Think: you’re sitting in a seminar and the seminar leader is calling out names, taking a quick register, when you hear a name you don’t recognise. There’s an awkward silence until someone finally raises their hand to say that that’s them – but that isn’t their name, and those aren’t their pronouns anymore. This is a situation that far too many of us have witnessed or experienced, and is not only awkward for everyone involved, but potentially very distressing for the student in question.

Being deadnamed in a room full of people can take away the individual decisions of the student in question. They are no longer able to selectively choose to talk about gender on their own terms, the conversation has been taken beyond the boundaries of self-initiation, that is, enabling a safe and comfortable discussion if, and when, it’s necessary.

What is deadnaming?

Deadnaming refers to using the birth name – or dead name – of a transgender or non-binary person without their consent. This is a name that the individual in question is no longer known by and often have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from, it is typically kept very private and rarely shared with new acquaintances. Sharing is sometimes done accidentally, such as the example given above, but it is sometimes done deliberately to deny the gender identity of the individual in question.

While we would all like to think that our peers are open minded and welcoming individuals, it is understandable that some trans and non-binary students are not comfortable being open about their gender identity. Just last year, the charity TransActual UK revealed the results of a shocking survey; 99% of trans and non-binary people they surveyed reported facing discrimination and transphobia on social media. Coupled with worrying crime statistics, which show a rise in transphobic hate crimes in the UK over the last five years, it’s hardly surprising that students would prefer to speak about their gender identity on their own terms.

So, what can students, and the university, do to tackle this issue?

After contacting the IT Department at University of Greenwich, it seems there are steps that directly affected students can take to update their personal details. Students are able to change their preferred name by paying a visit to the Student Centre, this means that TEAMs, email, and Moodle will display the preferred name of the student. While this is a positive step, it is worth noting that not all the systems in use are able to use the preferred name, for example student ID cards will still only display the student’s legal name. While this is a start, the inability to have an ID card with your preferred name seems like a massive oversight, and one which we would all like to see addressed and dealt with by the university.

At present, there is also unfortunately no way for students to update their pronouns online. However, the university has recognised that this is an issue and the online registration system is going to be updated to allow students to enter their preferred pronouns in future. While this is a very important step, there is no way to tell which systems the preferred pronouns will be visible on as the project is still in progress. We can only hope that the changes mean that correct pronouns are visible on all systems, in order to prevent any further unnecessary distress to students affected.

There is, however, a wider point to be made here. While these updates can, and will, be beneficial, there are changes that all individuals can make to be more inclusive in our day to day lives. For example, we can all take note of how our fellow peers wish to be addressed, and remember that the name displayed on an email address or ID card isn’t always correct. We can also normalise asking people what their preferred pronouns are, list our own in our email signatures/online profiles, and, call out behaviour that we deem to be transphobic and/or discriminatory.

If you would like to know more about the trans and non-binary journey that your fellow students may be on, the following links may be useful:
https://www.stonewall.org.uk/truth-about-trans
https://www.healthline.com/health/transgender/nonbinary#nonbinary-vs-trans
https://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/news/10-ways-step-ally-non-binary-people
https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/gender-identity/transgender
https://unifresher.co.uk/coming-out-as-transgender-at-university/

While the updates and changes mentioned above are a positive step in the right direction, it’s clear that we’re not quite where we need to be yet, and we can all do more to make our university, and our society as a whole, a more inclusive place for everyone.

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