Why I Still Use my "Dead Name" When Referring to Myself in the Past

Robert found the best version of himself by coming to the realization that he has actually always been a woman named Robin, and he had the bravery to come out as trans publicly.
Publish date:
August 31, 2015
transgender, misgendering, gender identity, Dead Names

When I was first made aware that a “dead name” referred to a trans person’s assigned birth name, I was struck by how morbid the term sounded; but as I learned more about many trans people’s experiences, the necessity of eliminating dead names became clearer. Referring to trans people as our dead names can put our safeties in jeopardy, because it runs the risk of accidentally outing some people as trans when others didn’t know, and many trans people don’t have the option to be out openly. Also, calling individuals by their dead names has the potential to bring forth painful or embarrassing memories and dig up a past that they would much rather forget.

In addition, eliminating the usage of one's dead name provides clarity for others; it lets people know that trans people are, and have always been, their current names, the ones that reflect their gender identities. They didn’t “change”; they’re finally being themselves. For example, my name is Robin now, and the thought process is that I've always been Robin even though my assigned name at birth was “Robert.” Erasing one's dead name altogether minimizes the chances of being referred to as that past name by accident (or, in some cases, on purpose maliciously) in the present. I believe these are valid reasons, and unless instructed otherwise, you should always respect a trans person’s wishes to not be referred to as their dead name.

However, I personally still prefer to be called "Robert" when referring to myself in the past tense.

I write this as delicately as I can, fully realizing that ignorant people may misinterpret my words and use them against myself and/or other trans people, so I'd like to make this clear: these opinions expressed are mine and mine alone, and I do not speak on behalf of other trans people as we are not a monolithic entity; we are all different individuals with separate journeys.

I feel like eliminating the name "Robert" altogether is erasing him from history, like he never existed, and this feels like an act of self-hatred against myself. Whether I like it or not, Robert did exist to me, and he will always be a part of me. Robert always tried his best. Robert had the greatest of intentions and wanted what was best for everyone. And yes, Robert tried to conform to society in order to feel accepted, but that’s something I'm sure everyone has done at some point or another.

Robert has done some wonderful things.

He never gave up. He always loved wholly and was hopelessly optimistic even when he was continuously heartbroken. Robert found the love of his life. He worked up the courage to pursue his dream of being a standup comedian. And most importantly, against all odds, Robert discovered his true identity; he found the best version of himself by coming to the realization that he has actually always been a woman named Robin, and he had the bravery to come out as trans publicly.

Robin didn't do those things. Robert did.

So no, I don’t consider “Robert” a “dead name.” I consider the identity of Robert to be in the past, but I believe that his name lives on. I don’t feel right giving Robin credit for all of Robert’s accomplishments and for his past. It doesn’t feel right to say that Robin went to Cook Elementary School or won the Spelling Bee in 6th grade.

All of these thoughts came to me the other day when I was having lunch with my friend, and I told her that I was trying my best to eliminate “Robert” in every way possible. I told her that I might want to make my voice more higher-pitched because I sounded too "manly," and she noticed my hesitancy and my sadness.

“Do you want to change your voice for you, or are you doing it for others?” she asked.

I realized that I like my current voice, but I thought it might be easier for others to remember me as Robin if I were to eliminate all traces of Robert even if it meant doing things I didn’t want to do. “I don’t know. I guess I’m doing it for others,” I responded.

She looked at me and said, “Hey look, I love Robin, but I liked Robert, too! You don’t have to be so hard on him.”

When she said that, I felt this sense of empowerment that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I realized that Robert was a pretty awesome person despite the fact that he lived in excruciating pain every day.

Unfortunately, in writing this, I realize that some people may miss the nuances of what I’m trying to express and that they’ll try to conflate my love for “Robert” and my insistence of calling myself by that name in the past means that I want to use “Robert” in the present. This is not true. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do NOT want people to use “Robert” when referring to me in the present. I’m Robin now, and in the same way that Robin can’t take credit for Robert’s accomplishments, Robert cannot take credit for how courageously Robin lives every day.

Robin is the one who puts on a dress and walks around the grocery store while others stare at her angrily. Robin is the one who has made herself vulnerable to the public every day by writing these articles and performing standup comedy as herself, even in front of audiences that loathe her upfront. Robin is completely honest with who she is, and she is the best version of myself that I can possibly be.

It breaks my heart knowing that this narrative I’m bestowing is ripe for misunderstandings. Due to my preference to not erase “Robert” altogether, I might be giving ignorant and hateful people the wrong impression that I simply made a choice of shifting from “Robert” to “Robin” on a whim and not because it’s always been my identity; and since they may misread what I’m saying and think that being transgender is a "choice,” they might feel justified in hurting somebody who made a “choice” they disagree with. The truth is, I have always been me. The only “choice” I made was living openly as myself.

My intentions in embracing my past self is to act in the interest of self-love. As afraid as I am of hateful people misinterpreting this narrative, I’m just as scared of hating my past self so much that I’ll begin hating my present self which will lead me to inflict self-harm in the future. It’s self-preservation; I embrace my past because that past is part of who I am, and I choose to love that part of myself so that I can live my life fully and honestly. That means I'm both "Robert" and "Robin." I'm both those names, I'm all my experiences, and I accept and love every part of myself.