Wikipedia controversy sparks debate over the use of deadnames for trans individuals

A survey launched on Wikipedia has created controversy within the online encyclopedia: should we keep the deadnames of trans people in their pages? Between encyclopedic aims, the lack of knowledge of the subject of transsexuality and the absence of trans people in the debate, the question divides.

In the case where a trans person has acquired great notoriety under their pre-transition name (…), should this name in principle be mentioned in the introductory summary? »

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It is the question that tears Wikipedia apart in French since February 12, 2024. Concretely, it is a question of knowing whether, yes or not, Wikipedia articles must mention the deadname (the first name assigned at birth, but then abandoned by a trans person in order to choose one that better corresponds to gender identity) of trans personalities in the pages dedicated to them.

Under the question, encyclopedia volunteers are invited to vote, and to explain, if they wish, their choice. The debate has inflamed French-speaking contributors: while some criticize administrators for not taking into account the violence of the use of deadname (or morinom in French), others are accused of having orchestrated attempts at “destabilization from outside”.

With 113 “yes” and 91 “no”, the results above all show to what extent the question divides the online encyclopedia.

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A. Birkan ÇAGHAN

A survey that divides French Wikipedia

The debate between the editors of the online encyclopedia aims to “ survey the community on certain points that give rise to edit wars ”, can we read on the dedicated page — and ultimately, to get everyone to agree on the best way to present trans people. The survey launched by Wikipedia includes 2 other questions: should we use the deadname of trans people? And if so, how, and where on the page?

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It is important to remember that the use of deadname is not a trivial act: it is a painful experience for trans people, who find themselves returned to their old name, and to the gender that was assigned to them. at birth.

This is not the first time that French Wikipedia has attempted to provide an answer to this question. A first discussion was launched in the summer of 2022 by French-speaking contributors, keen to develop a style convention on transidentity in French, like the approach followed in the English version. However, nothing was ever decided definitively, explains the new survey, and contributors therefore wanted to bring it back to the table.

Wikipedia // Source: WikipediaWikipedia // Source: Wikipedia
The Wikipedia encyclopedia addresses this type of issue from time to time, such as inclusive writing or the feminization of certain categories. // Source: Wikipedia

Encyclopedic considerations

Many contributors voted to use the deadname of trans people, in particular explaining their point of view by a desire “ encyclopedic “. A user thus indicates that it is normal to use the deadname of the personality “ if notoriety is proven before the transition. The reader must be able to find their way around it. If notoriety only came afterwards, (the deadname) a priori has no place “. Another explains that “ confusion would necessarily be common among readers unaware of the gender change “, because ” they could in fact believe that they have been redirected to the page of a person other than the one on which they are looking for information. »

However, other comments suggest a lack of knowledge of the subject of transsexuality on the part of certain contributors. “ Why differentiate the case of transgenders (sic) from other cases of name change? “, asks a contributor. “ The Johnny Hallyday page is not called Jean-Philippe Smet, however the birth name/marital status is mentioned in the (introductory summary) », raises another.

However, the use of a stage name and a change of first name for a trans person are absolutely not similar cases. As summarized by Léo, a non-binary person who saw the survey, using a deadname, “ it's like telling a person who is a victim of incest that they are obligated to keep their father's name. It's a name loaded with memory, and it can be very negative, leading to dysphoria and extreme states of stress. »

The survey launched by Wikipedia administrators // Source: Numerama screenshotThe survey launched by Wikipedia administrators // Source: Numerama screenshot
The survey launched by Wikipedia administrators. // Source : Numerama screenshot

Few trans people are involved

Wikipedia contributors who are less knowledgeable about trans issues could therefore make a choice that would not directly affect them. However, Wikipedia's practices in the treatment of transgender and non-binary personalities have already been highlighted in 2022.

In a column published in L’Obsaround forty personalities, trans or not, criticized “ Wikipedia's treatment of trans, non-binary and intersex people “. They explained that they had “ noted within Wikipedia the repetition of stigmatizing behavior, either through ignorance, either by real desire to harm ”, such as “ misgendering (not using the right pronouns, editor’s note), deadnaming and maintaining pre-transition photo portraits. »

Another problematic point seems to be the absence of trans people interviewed on the subject, even though they are the first to be concerned. On Wikipedia administrators' bulletin, contributors thus criticized a contributor for having tried to influence the vote, by publishing the poll on a queer forum, and by inviting other people to vote. When contacted, this person did not wish to answer our questions.

The survey question is very complicated, and it is asked in a binary way », also regrets Léo, “ while intermediate solutions could also have been considered “. Léo, who wishes to be gendered masculine, is thinking in particular of creating redirection pages, or even switching mentions of gender transitions and the deadname lower in Wikipedia pages, in the sections dedicated to private life.

Wikipedia reflects society, so it's normal to see that there are debates on these social subjects », he adds. “ But wanting to decide so quickly on a subject which is an active problem, it can only go badly wrong “. The survey, which lasts 2 weeks, will give its final results on February 26, 2024.

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Source: WOCinTech ChatSource: WOCinTech Chat

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