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Call her Caitlyn: calling trans people by their names

Spurning someone’s name for your own reason is more than disrespectful. It’s cruel.

Caitlyn Jenner 

Photo by: Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair

Caitlyn Jenner revealed herself yesterday on the cover of Vanity Fair and the Internet was aflutter over the glamorous reveal.

But not everyone was thrilled for the bombshell photos. Christians made their opinions known about the trans community and on Caitlyn — a lot of them misgendering her and using her dead name (a term used by the trans community to refer to their old name).

There’s a lack of basic respect in these conversations when we refuse to acknowledge a person’s identity.

John Pavlovitz wrote on the Caitlyn news: “One of the greatest gifts you can give another human being is to really see them.”

“Not who you wish them to be, not the version of themselves that makes you the most comfortable, not the one that is the most convenient for you, but the most authentic self they can muster at a given moment.”

That’s why dead naming a trans person is as infantile as someone who knows my name is Eliel deciding they preferred “Elliot.”

Yet, it’s worse than that. My name has represented who I am my entire life. I love my name. For many trans people, their dead name reminds them of a time they had to remain in the closet. It reminds them of when they were not being fully present or able to live their lives. Using a trans persons dead name is inflicting pain and that surpasses childishness. It’s flat out cruel.

My friend and theologian, Father Shay points to a beautiful application of scripture when discussing trans names. He rightly points out that “God is in the habit of changing people’s names to reflect their essential selves.”

We often see in scripture a transformation of biblical characters through God’s hands. It begins with the Hebrew patriarchs and carries on into the gospels. Jewish Saul becomes Paul, a follower of Christ.

Is it really so far-fetched to think the same of our trans family in Christ?

Many use dead names to show they don’t agree with someone else’s trans identity.

It’s not clear to me on how someone can object to how someone identifies. Just as someone who says they don’t agree with homosexuality, when they really mean same-sex sex, this could be a language issue in terms of varied definitions. But to clarify: Being trans is how someone identifies, not what they do.

Many but not all trans people do seek medical assistance to be at peace in their own bodies. However, there are trans people who don’t seek any medical help for their gender dysphoria, the term medical professionals diagnose to trans individuals.

Whatever their choice, shouldn’t the idea of people being at peace in their own body should resonate with everyone, especially Christians?

Regardless of one’s theology, God gave us bodily autonomy. Christ gave us agency.

We can argue the ethics of gender reassignment surgery (though you won’t get any anti-trans support from a reputable medical professional) or even a theology on changing one’s gender (though I’ve yet to hear a theological argument besides “God created male and female”).

But really, the conversations in the church must go beyond the moment when a trans celebrity is on the cover of a magazine. We need to be engaging the trans community in their health, homelessness, and poverty disparities. We need to be engaging the trans Christians in our pews.

We need to be discussing the trans community when we discuss on how to make our church more than just a building in which we worship, but on how to be a sanctuary.

That begins by calling her Caitlyn.