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LGBTQ+ and Transgender Teens: Using a Teen’s Chosen Name Reduces Depression and Suicide Risk

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT

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Respect LBGTQ + and Transgender Teens: Use the Name They Ask You to Use

[seriesbox]Parents of LGBTQ + Teens: A Guide to Terminology and Basic Concepts You Should Know
I Wish I Were Dead: Why Transgender Teens Present as Suicide Risks and What Parents Can Do
Is Gender-Specific Treatment for Teens Necessary or Does It Exclude LBGTQI+ Teens?[/seriesbox]If you’re the parent of a teenager in the 21st century, there’s a good chance your teen has, or knows of, at least one friend who lives a gender identity that’s different than the gender assigned them at birth. If your child or teen lives a gender identity different than the one assigned at birth, you know that they identify as transgender.

To learn more about the vocabulary it’s important for parents of transgender/LGBTQ + teens or allies of the LGBTQ + community to learn and understand, please read our article “Parents of LGBTQ + Teens: A Guide to Terminology and Basic Concepts You Should Know.”

Transgender people – and transgender teens in particular – face a host of challenges when they come out as transgender. Not everyone understands how the emotions related to these daily obstacles build up over time. They can cause frustration, anxiety, and even anger. They can degrade self-esteem and lead to mental health issues that reach a clinical threshold and create a substantial risk of emotional harm and pain.

Transgender youth and teens may face judgment, opposition, and outright hostility from parents, siblings, extended family, and friends. At school, they may experience the same things from teachers, administrators, and classmates.

There’s one area where transgender teens experience opposition – and emotional pain – that’s wholly unnecessary. Eliminating this opposition should be a simple adjustment for everyone in their lives: they simply need to learn the new name chosen by the transgender teen and call them by that name. Using their new name is affirming, respectful, and validating.

We know because there may be people in their lives who readily accept their new identity and their new name. Transgender teens are grateful for the understanding and acceptance these people exemplify.

These allies take a position summed up by this sentence:

“If that’s who they say they are, if that’s the gender they say they are, then that’s their name and that’s their gender. End of story”

Unfortunately, for many transgender youth, that’s not the end of the story.

Deadnaming: What It Is and Why You Shouldn’t Do It

There are people in their lives who resist using their new name. They resist for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of this article to list. What they don’t realize is that by resisting or refusing to call a transgender person by their chosen name – especially early in the coming out process – they cause real harm to that person.

There’s a term for using the name a transgender person was born with, when that name is different than the name they use when they come out as transgender: deadnaming. Here’s an widely accepted definition of the term deadname and the practice of deadnaming.

“A transgender individual’s dead name (often shortened into deadname) is the name that they were given by their parents when they were born. Most transgender individuals choose to change their name as a part of their transition, though not all will. The act of using a transgender individual’s previous (dead) name intentionally, when one knows their real name, is called deadnaming.

This practice frustrates transgender teens and the people who love them because the fix is simple: say their name. However, there are those who refuse to use the new names, despite the negative emotional consequences and harm deadnaming may cause.

Parents and Allies of Transgender Teens Need to Know the Consequences of Deadnaming

Using the name a transgender person doesn’t want you to use – a.k.a. deadnaming – can have negative emotional and psychological effects. Deadnaming can:

  • Invalidate their lived identity
  • Signal that you don’t respect their lived identity
  • Show you’re not willing to make the effort to make the change to use their chosen name
  • Out them in situations where they may not want to be outed, which can lead to:
    • Unnecessary stress
    • Harassment
    • Discrimination

Those last three bullet points are real. Not that the first three aren’t – those create significant and difficult emotional and psychological challenges, as well. A study published in  2015 by the National Center for Transgender Equality documented the harassment, discrimination, and related stress trans people experience. Here’s what they found:

  • 46% of transgender people report experiencing verbal harassment for being transgender
  • 9% report being physically assaulted for being transgender
  • 30% report experiencing homelessness as a result of housing discrimination
  • 30% report discrimination in the workplace and work hiring process

That’s not including the following alarming facts. Compared to cisgender peers (people who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth), transgender teens are at increased risk of:

The negative consequences of deadnaming, when added to the additional challenges and mental health risks transgender people experience, create a situation wherein transgender people – as a result of living their true identity – face obstacles that simply should not be there. Their ask is modest: they want to be called by their chosen name.

And when people honor that most basic request, positive results follow.

Evidence Shows Using Transgender Teen’s Chosen Name Makes a Difference

Those positive results are quantifiable.

A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2018 called “Chosen Name Use Is Linked to Reduced Depressive Symptoms, Suicidal Ideation, and Suicidal Behavior Among Transgender Youth” shows that being called by their chosen name has a significant positive impact on youth and adolescents who identify as transgender.

In fact, being called by their chosen name is linked to significantly lower rates of depression and suicidal ideation in transgender teens

The study included 129 transgender and gender nonconforming adolescents from three different cities in the U.S. Researchers examined the impact on mental health when transgender teens were called by their chosen name in four key locations:

  • Home
  • School
  • Work
  • Among friends

Here’s what they found. When they were called by their chosen name in all four locations:

  • Severe depression decreased by close to 70%
  • Suicide attempts decreased by 56%
  • Suicidal ideation decreased by 29%

Those are powerful and compelling statistics, which confirm that what transgender ask for – fundamental respect for their new, lived identity – is an important aspect of their overall mental health, and supports their ability to live a full and fulfilling life.

There’s an area where transgender people receive support with regards to their chosen names: in the media. Two major news outlets created policies about deadnaming. First, the Associated Press (AP) created this guideline for their reporters: “Use the name by which [the] transgender person now lives.” The news agency Reuters has a similarly succinct policy: “Always use a transgender person’s chosen name.”

If news agencies can do it, then parents, family members, friends, teachers, school administrators, and peers can do it. Everyone can do it.

Parents and Allies of Transgender Teens: How To Make The Transition to the New Name

Author KC Clements, a well-known writer on queer, trans, and non-binary identity topics, offers several ways a person can navigate the new-name situation with transgender family members, coworkers, friends, and peers.

Here’s what they recommend:

  • Ask them the name they’d like to be called.
  • Use that name, in all situations, from that point forward.
  • Do not ask what their deadname was
  • Do not ask about the gender they were assigned at birth.

In addition, Clements has this advice:

“Know that it’s okay to mess up. We all make mistakes, and as you learn your friend’s new name, it’s likely you’ll get it wrong sometimes. The best thing you can do if you use the wrong name for them is to correct yourself and quickly move on.”

Those are easy steps we can all take. They’re easy for us, and they have an enormous impact on transgender people. When we read the statistics above, it’s not an exaggeration to say that something as simple as calling someone by their preferred name may even save their life.

That’s why, when a friend or loved one comes out as transgender, we should all do our best to respect who they are and how they want to live – and that begins with using their chosen name.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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