bureaucracy trans

Name change bureaucracy as a trans Canadian immigrant in Germany.

I now understand why it's called a deadname. It's because when I see it, I want to die.[1]

What's in a deadname?

The term "deadname" is usually used to describe a trans person's previous name that brings them pain. This definition lacks nuance for my purposes because there are trans people who don't change their names, trans people with previous names that aren't painful, and cis people with painful names they'd like to move past—associated with an abuser, estranged family, or just a different time of their life. In this post, I use the word "deadname" liberally because in pretty much all these cases, using the right name for someone is simply an issue of dignity - regardless of the presence or absence of pain, and regardless of one's relationship to gender.

It is worth pointing out though, that in studies and surveys of trans youth, chosen name use is associated with reduced depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation, changing our names and/or gender markers on legal documents is associated with lower rates of attempting suicide, and all of this is in a group that experiences worse mental health outcomes when compared to cis LGTBQ peers. So when I said that repeatedly seeing my deadname makes me want to die, that is neither an exaggerated nor exceptional experience.

When policy fails you

My least favourite word in the German language is Geduld. It means patience, and I hate it because it appears in nearly every response to me in the ticket I've had open with my university's IT department for an entire year, begging them to change their naming policy for Microsoft Teams.

Ticket that was created 319 days, 11 hours and 42 minutes ago, titled Namensänderung MS Teams

I've contacted the IT department and the Equal Opportunities Department (Gleichstellungsbüro), and the queer working group of the university's student council has been trying to get this policy to change for years.

It would be one thing if they changed names promptly on request, but they don't do this. Instead their policy is to require legal name changes to change your display name, a process that I cannot access as a foreigner, and that costs between 2 and 3 thousand euros even if I could. I'm not the only student and employee at the university for whom this is a barrier, and I know several other trans people who would like to see this policy change. Some others have contributed testimonials below.

For us, until we magically produce name change documents, we still have to attend university events and research group meetings and message our colleagues under an incorrect name. Every online meeting displays the wrong name front and centre, even if we introduce ourselves differently. We don't actively participate as much because we know we'll be called on with the wrong name if we speak and that is significantly distressing.

When this is what we're dealing with, how on earth are we meant to realize our full potential as students, researchers and employees?

In parallel, I've been trying to get a legal name change in Canada through a loophole I discovered.[2] The requirements seemed simple enough - a form with a notary's signature and stamp, fingerprints, and some money. But I underestimated how much trouble I would have finding a notary and anyone (city halls, police stations) who would take my fingerprints in Germany. The first notary ghosted me after a series of emails, the second never replied, the third agreed to notarize it in a non-standard way and charged me extra because the form was in English. The city halls said they couldn't take my fingerprints but to try the cops; the cops oscillated between 'We can't do this', 'We can do this if you give us a letter from the consulate' (which of course I produced for them), 'German law doesn't allow us to do this even with a letter from the consulate' and 'We can do this!'. I've been on this merry-go-round for a while and it is neither merry nor have any fingerprinting appointments materialized yet.

For my (still unsuccessful) name change, here's all that I've had to do so far, a lot of which has happened in German, a language I've been learning for, oh, 16 months:

In fact, I'm about to send the Vital Statistics Agency a 10th email because my special name change process has a time limit on it and I'm about to run out with nothing to show for it - which means, once again, I just can't have a legal name change. It is absolutely soul-destroying.

Bureaucratic violence

A lot of people think that policies are just policies, that they're somehow neutral. But when a policy disproportionately impacts a group of people and makes us do the equivalent of a part-time secretarial job in order to be afforded the dignity of being referred to by our names, then that turns into violence, bureaucratic though it may be.

My mental health is on the whole pretty good but fighting these ridiculous bureaucratic barriers at the university and around my name change have been having detrimental effects on me. I told a friend half-jokingly that if things ended up getting bad and I killed myself, she should politicize my death as being about these transphobic policies. So far I'm still kicking but there are literal lives at stake, and many people are less vocal than me.

What I feel is powerless. When states require that I tell them my name, my gender, my state of transness, I am now powerless to resist, simply because institutions like my university cannot bother to dignify me with an identity outside my state-given one. It is institutional policy to see me only in the ways I have institutional legitimacy, rather than to pose the question: why the fuck does my neural networks professor need to know my government name? I have discovered I am powerless even in the face of ostensibly trans-friendly policies such as PLOS One's naming policy for trans authors, because as it turns out, when no one monitors the mailboxes you send your name change requests to, the policy is as good as nonexistent.[3]

I'm spending my evening writing this post, making posters so more people know the impact of my university's policies on its trans students and employees, and sending more emails to the Vital Statistics Agency to apologize for wasting their time with a name change request I simply can't seem to produce the required documentation for. It's deeply disappointing that this is the world I live in.

I want to write fun blog posts. I want to write about my deep dive into vampire films and about my incredibly fun compilers class and about the intersectionality literature I've been reading lately. I want to go outside and look at birds and go on long walks and collect more skull graffiti. Cross your fingers that the next post I have time to write is a fun one.

Appendix: Testimonials from other students

I have collected these contributions from current students at Saarland University, some of whom have asked to be quoted anonymously.

Anonymous Contribution:

When first enrolling in classes at Universität des Saarlandes, I had to put my legal name, as seen on my ID card and passport, into the required forms. I did not realize this meant that not only my first, but also my second and third name would be visible to all my fellow students come the COVID online semesters. My names are so long that lecturers often don't see my last name displayed on MS Teams, which means they read out all three of my very gendered names. I've wanted to cry during class on more than one occasion because of this. It is very tiresome to request that my lecturers address me by my preferred name or read out that name instead all three of my deadnames when they take attendance. It means I have to out myself every time I have a new lecturer. So far my lecturers have been understanding and accomodating of my request but what happens if a future lecturer is not?

Since I'm not a binary trans person it is very unlikely that I get a name change approved by the court under the current law, even though I am a German citizen. I also have neither the time, the energy nor the money for this process. It infuriates me that the university could make the process easier for trans students. There's nothing that prohibits them from accepting something called the DGTI Ergänzungsausweis, a form of identification for trans people that can't or don't want to access a legal name change through the courts. They simply choose not to. They don't seem to care that this hurts their trans students and leaves them vulnerable to discrimination.

It pains me to see the wrong name on my university account. It pains me to see the wrong name on my bachelor's degree. I really hope I won't have to see my deadname on my master's degree as well.


The current University's naming policy makes it difficult for me to study. My UdS ID, CMS, exams, etc... use my real name, while LSF, MS Teams (Office), and other services use my legal name. This leads to the examination office notoriously losing my references. I was e-mailed by my professor about the difficulties he had with entering my data to the system. I have to constantly make sure that nothing is lost and I am genuinely scared that the University will sooner or later lose one of my grades and shrug me off. The admissions office also refuses to update the LSF entry claiming that it would be illegal of them to use my real name everywhere. Finally, I have already transitioned socially and nobody whom I interact with in my daily name knows/remembers my legal name. This leads to plenty of confusion and incredibly awkward situations especially when the University coerces me to use it.

  1. In July 2021, I wrote a piece for Pride Magazine about my Indian heritage, gender, and various comings out, where I said it would be a loss to give up my erstwhile name—a gendered Sanskrit name—in favour of one that was more neutral. I spent more time wrestling with this and trying various options out before settling on Vagrant, which feels perfect for me. In April 2022, I started the full social transition and technical upgrade to Vagrant with another blog post announcing my new name where I refer to my "old name," not a deadname. This was a conscious choice because at the time, that's what it was. It was just an old name, not one that prompted pain or really any feeling at all. As of this blog post, written in February 2023, that's changed. It turned from a previous name to a deadname. ↩︎

  2. British Columbia's Vital Statistics Agency says on their website that name changes are only available to residents, but through emailing them I discovered that there's an exception to this: you can apply for a name change from abroad if you were born in BC. ↩︎

  3. I have written to plosone at plos dot org and privacy at plos dot org in May 2022, August 2022 and October 2022, requesting to have my name updated on a publication I have in PLOS One. I've received no response aside from one automated acknowledgement email, and my name has not been updated. ↩︎