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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