Hello, My Name Is: Facebook Policy Disrupts Transgender Identities

15106601838_8725f53e17_oFacebook’s heavily criticized real-name policy is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rules and regulations affecting the lives of non-cisgender individuals.

For those who didn’t follow the recent brouhaha, the Facebook policy requires users to identify themselves by their “authentic name” or legal name on their personal page. Members of the LGBTQ community were extremely vocal about their disapproval, because it forced drag queens and transgender users who wanted to use their stage names or alternate identities on Facebook to instead “out” themselves or risk getting kicked off the social media site. Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox finally wrote a mea culpa to those affected by the policy, saying:

I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we’ve put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks.

A sincere apology? Maybe. But the “real name” policy still stands and continues to be enforced. The New York Times explains how Facebook intends on keeping the policy while negotiating future changes: “When a name is reported as fake, the company will take extra steps to understand why the name is being used and make a more active decision about whether to allow it.” These steps are to help differentiate authentic profiles from fake ones in hopes of keeping users safe from trolling, bullying, impersonation and domestic abuse that oftentimes occur under pseudonyms.

But Facebook aside, transgender individuals go through intrusive and discriminating policies all the time. Take something as simple as applying for an identification card that matches your lived gender and chosen name. According to LGBTQ Policy Journal,

75 percent of transgender people were unable to obtain a passport that reflected their lived gender, and 79 percent were unable to update all their identification and records [when they changed name and gender identity].

To get records changed, state requirements can include proof of gender confirmation surgery, mandatory court orders and therapist approval. Yet not every trans individual chooses to have gender reassignment surgery. For one thing, it’s very expensive: In 2013, Live Science estimated female-to-male reassignment surgery costs up to $50,000 and male-to-female surgery ranges between $7,000 and $24,000. Yet proof of surgery is mandatory in every state except Vermont, Washington, D.C., New York (excluding New York City), Iowa and California if you want to change your ID in terms of sex. Without it, many people are left with an ID (picture, name and gender status) inconsistent with their trans identity.

The obstacles don’t stop there: The drawbacks of having varying documentation can affect almost every aspect of a person’s life. Think about all the things that require a valid ID: opening a bank account, traveling, a new job, drug prescriptions, purchasing alcohol, voting, etc. The National Center for Transgender Equality explains that,

 … gender incongruent identification exposes people to a range of negative outcomes, from denial of employment, housing and public benefits to harassment and physical violence.

Not only can differing identification prevent you from purchasing beer or buying a house, but it can also put you in danger. The Social Security Administration has “unintentionally” outed clients with inconsistent gender data, resulting in workplace harassment and/or job discrimination. A 2008 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that,

Transgender people who are unable to obtain identity documents reflecting their lived gender are less likely to be employed and more likely to face discrimination in employment and housing. Transgender people also commonly report experiencing harassment (40 percent) and being asked to leave a place of business (15 percent) as a result of showing identification that does not match their lived gender, and significant numbers have also experienced physical violence as a result (3 percent). Transgender people of color experience these adverse outcomes at substantially higher rates.

There have been some positive changes made to policies affecting the trans/LGBTQ community: Check Transequality.org for policy updates regarding birth certificates, gender markers, collecting gender data and gender matching. But much more needs to be done. As Facebook learned, choosing one’s name in the LGBTQ community is not like picking what you’ll wear that day, but symbolizes the ability to validate one’s authentic identity without regulation and control. The world’s norm is Facebook’s “real name” policy, and its time to get rid of it.

Photo credit: of Flickr user Richard Girard licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.







Abeni Moreno graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a BA in Women Gender Sexuality Studies in 2013. She is a volunteer radio co-host at KPFK, Kbeach and is a Ms. intern. Follow her on Twitter @abenimoreno8.