The “world’s most popular and authoritative source for information on movies, TV shows and celebrities” will now allow transgender actors to remove their deadnames (names assigned at birth) from the site.
During the process of coming out, trans people will often choose a new first name to be used going forward. This new name reflects a trans person’s true identity. From this moment on, the name that had been assigned to them at birth should not be used.
Calling a trans person by the name assigned to them at birth, rather than their chosen name, is known as “deadnaming”. The act of referring to a transgender person by their deadname is a mark of disrespect. It can be an incredibly hurtful and cruel act towards a trans person. Trans actor Laverne Cox of Orange Is The New Black calls deadnaming “the ultimate insult”.
Trans advocacy groups investigate places where transgender people’s birth names are publicly shared. One of these places is IMDb, the Amazon-owned Internet Movie Database.
GLAAD and a coalition of LGBTQIA+ groups recently joined Hollywood union SAG-AFTRA in a legal push to prevent the database from publishing trans performers’ deadnames without their consent.
IMDb told Variety:
“IMDb now permits the removal of birth names if the birth name is not broadly publicly known and the person no longer voluntarily uses their birth name.”
Performers will face a wait time, however, an IMDb spokesperson stating:
“Once the IMDb team determines that an individual’s birth name should be removed – subject to this updated process – we will review and remove every occurrence of their birth name within their biographical page on IMDb.”
The news comes after two transgender actors spoke out in April of this year. The actors anonymously revealed their struggles to remove their dead-name from the site. One actor said that it took them several months of campaigning to do so in 2017.
The anonymous actor said:
“It feels very exposing to have that information out there against my will as it is a private thing, and I would like to choose who I get to share it with. With all the trans-related violence and murder, it seems very obtuse to refuse to remove information that could quite literally put people in danger.”
Not Far Enough
While IMDb now permits the removal of deadnames, trans activists have criticised the platform for not going far enough with its change in policy.
Despite the very real risks to trans people’s lives and careers, IMDb has said that it will not correct when an actor has been credited for a role under their birth name. In these cases, the name will be listed in parentheses under the credits section.
The spokesperson said:
“This is in order to continue providing IMDb’s hundreds of millions of customers worldwide with comprehensive information about film and TV credits, thereby preserving the factual historical record by accurately reflecting what is listed on-screen.”
When IMDb is consistently the second result that appears under Wikipedia, this is not good enough.
In an interview with IndieWire, Laverne Cox said that IMDb’s policy of dead-naming is “deeply traumatising”,
“It’s very, very complicated because there’s a website that wants to be fully comprehensive, and then there’s just the deep, deep trauma and the abuse that actually can happen, too, when someone is dead-named…Abuse is often attached to that, and violence is often attached to that.”
The move on IMDb’s part is a positive step. However, to ensure that the platform does not infringe upon the safety of trans performers, it must eradicate any deadnames that appear on the site.
Last year, Twitter banned deadnaming and misgendering as one part of a wider crackdown against abuse. While Twitter’s policy is also far from perfect, hopefully other platforms will follow in this example.
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