Documentary film review: Dead Name
By Alline Cormier
In a new documentary called Dead Name, about the parents of children claiming a cross-sex identity, a psychiatrist, Stephen Levine, shares his haunting perspective:
“I’m well aware of the anguish of the parents, and it’s not just a one-time anguish that is settled by kind words from the doctor. It’s ongoing, continued anguish. Many of the parents I’ve seen have gone into therapy as a result, have become depressed and anxious, can’t sleep, and so forth. And they don’t know what to do… But I think for every parent who gets involved wisely with other parents, there are probably more parents who just deal with this by themselves, in shame and in horror and in sadness.”
Dead Name was removed from Vimeo last Monday. The popular video platform censored BrokenHearted Films’ for “violating their Terms of Service prohibiting discriminatory or hateful content.”
Vimeo removed Dead Name after 34 days—along with BrokenHearted Films’ entire dashboard with all its financial information and other analytics, according to director Taylor Reece. Reece received an email from Vimeo stating: "We have unsuccessfully published your film." This is an interesting claim, given that, according to Reece, viewers from 16 countries bought the film. Contrary to claims of hatred, which have become a pattern across social media, tech platforms, payment platforms, and elsewhere, as a reason for the cancellation of material critiquing wrong-body ideology, hatred, and discrimination seem to have nothing to do with why Dead Name and other films are being fast-tracked to the dead heap of censorship. As Reece explains, there is nothing hateful or discriminatory about the film, which discusses the personal experiences of parents whose children say they are the opposite sex. It seems the critique itself is what is being canceled, not the content of the critique, and this is a dangerous precedent being accepted across various countries.
Dead Name is a timely exploration of the experiences of parents of children labeled “transgender.”
The film foregrounds interviews with three American parents: Amy, Bill, and Helen. For most of Dead Name’s 50-minute running time, these thoughtful, caring parents share their moving experiences and what happened to their children when they—or someone in their circle—decided they were “trans.” The film also includes brief interviews with a psychiatrist and a reporter. Near the end credits, we hear briefly from other parents of children swept up in wrong-body ideology.
Mainstream media has ignored the plight and effects on the immediate family of children affirmed as “transgender,” an amorphous word with only a brief cultural history. Since thousands of children across western cultures, generally from mid-to-upper class backgrounds and white, are suddenly clamoring for drugs and surgeries to alter their sex characteristics, it stands to reason that their parents are a group we would want to hear from. The fact that Reece shines a spotlight on some of these parents, giving them a rare platform all but wholly denied them in the current “no debate” climate, is what makes Dead Name significant—and so timely.
Amy, Helen, and Bill’s stories share many commonalities. They talk of their child being influenced by others and becoming withdrawn, of feeling alone and powerless to protect their child, of others treating them like terrible, unsupportive parents for questioning their child’s new identity, and of not wanting other parents to go through what they went through. They describe this period of their life as a nightmare—their sadness and distress are palpable. They remark on the incongruity of others, presuming to know their child better than they do, and discuss being let down by mental health professionals seemingly intent on rushing their child to adopt a cross-sex identity.
One psychiatrist told Bill he was an unsupportive, abusive father for failing to identify that his son was “transgender.” In Amy’s daughter’s case, there was no psychiatric evaluation.
According to Bill, professionals’ hands are tied by the trans-affirmative model, and insufficient attention is given to other paths, for example, the watchful waiting approach used in other countries. He remarks, “How the affirmative model ever got approved is mind-boggling.” He, Amy, and Helen relate how this approach is portrayed as the only way. The message generally conveyed, Helen tells us, is: “If you don’t do it this way, you’re wrong.”
In a post-credit sequence, the mother of a trans-identified child observes, “There were entire senior classes of kids graduating from high school in small schools where every single kid identified as ‘trans.’” This fact should raise red flags, but institutions, media, and the medical industry are seemingly in thrall to an activist narrative that body dissociation is progressive. Young women with double mastectomy scars on display are being used in advertising. According to this mother, a “transgender” identity has become social currency for children, a way “to be part of something unique and unusual.” Having been a teenager myself, I can sympathize with that desire, but none of my “unique and unusual” choices led me to remove body parts or become a life-long medical patient.
Amy, Helen, and Bill make thoughtful observations about wrong-body ideology and ask valid questions that merit much more discussion than they currently engender. Amy asks her interviewer, “Where does our species go if you can cut off your body parts like this?” She wonders what her grandmother would think of all this and asks: “How are we getting so far from reality?”
When I heard Helen consider her grandmother’s thoughts on this, I knew exactly what she meant. Over the last couple of years, especially, I’ve regretted my grandmother’s death because I know that were she still alive, she wouldn’t hesitate to express in her forthright manner that wrong-body ideology is nonsense. Growing up on a farm, she knew perfectly well that castrating a bull didn’t make it a cow.
Helen asserts that people must stand up for the truth. She adds, about her son Jonah, “And the truth is: he’s not a ‘transgender girl.’” Helen doesn’t consider, at least openly, that there is no such thing as a ‘transgender child’ or person. Body dysphoria can’t be a wholesome identity and a medical condition simultaneously.
Helen, a soft-spoken woman in a loose-fitting blue T-shirt, recalls how, in 2014, after splitting up with her wife, she got a call from her four-year-old son Jonas’ daycare director, who told her Jonah said he was a girl—a call that left Helen shocked and confused. Shortly after that, the preschool sent a letter to all the parents, informing them they had a new student named Rosa (Jonah) and that the school wanted the parents to support “her.” Helen, who received the same letter, recounts how this made her feel invisible and without any control over the social transitioning of her son. Sunlight streams through the window on Helen’s right as she describes how, feeling completely helpless, she did not know what to do. She describes how it became a crusade about Jonah’s new female pronouns, which everyone had to use. Rather than challenging the idea that Jonah was the opposite sex, Helen says: “It was all about me having to accept this.”
In footage of Jonas taken at this crucial period of his life, viewers see him stating that he believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Home video footage also shows Jonah doing stereotypically masculine things—playing with guns and spaceships for example.
When Jonah was six, Helen says his kindergarten teacher told him about “sex-reassignment surgeries.” In Helen’s footage, she asks him about this. It becomes apparent that Jonah’s teacher shared information way beyond the understanding of any six-year-old.
Helen tells her interviewer:
“I started to learn about the puberty blockers and the hormones and the surgeries, and if my nightmare could’ve gotten worse, it got worse. Because now I knew there would be a permanent end to this. There could be physical changes to my son that could never be turned around, and he could be permanently harmed. And it would be a complete lie.”
At this time, Jonah developed two identities: a ‘boy identity’ with Helen and a ‘girl identity’ at school. Helen agreed to call him Rosa and gave him the choice of ‘boy clothes’ or ‘girl clothes’ but believed using female pronouns would harm him.
A mother of two boys, I found Helen’s story heartbreaking and chilling—as with many of the revelations made throughout Dead Name. When Helen remarks: “His well-being and mental health have been sacrificed. He has learned to navigate this world by not saying anything and telling people what they want to hear” I imagined my sons in Jonah’s situation and was outraged on Helen’s behalf. No one’s children should have to suffer this.
Helen describes how she would have to be very careful speaking to others because she did not want them to think she was "transphobic" or not accepting of her child. Helen, like Jonah, was learning to censor herself.