The practice of calling a transgender person by the name the person used before transitioning is known as “deadnaming.” And it’s a concept that’s been getting a lot of play in the past few weeks, after 1972’s most famous decathlete appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair with the very clear instructions “Call Me Caitlyn” over her photo. As Meredith Ramirez Talusan, writing at Fusion, explained last week:
[T]rans people are deadnamed as a way to silence and shame us, or to pointedly out us as trans.
For that reason, and because Jenner is now in some ways a representative of the trans community, the media and broader public shouldn’t use her old identity unless she clearly expresses that preference, and should extend the same respect to any person who reveals themselves to be trans.
It’s a matter of basic courtesy. Jenner hasn’t just definitively announced her true gender, but also let go of a male identity that she’s felt alienated from since early childhood. If she thinks of her life in her male role as a lie, then it’s also true that her former name, the one that stands in for that life, is also a lie.
Using a trans person’s previous name does seem a bit like disputing the validity of someone’s identity. And for those in the media—a group that, in the age of Facebook and Twitter, includes basically everybody—simply not using Jenner’s previous name is shockingly easy. Just call her Caitlyn.
But there’s one area where this is more complicated, as residents of two neighborhoods, one in south Austin, the other in east El Paso, have discovered: both subdivisions have streets and drives and lanes that are named after famous athletes—athletes such as Jim Thorpe, Dick Mayer, Jesse Owens, and Bruce Jenner.
Street name changes are possible, but they’re not easy or speedy. In Austin, the process requires a resident on the street or a city council member to request the change, and if a resident makes the request, it also requires a $415 application fee. If all property owners on the block agree to the change, then the process can happen relatively smoothly—but if not, a public hearing must be held, and eight agencies have to each review the application process. In El Paso, meanwhile, names can only be changed by City Council action.
There are reasons, besides bigotry, why a person might vote against renaming the street they live on. Updating one’s IDs, insurance, bank information, etc with a new address is complicated, and obtaining a new driver’s license is a more difficult proposition for some people than for others. And there’s always a threat of lost mail, which could be a significant issue for those who wait for, say, a Social Security check twice a month.
Some on the block in El Paso are open to a name change—but not necessarily to “Caitlyn Jenner Lane,” as ElPasoProud.com reports:
Jaime Alvarado, a resident of Bruce Jenner lane for over 20 years, says yes [to a name change], but not to Caitlyn Jenner.
“If he changes his name, we should change our street name too. Let’s find another idol,” Alvarado said.
[O]thers take pride in [the name].
“I don’t think they should change the name because the street was named after he was an Olympian and who he is now doesn’t change who he was in the past,” another resident on Bruce Jenner Lane.
Jenner might disagree with the pronouns that the resident uses, as well as with the notion that who she is now doesn’t change who she was in the past—Jenner told Diane Sawyer that she struggled with her gender identity since her youth—but it’s ultimately complicated. The most respectful thing to Jenner would probably be to change the names, whether to Caitlyn Jenner Lane or maybe even to something else entirely. It’s a rare confluence of city planning and civil rights, and one without an easy answer.
(image via KVUE News screenshot)