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I came out of the closet as transgender at the start of my high school studies. I expected to encounter casual transphobia, intrusive questions, and some level of misgendering because of the systems in place in the study environment.

What is less talked about, however, and therefore came as a surprise to me, was how many times you must come out of the closet when the name and gender marked on the papers is wrong.

Most schools now use the Wilma system to communicate between the educational institution and the student and to make schedules and course selections, for example. I don’t know whether this is the fault of the Lahti IT department, the City of Lahti, or the Wilma system itself, but you cannot correct your own name in Wilma.

My deadname – a trans person’s birth name – is displayed to every teacher and student in the whole institution.

So, at the start of every new course for the past few years, I have had to send a message to the course teacher explaining my situation and asking them to use my real name in class for everything from roll call to sharing group assignments. Not only is this mentally exhausting for me, but it also makes the teacher’s job more difficult, when, in addition to all other factors, they must try to remember to use my real name in the roll call, even though the list of names they read still contains the wrong name.

Some teachers have understandably slipped up with this. A couple of more problematic individuals have slipped so often that I no longer believe it was a pure accident.

But what can I, as a minority student, do when it’s this easy for a teacher to rely on the wrong name in Wilma as the reason for their slips?

If this recurring coming out of the closet were limited to teachers, it might still be tolerable. However, the wrong name is also being shared with students.

The school uses Office 365 applications, i.e., Word, PowerPoint, Teams, etc. The access codes for the applications come directly from the student’s edu ID, which is the same as in Wilma. I had already started avoiding group work courses in year 1 – before the pandemic – because I didn’t want to have to explain why the name on the Office applications was different from the one I was using to introduce myself. However, as the coronavirus hit and we moved to remote teaching, the situation got worse: at every Teams meeting, all my fellow students had the perfect opportunity to see my old name on their screen.

After my first remote philosophy class, I got a phone call from the teacher who has supported me throughout high school: “Is it really the case that even I can’t change your name here on Teams?” Yes, it is.

My only options were not to attend class or to reveal my deadname to the whole school. I plan to graduate on time, so not taking part would not be an option.

My deadname is also constantly present at events organised by the student union. For example, at a dessert event organised for seniors, where everyone was served a brownie, everyone had to tell the supervisor their name before taking the brownie so that no one ended up taking more than they were allotted. So, if I wanted to participate in this student union event, I first had to explain to the student who was supervising the desserts why the name on the student list printed from Wilma did not match my real identity.

I decided not to participate in upcoming events. I can bake at home if I want brownies. And it doesn’t require putting myself in danger.

As a transgender student, it is easy to become a victim of hate crime, especially when the school is effectively announcing your identity to the whole student body.

What if someone to whom I had to explain myself in a situation such as a group work session had been transphobic and started to harass me?

Me being transgender was never a secret. I am a trans activist and editor of the online media Kehrääjä, and I don’t really hide my identity. I don’t mind answering questions, as long as they are not scornful but stem from a genuine desire to know.

However, I never volunteered for coming out of the closet again and again, explaining myself, and the public sharing of my deadname. This happened against my will – just because I am a transgender student. I just wanted to go to high school in peace. But I couldn’t.

 

Background facts: Why does the deadname stick?

A birth name that does not correspond to a person’s experience of their own gender can follow the person in official registers for a number of reasons. In some cases, the person cannot change their name because the authorities do not accept the person’s preferred name because of their legal gender. In Finland, the requirements for the legal confirmation of gender include a minimum age of 18 and several medical certificates. Changing your name can also be time-consuming and costly in relation to your financial situation. In addition, the person’s immediate family may react negatively to the name change.

In principle, anyone aged 15 or over can apply for a name change themselves, citing their reasons. If the name is such that it meets the criteria, the name will be accepted. Parents’ views are sought, but the young person’s own views are usually followed. If a person has a non-binary gender identity, they may wish to have a gender-neutral name. This is possible, but there is no third legal gender recognised by law.


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