Transgender teen on why ‘deadnaming’ Elliot Page is harmful

Story by CBC Kids News • 2020-12-04 07:00

Teen says trans role models can be life-changing for kids

As a young, queer person growing up in Halifax, 18-year-old Hanley Smith always knew who Canadian actor Elliot Page was.

Especially because they come from the exact same neighbourhood.

“I’ve always been super aware of who they were and what they were doing,” Hanley told CBC Kids News. “An adult, queer person [is] a magical thing to see as a young, queer person.”

Now, they have something else in common.

Earlier this week, Oscar-nominated actor Elliot Page — best known for films such as Juno and Inception, as well as the Netflix series Umbrella Academy — shared that he is transgender.

Generally, transgender refers to someone who identifies with a gender that doesn't match the one they were assigned to at birth.

”I love that I am trans,” Page said in an Instagram post. “And I love that I am queer. And the more I hold myself close and fully embrace who I am, the more I dream, the more my heart grows and the more I thrive.”

Page also thanked other people in the trans community for inspiring him and said his pronouns are he/they.

Page received a ton of support from others on social media, including Netflix and Canadian queer musicians Tegan and Sara.

What is ‘deadnaming’ and why is it harmful?

Page’s announcement has sparked a conversation around “deadnaming,” which refers to using a trans person's former name.

You may have noticed that CBC, along with other news platforms, has made a conscious decision not to use Page’s former name in their coverage.

This is partly because trans people say that using their former name can be harmful.

Hanley, who is transgender and non-binary, said that hearing their deadname makes it hard to move on from their past.

Hanley Smith (they/them) is transgender and non-binary. They are a board member of the Youth Project, a Nova-Scotia-based, non-profit for queer youth. (Image submitted by Hanley Smith)

“Any time I hear my deadname, it strikes this feeling in me that, oh yeah, other people will never see me as the person I see myself as, and that’s really hard,” said Hanley.

They said the same applies to Page.

“It hasn’t clicked for people that, no, Page was never that person, that was just the title they were given before they could find himself.”

Nancy Waugh, managing editor for CBC Nova Scotia, said that CBC’s choice to avoid using Elliot’s deadname is both a matter of respect for Page and journalistic accuracy.

“In our journalistic standards and practices, we talk about our commitment to accuracy, fairness, balance,” she said. “Elliot Page is stating this is the name that he wants to be known by, so this is a work of accuracy.”

How Elliot Page’s announcement affects trans kids

Hanley said that for young kids struggling with their gender identity, seeing someone like Page can be life-changing.

“When you’re young and hear of a queer or gender queer person, it genuinely changes your life, because it says there’s something outside the lines of what you were taught,” they said.

Tweet reads: Nice to meet you Elliot! Because of you, I have found myself and have something to look up to now.

Hanley, who uses they/them pronouns, identifies as both transgender and non-binary, meaning they don’t view their gender as purely male or female.

Non-binary people may view themselves as a mixture of the two, neither, or may even view themselves within a third gender that they define themselves.

Hanley said the fact that Page came out as having both he and they pronouns was “beautiful” and powerful,” because it also gives visibility to the idea of being non-binary.

Concerns about hate online

But Hanley said Page’s announcement is “a mix of pride and concern,” because they know how much hate trans people get online and Hanley said the hate is “already happening.”

Hanley said that’s what makes Page especially brave.

“They put not only their identity and personhood on the line, but their job, their security and their chances of getting new roles,” Hanley said.

With files from CBC News

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