to understand. That decision does not mean it’s okay for anyone else to use the former name of a trans person in their life. And if they don’t know the trans person’s prior name, they certainly shouldn’t ask! That’s a basic of trans etiquette.
What should we all say? “Congratulations, Elliot. We are so happy for you and excited that you can now live your life fully and authentically.”