Commentary | Enforcing the deadname

McGill bureaucracy is actively harming the McGill trans community

For three weeks during the summer, I had to read my deadname — my assigned name at birth, a name I no longer use in the McGill Outlook title bar every day, multiple times a day. The name on my email and on myCourses had reverted to my deadname. It tends to do that, and it can take some time to be fixed.

When this happens, trans students are left to decide between avoiding sending emails from our institutional email accounts and risking looking unprofessional, or out ourselves to every single person we message. Emails sent to us by others will inevitably show the wrong name. I opted for the latter option – outing myself – because I had important work emails to send, so now at least a few dozen new people know my deadname. It’s not very easy to forget, unfortunately, and all my interactions with those persons in the future will be made more uncomfortable by their knowledge – hopefully, they won’t discriminate against me for being a trans woman if the opportunity arises.

Those three weeks, unsurprisingly, corresponded to a low in my mental health, and the fallout is ongoing. The constant reminders of my pre-transition life also took a toll on my mental health. For weeks I had to see this name, multiple times a day – this name which caused me pain for most of my life, and which I am struggling to put behind me.

McGill’s current preferred name policy (when it works) is limited to students’ classlists, McGill emails, and myCourses. Outside of those three platforms, there is nothing. The policy fails to recognise trans people’s lived gender identity as well as failing to meet McGill’s legal obligations to accommodate trans students under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedom, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity. These failures harm trans students psychologically and emotionally, and make us vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, and violence.

Currently, myFuture sends the person’s deadname with the submitted documentation for job applications. Similarly, official transcripts are not available with preferred names. Trans students are systemically outed, unless they choose to forego using myFuture, or their official transcript. Applying for a job for which only the official transcript is accepted? Too bad. Applying for a job in which unofficial transcripts are accepted? Good luck appearing professional sending in a screenshot or a copy-pasted version as a transcript. With transphobia still being commonplace, it is simply unacceptable for McGill — an institution which claims to hold itself to the highest standards of social and academic practice — to force its trans students to use their deadnames.

I think it is important to emphasise that constantly having to see one’s deadname in the system is very distressing and invalidating, whether others are aware of it or not. Since all login systems use the “primary email,” which is composed of the person’s deadname, trans students have to type it every time they need to use a McGill service, usually a significant number of times per day. It causes much anxiety and discomfort in a student’s day to day life, given its recurrence. The Interlibrary Loan system, printers, among other systems, do not use the preferred name and email, either.

The issue is distinctively intersectional. There are many reasons to delay a legal name change or avoid it altogether, and when the process is available and desired, it can take months or years to go through. For a large number of students, however, the process is simply unavailable. Many countries disallow name changes on the basis of gender identity, or require genital surgery as a precondition for the change. The policy, as it stands, disproportionately impacts international students.

Trans rights are human rights. We should all get to use a name we identify with. Our privacy should be respected. In light of its legal duties and institutional commitments, McGill should foster a respectful environment in which trans students feel safe from discrimination, harassment and violence. The first step of many is to overhaul its preferred name policy so that trans students, staff, and faculty alike, may reliably use their chosen name across all McGill platforms.

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