Using Elliot Page's 'Deadname' is a Problem—Here's Why

Elliot Page released an Instagram post announcing that he is transgender—but many fans of the Umbrella Academy and Juno actor were unhappy with the way that the news was reported. Particularly, fans, member of the LGBTQ+ communities and allies were displeased at the media's continued use of the actor's birth name—or, as it is known among the trans community, his "deadname."

In many articles about Page's Instagram post, news outlets clarified the story with phrases like "formerly known as [birth name]". From a journalist's perspective, there is a temptation use a high-profile transgender man's birth name, especially when that person was well known under that name—as it adds clarity to the story and (more cynically) maxmizes search traffic on the article with the use of both names.

elliot page deadname
Elliot Page came out as transgender in an iInstagram post. Getty

LGBTQ+ media advocacy groups are clear on this: The use of someone's deadname should be avoided in coverage of trans people, as it is harmful to many trans people and propagates a ciscentric worldview.

The reasons as to why are made clear in GLAAD's media reference guide about covering the trans community: "When a transgender person's birth name is used in a story, the implication is almost always that this is the person's 'real name.'

"But in fact, a transgender person's chosen name is their real name, whether or not they are able to obtain a court-ordered name change. Many people use names they have chosen for themselves, and the media does not mention their birth name when writing about them, (e.g., Lady Gaga, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg). Transgender people should be accorded the same respect."

In an NBC News opinion piece, trans activist and ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio put plainly the harm that deadnaming someone in an article does: "The one I was given at birth that does not align with my gender. It does not represent who I am but rather a painful past that I worked hard to move beyond."

He then describes his problems with the "formerly known as [birth name]" phrase: "by referring to me as "Chase Strangio, formerly known as [deadname]" is to ensure that I will never have the authority to claim the truth of who I am; it cedes that authority to a structure of power and discrimination that would rather I never existed at all."

Elliot Page has clarified how he should be referred to in his Instagram post: "My pronouns are he/they and my name is Elliot."

Though journalists may see the deadnaming of Elliot Page a special case due to him being a public figure pre-coming out, LGBTQ+ groups say that it propogates a language that is harmful to trans people, where their trans identity is merely seen as facade covering their "real" self, when in fact their trans identity is the real self.

Though the deadnaming of Page in an article may not have any negative repercussions on the actor (bar any mental health effects from seeing a name he no longer identifies with), it does propagate a system that has led to transgender people (particularly trans women of color) disproportionately being the victims of hate crimes.