Starbucks, Please Don’t ‘Out’ Your Transgender Patrons

The image features a wooden table with coffee cups on it, with a large storefront window in the distance.

“Guess what, Starbucks? That isn’t my name.”

As a transgender person, I like to refer to my birth name – the name my parents bestowed upon me when I arrived on this planet – as my “dead name,” because it’s been dead to me for years now.

I’m in the process of legally changing it now for that exact reason.

My birth name represents the gender that was incorrectly imposed upon me. It’s a name that reminds me of all the struggles that I have faced as a trans person in a society that still struggles to affirm or recognize me. It’s a name that I never wanted and a name that makes my skin crawl.

So imagine my surprise when I heard this name flying out of the mouth of my barista and then scrawled on the cup of my beloved iced chai.

Ugh. Staaaaaarbucks! Why? We had such a good thing going.

Let me explain the full spectrum of emotions that I felt in that moment:

Embarrassed, because my birth name is private and not something I wanted to share with the entire café. Afraid, because I knew that folks might see my masculine presentation and hear my traditionally “feminine” name and figure out that I was transgender. Hurt, because this was a name that still caused me a great deal of pain.

And angry – like, ready to dump my iced chai on the barista’s head if I’m being honest – because guess what, Starbucks? That isn’t my name and, despite your usual policy, you didn’t ask me what my name actually was.

The barista looked at the name on my debit card and jumped to the conclusion that it must be the name that I prefer. In doing so, they assumed that all of us have the privilege of having legal names that align with our preferences or our gender identities.

That is simply not true.

There are countless trans folks who cannot legally change their names or don’t feel safe doing so. And should they walk into that Starbucks, they might have their birth name – a name that causes them distress and could potentially out them as transgender – called out in the café or written on a cup to broadcast an intimate piece of information to the rest of the world.

Not only could that make trans folks feel unsafe at Starbucks, but it might also make them feel completely unwelcome.

Respecting and affirming the identities of transgender people begins with calling us by our actual names, instead of assuming that what was written on our birth certificates or bank statements is an appropriate thing to call us.

Not long from now, the name your barista wrote on my cup will finally be buried in a sea of court records as my real name is finally legalized. But not every trans person has the privilege of being able to legally change their name. And they shouldn’t have to go through legal hoops and court dates just to be treated with respect.

Simply asking us for our name – every single time – can help us to feel safe in your café, knowing that we won’t be outed or humiliated just for ordering a drink.

I fought tirelessly to reclaim my identity from a society that tried, from the day that I was born, to force me into a role I did not want and give me a name that only obscured who I really was. And trans folks everywhere find empowerment in the names that we choose – names that help us capture the people that we were meant to become.

Starbucks, if you truly believe that transgender people are deserving of dignity in your café and beyond, here’s a place to start: Don’t call us by our “dead names” and out us to other patrons. Call us by our actual names and make sure that every barista understands how important this policy really is.

Help us in creating a culture in which we determine who we are and what we should be called. It’s one small step towards affirming the identities of transgender people everywhere.

And my name is Sam Dylan Finch, by the way. You can call me Sam. You didn’t ask, but I thought you should know.

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9 thoughts on “Starbucks, Please Don’t ‘Out’ Your Transgender Patrons

  1. dan4kent says:

    What’s in a name? Yes, I know what the Bard said, but what you speak to is powerful stuff. Identity is a tricky thing to be sure, but I really appreciate the way you brought the ‘first-person’ to something so many take for granted. Righteous rant. Gives me pause and the opportunity to pat you on the back. Hi Sam. I’m Dan. Good to meet you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Valley Vegan says:

    They really should ask EVERY time what your name is, not use the name on your card. There are too many reasons why they should ask and not assume. Starbucks has no excuse for being so clueless when their ordering system relies so heavily on calling out names from the counter.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pax Ahimsa Gethen says:

    That’s really fucked up. I was so stressed whenever a checkout clerk or door guard read my name aloud off my ID before I got my legal name change. Serious violation of privacy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA says:

    Ugh, you’ve hit on one of my pet peeves. The practice of ASSUMING that what’s on the card is the name you want to be called by. The name you are. It should be a corporate policy to ask. I changed my name legally, and it was a piece of cake. I didn’t get interrogated like I was afraid I might be, and it didn’t cost a fortune either. My only real problem is that all of my professional diplomas etc are in the old name and can’t be changed. Grrrr.

    Like

  5. tranfunz says:

    That is annoying if they do that – though it’s a bit dumb because it’s assuming the card is yours, and that isn’t always true as it may be legitimately someone else’s, e.g. your partner’s. You need to fake a card where the name is ‘Atwat Seddis’ or something, see how many times you can get them to run it through the till and keep reasking what the name is on it!!
    In the UK, they always ask you your name, so it’s not impossible for them to get it right. Just keep complaining to their head office by email afterwards, stating venues and times. Get everyone who gets treated like this to complain too, otherwise they’ll never know it’s a problem. I do this every time I’m misgendered – all they have to do if they’re not sure is not use a gendered greeting.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ZEM says:

    Wow. This is a potential outing I had not considered before. There are MANY reasons one might prefer to use a name which differs from their credit card, from a difficult to pronounce foreign name to a disliked, overly formal first name, but this is by far the most important reason to take the five seconds to just ask.
    It might not matter to a lot of people, but it could certainly prompt someone to actually consider what name they identify most with, just like when you ask someone for their preferred pronouns.
    Reinforcing this policy, and being open about this rationale mattering, would be a very strong show of support.

    Liked by 1 person

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