Deadnaming Caitlyn

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

Growing up in the 80s, Saturday nights meant sleepovers. We drove our parents nuts begging every Friday and promising to get up to go to mass and CCD on Sunday. Our nights were filled with choreographed dances because Oh Mickey was SO fine and Purple Rain was falling. Once we danced and sang it out we sat, glued to the big-box television, Doritos and mustard at the ready (don’t judge).


We waited with bated breath for the opening sequence of Saturday Night Live. What would they do tonight? These were the days of Billy Crystal and Jon Lovitz, Joan Cusack, Eddie Murphy, Nora Dunn and Jan Hook. Mom jeans, Mr. Robinson, Men’s Synchronized Swimming and White Like Me. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood the social commentary and impact of many of the sketches.


In the 90s I fell away from Saturday Night Live and into Seinfeld. Comedy has always been a draw. I admire the ability to use language and physicality to talk about hard topics. Julia Louis Dreyfus slays me time and again. She doesn’t have a square to spare, are you sponge worthy? These are still part of my normal banter, even now as they show my age.


So, recently when my husband and I had a (very) rare opportunity to watch something other than Magic School Bus, we turned on the latest episode of Saturday Night Live. We get to the Weekend Update with Michael Che and WOW. We literally get to choose one show that doesn’t involve animation and voice overs and THIS is what is put in front of us! To say Saturday Night Live has gone downhill is the understatement of the century. Before you start to tell me that “nobody can joke about anything anymore” or accuse me of “just being too liberal” let me just run a few things by you:


According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, September 2018 (https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2018/09/07/peds.2017-4218): More than half of transgender male teens who participated in the survey reported attempting suicide in their lifetime, while 29.9 percent of transgender female teens said they attempted suicide. Among non-binary youth, 41.8 percent of respondents stated that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.


Human Rights Council and researchers at the University of Connecticut conducted the 2017 LGBTQ Teen Survey (https://www.hrc.org/resources/2018-lgbtq-youth-report) where they surveyed 12,000 teens from across the United States and found that:

· Seventy-seven percent of LGBTQ teenagers surveyed report feeling depressed or down over the past week;

· Ninety-five percent of LGBTQ youth report trouble sleeping at night;

· LGBTQ youth of color and transgender teenagers experience unique challenges and elevated stress -- only 11 percent of youth of color surveyed believe their racial or ethnic group is regarded positively in the U.S., and over 50 percent of trans and gender expansive youth said they can never use school restrooms that align with their gender identity;

· More than 70 percent report feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in the past week;

· Only 26 percent say they always feel safe in their school classrooms -- and just five percent say all of their teachers and school staff are supportive of LGBTQ people;

· Sixty-seven percent report that they’ve heard family members make negative comments about LGBTQ people.


Michael Che chose to refer to Caitlyn Jenner as a “fella.” I’m not even going to assume what the intent was for his harmful, distasteful “joke.” In fact, it did not stop there. Michael Che actually deadnamed Ms. Jenner. It was appalling. I do not know Ms. Jenner, don’t follow any shows that she or her children/stepchildren create or partake in (see above, cartoons only) but for a trans woman who has so bravely lived her authentic self, in front of the world, I was heartbroken and furious all in the same breath. It was a violent, harmful attack couched in the guise of comedy.


Deadnaming - I am part of many trans parent groups. My blessed family tribe is monitored by a fierce protector of our children. She tirelessly interviews each and every person who wants to join our group. She worries that Facebook is invading our privacy. Our group is secret, private, secure. She is a blessing. In other parent groups the talk is less supportive. Parents are stumbling and struggling through the trans-parent thing. One woman posted about her encounter with her child at Thanksgiving, ranting about “this deadname thing.” Her comment something to the effect of, “I don’t know why I can’t use their name. I took a long time choosing that name.” Another man discusses the conspiracy behind the “fake news” surrounding suicide statistics of our trans and gender-diverse community. I have been wrapped in the protective bubble of my safe group. My eyes are now open. I want to respond to every post and cry for the children or the child they were. Deadnaming is the use of a transgender person’s natal name or referring to them using their natal pronouns. It is disrespectful. It is harmful. I know firsthand that it is an act of violence that has a direct correlation with self-harm to our transgender, and non-binary children and adults. It is not “fake news.” The facts are not in dispute. I don’t really want to hear about how YOU are harmed or disenfranchised by having to respect another person’s pronouns or chosen name. My prayer is that the light will come on, if even slowly, and these parents will transform from egotism and find within the power of unconditional love, affirmation, acceptance and respect for their beautiful children.


So for me, Saturday Night Live will no longer be my adult-time indulgence. Michael Che will continue to make harmful jokes at the expense of marginalized communities as he did again the week following. Apparently, he is one of those kids in the school yard who believes that negative attention is better than none. This past fourth moon I chose, instead, to watch Seth Meyer’s stand-up. Let’s hope that Loren Michaels wakes up and sees that he is losing his audience.

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